[Exclusive] 5 Artists Reimagine '1984' for Modern Times

George Orwell's sci-fi classic is more popular than ever. Here's how artists relate to the book's increasingly relevant ideas:

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Mar 13 2017, 1:19pm

Dystopia is in the air. Is it really any surprise that George Orwell's tale of a futuristic authoritarian state, 1984, is on Amazon's bestseller list? In a time in which Kellyanne Conway's "Alternative Facts" seem like the least of our problems, publisher Penguin has seen a 9500% sales increase of the sci-fi novelist's final work; stage renditions and screenings of Michael Radford's screen adaptation are popping up all over the world; anonymous donors are handing out the book like bibles; wholesaler Costco has even started stocking the book; and 1984 fan fiction is now part of the news cycle.  

Part of 1984's appeal is the language Orwell developed for identifying fascist control methods, which are increasingly visible today. Power structures like the Ministries of Truth, Peace, Plenty, and Love—each of which represents the opposite of its title—are reflected in an Environmental Protection Agency led by a climate change denier, and an education department run by someone who prefers "charter" to public education. "Alternative Facts" sounds a lot like the book's "Newspeak," the simplification and rebranding of common language, and "Doublethink," whereby the government controls historical records and the news, sounds an awful lot like Breitbart retellings of current events.

With 1984's popularity, the debate about whether our current world is more like Orwell's dystopia or the one described in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World has resurfaced as well. Both books warn of the dangers their authors perceived was on the horizon, but the living legacy of 1984 is its mark on language, so Creators asked artists to illustrate the terms and concepts from the book that they see reflected in today's society.

Joe Baker, Room 101

For this drawing, I focused on what the government's plans are for the American public school system and whether or not these plans will yield an acceptable outcome. I applied the idea of mind control that takes place in the sinister "Room 101" in 1984 to a run down public school in the future. In Room 101 a person is re-educated by being subjected to their greatest fear in order to forcibly control their reality. In the drawing, government cutbacks have led to the introduction of robot teachers providing substandard curriculum. These robot teachers are blasting horrible fears into the minds of these students, forcing them to revise and believe that 2+2=5. — Joe Baker

Alex Gamsu Jenkins, Two Minutes of Hate

This is my take on the the two minutes of hate idea. It's a scene of an office space where everyone is angrily shouting at their PCs [instead of a communal theater]. — Alex Gamsu Jenkins

Jennifer Hershey, The Ministry of Truth

I'd obviously like to do Ministry of Truth. Two characters on a bench in the subway, one poor and desperate looking at another one. A nearby paper says, "Poverty Ends! Latest Tweet: Affordable housing for all!" — Jennifer Hershey

Corrine James, Doublethink

A relevant concept is "Doublethink," and this is the quote that I'm referencing: "In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?" I think that this really relates to how the Trump administration deleted sites on the Obama administration's website and cut funding to programs that fund the arts, such as PBS and NPR.

In a classroom setting there is a trashcan with a book in it that says, "Science is real." The teacher is passing out new textbooks that say, "Science is real when it's convenient." This plays on the idea of rewriting history when history is currently impacting us. — Corrine James

Alex S. Martin, News Maze

Lately I have been thinking about how Trump and the apparatus that Trump represents is controlling the media by launching a war on the media in the form of discrediting it. If media is always supposedly bogus, it could become hard to believe any of it. Then there was the debut "alternative facts"—which struck me as Orwellian when I first heard it—this idea that people could be lead to believe that somehow facts are subjective. While, of course, people could become radicalized in a nationalistic way as in 1984, the path I see is more that people are gradually becoming more and more apathetic. This piece is capturing those ideas. As a sort of secret detail: all my drawings include what i think of as a surveillance bot; the little hovering orb with the red (recording dot) eye. — Alex S. Martin

You can buy your own copy of 1984 here, and take a look at more dystopian art in the links below.

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