It's a brisk Easter Sunday morning at 4 AM when a truck pulls up along the edge of Central Park. A group of bundled up figures opens the lift gate and lugs out a thousand-pound block of granite. They cut the fence, drag the grey tombstone, which reads "Trump, Donald J. /1946 - / Made America Hate Again" into the grass, plant it upright, and get the hell out of dodge. A project five months in the making, entitled The Legacy Stone, had finally been completed.
Upon returning to the scene at 8:30 AM, the architect of the project—who wishes to remain anonymous and gender-neutral—found a horde of police and park officials in the process of removing the sculpture from the scene. During its short lifespan, The Legacy Stone had already been Instagrammed and picked up by the first of what would become a media frenzy, labeling the sculpture everything from political satire to a threat against Trump's life.
"It's not a death threat," the artist, who we'll call "China," tells The Creators Project, voice upswinging into a tone of incredulity. "I don't know how so many people interpreted it that way." With a history of performance artworks attaining some level of virality, China has experience with works spiraling out of control. However, this was the artist's first foray political commentary, which predictably turned The Legacy Stone into a polarizing issue. After ABC News implied there was a possibility of the Secret Service may be treating the sculpture as a threat.
"We're not going to comment on protective procedures or protective knowledge like that," the Secret Service's office of public affairs told ABC News. Other publications took this idea further, including Breitbart attempting to associate The Legacy Stone with a series of threatening tweets by simply embedding them together in the same article. China immediately puts that interpretation to rest, explaining, "The Legacy Stone is meant to specifically target Donald Trump, but in the media it's been just as divisive as the election itself. Right-wing reporting calls it a death threat, left-wing reporting thinks it's fun political satire. But it's meant for Trump."
Concerns about this sensationalist take on the sculpture has forced China out of the complete anonymity intended for the project. "With the level of police and potential Secret Service interest in the piece, I'm being cautious. More cautious than I've had to be with any other of my projects," the artist says.
While The Legacy Stone has spun out of control, quite a lot of thought and planning was put into its execution. Four months went to planning and fundraising from collectors. One month was spent designing and etching the inscription into an old tombstone from the 1970s. The carefully-considered Central Park location was meant to strike the Donald close to home, and draw attention to the fact that he actually profits from a trademark on the public space's name. China considered several other ideas for the project, including an ambitious plan to build a wall around Trump Tower.
"I had a whole system in place with a giant moving truck and pulleys and levers. It was going to be dragged out and set up really quick. I was going to have a checkpoint gate set up there with people in uniforms," says China. "But that seemed too silly." The artist even anticipated the current backlash, attempting to safeguard against this interpretation was to leave the death date blank. "I didn't want to imply he was going to die this year or anything like that."
In truth, this project has been gestating from the beginning of Trump's bid for President. "It started immediately when he came waving down the escalator," says China. After months of artists refusing to dignify Trump's candidacy with a response, the time came to act. "I think he has a real shot at winning," the artist says. "It's a scary thought."
China is committed to the importance of publicly defying Trump. "He's fanning the flames of hatred," the artist explains. "You have a giant population of people who have found their voice through all of that anger. Deep-rooted racism that hasn't been addressed is sitting there, permeating, and he just set a match to it. Having those comments in the public discorse is more of a threat to this country that ISIS boots on our soil." But these people aren't the audience for this particular project. Succcess for China depends on affecting the Donald directly.
"He has this high school bully attitude and seems like he isn't affected by anything people say. So I thought, 'What would actually affect Trump?' His legacy, his own mortality is the only thing that could break through his shell. It was my way of saying, 'Donald, take a look at yourself. Take a look at what you're doing.' I thought it was a better way of making that statement than protesting with a sign at a rally."
'The Legacy Stone' before installation. Courtesy Molly Krause Communications
Thus, the artist played Ghost of Christmas Future to Trump's Scrooge. But unlike in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the messenger was imbued not with mystical dream powers, but social media and the art of virality. When asked about the effectiveness of the work, China admits, "I don't know if Donald got the memo." But that doesn't stop The Legacy Stone from affecting the conversation.
"People feel the desire to make statements about what's going on. I think it's essential that these type of guerrilla artworks happen. Whether it's Jeff Greenspan's Snowden bust or Hanksy's Dump Trump, these things give a voice to all of our frustration. It's necessary commentary."
With less than three weeks left until the New York primary elections, we asked China if there were any more anti-Trump artworks. The artist replied simply, "I am just going to cast my vote, and let that be my next form of protest."
The New York State primary election is on Tuesday, April 19. Find your polling location here.