Daisy Girl

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The painting entitled Daisy Girl was inspired by the controversial 1964 political campaign ad for American president Lyndon B. Johnson. Although this sixty-second commercial was only broadcast once, it is widely believed to have been a major reason for Johnson’s victory over Barry Goldwater, and a defining moment for political advertising campaigns. Although the name of Johnson’s political opponent never appears in the short film, and the campaign staff created several other equally controversial ones (for example Eastern Seaboard and Girl with Ice Cream Cone), it is considered as the beginning of the era of negative campaigning. The short broke the mould of what political advertisements had used to be: half-hour speeches with some shorter films or songs mixed in. In its concise form, the ad shocked the viewers with an emotional message which frightened the voters with the prospect of nuclear war, implicitly suggesting that it would be Goldwater’s doing. The authors seemed to follow the principle that advertising is a means of persuasion first – not a science but an art. Therefore, they took any of the opponent’s imprudent words out of context, and rejected rational criticism in favour of literality and fearmongering – successful largely due to recent memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Osiowski saw the short film in London in the early 1980s. It was then that he drew the first sketches for the cycle with the trope of the daisy girl. He began painting in 1987 in Copenhagen. Years later, he described this experience in his notes: “After watching the film, I asked myself the question: how much time did we have before such an «atomic bomb» of political campaigns would actually go off?” He returned to working on these paintings in the 1990s, and he continued throughout the decade. His work found a turning point in a conversation with Fred Martin, an American political campaign advisor whom Osiowski met in 1991. Martin’s explanations gave Osiowski the ultimate motivation. The cycle comprises ten paintings, numbered according to the daisy girl’s countdown as she omits the number six, and then repeats it twice. She picks the petals off a flower, and before she counts to ten, a voice off screen picks up the countdown to an explosion of an atomic bomb. The creators of the short film admitted that they drew inspiration from François Truffaut’s 1954 film The 400 Blows (Les quarte cents coups). In order to accentuate the tragedy that is a child’s death, Truffaut froze the frame and closed up on the still face. In the Johnson campaign ad, the girl’s voice is followed by the emotionless countdown and a shot of an atomic mushroom cloud. This is how political campaigns began using techniques of emotional persuasion which had been previously reserved for selling cars or laundry detergent. Osiowski commented on this with the following words: “Recently, on the fiftieth anniversary of the short, I think, I read in The Washington Post that Daisy was the mother of negative campaigning. And a sentence like this: «Daisy was a full-throated, gloves-off, take-no-prisoners negative message.» Hello, how are you doing?” These thoughts found an aftermath in Osiowski’s notes from 2019: “And what is the image of today’s world? It has been de-composed. Its parts are dismantled. I see someone’s face, but another one appears in the background; I don’t know whether a term like this already exists or if I’m making it up on the spot, but for me these are phantom images, like in computer files infected by a virus. Someone is tinkering with the reality surrounding us, someone is financing an army of trolls. Tanks are bought and sold; war is waged by hackers. Where, what kind, in whose name and interest? If tanks are now being sent to murder civilians, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Manipulations from the time when people believed in subliminal messaging, the time of the Daisy Girl broadcast or the little wars between Hoover and Lennon, seem like innocent frolics. The image falls apart, concepts are blurred. For Wittgenstein, reality is not a simple sum of facts; reality is determined by the facts in logical space. And the task of philosophy is to free our mind from the confusion and puzzlement caused by language. The thing is that simple manipulation, of the same quality as today’s government’s television, has been profoundly primitivized. It’s a hammer for wreaking havoc on brains. There are no «other facts» which would create some sort of «a new sum of facts in a space of changed logic» because there is no such thing as illogical logic. Gibberish is gibberish, a lie is a lie. Welcome to the world of Orwell.”