…shame is a tool of oppression…
—Brené Brown, as quoted by C4AA
I love the Center for Artistic Activism’s newsletter on Brené Brown and shame as a poor social justice tool (or, affirming the positive towards social justice).
…shame is a tool of oppression…
—Brené Brown, as quoted by C4AA
I love the Center for Artistic Activism’s newsletter on Brené Brown and shame as a poor social justice tool (or, affirming the positive towards social justice).
Edmund’s speech comes from her perspective as curator and artistic director, facilitating relationships between artists and institutions. She’s particularly pro-artist [which is something you might assume people working in the art world would be, but actually, some are anti-artist, H/T Shannon Stratton].
Edmund’s perspective was especially interesting to me as a social practitioner, in thinking about partnerships with organizations, institutions, and communities, and also as an artist who thinks about my work less in terms of objects to be owned, and more in terms of aesthetic experiences and engagements.
Below are a few highlights.
The quality of invitations to artists and audiences matter.
Artists are not to be treated as vendors. A public is not to be treated as consumers. Do not transact poetics and people, ever.
She said that requiring measurable outcomes facilitates gatekeeping and hinders bridge-building.
When introducing performances, Edmunds feels compelled to tell audiences:
We have a job together, which is to make a memory. We will be the living archive for this artist, in this moment, in this time. We going to become its permanent collection.
I love this idea. She explains:
Art belongs in the world. It is informed by the maker, its place, city, community, culture, conditions—everything through which it is made—but it isn’t owned by the organization that helped facilitate it. Nor, once it is given by the artist, is it exclusively owned by them. It become owned by a public, in the world, in a memory that we made…
Ownership as a fixed idea is transformed into something else. To me, that transformation is a participation in belonging to the work, to the experience of it, to the acknowledgment of its maker, to the cultural assets that stand with it, and also to us, fleeting or long.
…The future completes our work—how it sustains or endures. What is forged in our cultural memory connects us uniquely.
For me, when an artwork exists that way—as a shared memory or an experience ingrained in the body—that’s whats most exciting about working in the realm of aesthetic experiences. That’s why I keep going back to making projects with people, inviting participation, gathering stories, and sharing emotions and experiences.
She also shared this tidbit:
…Art needs to belong in the world because it is how we practice, in the words of Deborah Hay, “the deep ethics of optimism.”
*Since I’m obsessed with optimism I wanted to learn more about what this phrase meant. I found an interview with choreographer Deborah Hay. She said, “A friend of mine who is a poet talks about ‘the deep ethics of optimism.'”
Then I found an interview with writer Zara Houshmand:
Issues of social justice matter to me very much but over time I’ve been more inclined to look inward at deeper sources of change—the mechanisms of empathy, breaking down prejudice, embracing the other, fixing oneself at the root in ways that create a more viable relationship with the rest of the world. In other words, doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice. It goes beyond finding a balance of contemplative and active life, or marshaling limited resources to prevent burn-out. Rather, it’s about what it means to commit to impossible tasks wholeheartedly, the deep ethics of optimism.
This relates to ideas that I keep coming back to, as well as new ideas I am currently discovering:
Socially-engaged artworks and events that reveal relationships and faith in humanity.
Next Saturday: May 25, 2019
Once, during grad school, I installed my art in a corridor, and an artist named Emily Mast visited, saw it, emailed me, and now I’ve been aware of her goings-on for over 10 years. I try to reach out and email artists whose work I like, sometimes they’re responsive, sometimes they’re not, but I try. She’s opened a space in LA and this upcoming workshop sounds amazing.
Mast on Fig is ever so pleased to announce its second “Intimate Experience” by Claire Titleman! Intimate Experiences are performative experiments (concerts, classes, demos, meals, conversations, workshops, readings, meditations, etc.) for 15 people or less that will take place on a weekly basis over the course of this summer.
Good Grief Workshop
Saturday, May 25th 6-8 PM
Mast on Fig
4030 N Figueroa St LA 90065
Limit: 10 people
$10 suggested donation
What would happen if we passed down the legacies of our loved ones — not just to our family but to strangers? Good Grief will be a space for communal grieving, an opportunity to celebrate those who passed with people they never knew. Share something of them, whether it’s concrete or ephemeral, rational or absurd. Play us or teach us a song they loved, read a letter they wrote, do show and tell with an object you inherited, bring in a food they made for you, including its recipe. Mimic their laugh, teach us how to move our hips the way their hips moved when they walked. In this way, instead of creating a legacy that goes in a straight line, we scatter it out into the universe.
The last line is such a beautiful, wonderful gesture. To me this kind of relationship-building, experience-making, trust, and reciprocity are the essence of social practice. If your story can live indelibly in the minds and hearts of nine other people, art objects and documentation are immaterial.
Grief and loss are inevitable in life. And yet death is taboo in our culture, which makes grief feel all the more isolating. You don’t want to “burden” anyone with your sadness. (This is a double-edged sword of positivity.) I love this idea of sharing a joyful memory with strangers you trust because they share grief in common with you.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this project in person, only online. It’s a beautiful concept that resonates with me regardless. Here’s the premise:
10,632 paintings rejected by the Carnegie International are painted, exhibited and then given away, in alphabetical order
First of all, what an achievement to sum up a large social-practice-and-object project in one simple sentence. Learn more on their project website.
Watch this two-minute video to hear from the artists about their motivations.
For me, the best social practice projects have an elegance, as if the solution to how to develop this project was the most logical solution (yet only the artists would even think to do it). Fruit and Other Things has this sense of elegance, consideration, and completion.
There’s care, craftsmanship, uncovering history, a gesture of acknowledgment and kindness to other artists who faced rejection, generosity, ambitious scale, and distribution (the artworks living in the world). (Not to mention one of my faves, hand-lettering.)
I also like the exhibition design, with the poster board on a pallet (progress towards the 10k posters done made physical), worktables, and the open-top frames on the wall that allow easy change-outs of the artworks. It makes the process of the project self-evident and accessible.
Plus, there’s the democratization of collecting, with the collectors being asked to register on their project website and send in a photo. (This is something I have asked people to do in past projects, with less success. What do audience member-participants owe? To whom do they owe it? What is the nature of the transaction? What does their fulfillment or failure to fulfill their obligation say? What is a reasonable rate of fulfillment: 15% 50%? What do artists receive? How does participants’ completion of the feedback loop support the completion of the project? What do participants receive? How does it enhance their investment in the project or their aesthetic experience of participation?)
Last, I just want to acknowledge how many people are involved in this project. The artists are supported by a large team. All these people ought to be paid for their labor. This type and scale of social practice project requires tons of institutional support. The artists are giving away the artworks for free, and the aesthetic gestures are conceptual and relational, it may be tempting to think that social practice can happen on shoestring budgets. But actually this is a site-specific commission and live performance which also requires ongoing administration. So congrats to the artists but also to the curators and Carnegie International team for this vision and investment.
Through June 16, 2019
This exhibition makes me happy because:
I am so grateful to know artists who are world-makers. They saw that certain spaces, practices, and institutions didn’t exist in the world, and they decided to create those them. It takes blood, sweat, tears, and huge amounts of guts. Emily Mast doesn’t have to host events in her studio open to the public. Cal Cullen didn’t have to create and run Wave Pool as a different model of a gallery. Before social practice became a legitimized field, Jon Rubin and Harrell Fletcher were doing projects in the CCA library that almost seemed like extended practical jokes. Now they’ve gone on to found programs and nurture future generations of social practice artists. Ryan Pierce wanted artists to experience a different relationship to nature and collaboration found in your typical residency, so he co-founded Signal Fire, which is now celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
The Who, What, When, Where, and How of my Haas residency
To help other artists interested in residencies, I usually write residency wrap-ups that give an inside look to my residency experience. I find that there is only so much information one can glean from the organization’s web site. The more you know about the residency, the easier it is to tell if the residency is for you and what to expect.
No two artists will have exactly the same residency experience. This is especially true when I’m writing about inaugural residencies, which may be seen as pilots by the organization. Regardless, I’ll share my experience for the sake of transparency.
The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society is a research institute at UC Berkeley that explores many different areas related to inequity. One of those research areas is othering and belonging. You can learn more at Haas’ website, their section on othering and belonging, and on their YouTube channel with videos of past Othering & Belonging conferences.
Evan Bissell is the Haas Institute’s Arts and Strategy Coordinator. He was my primary contact person at Haas. I met with him regularly and he conveyed Haas’ expectations to me. I think Evan is uniquely positioned to coordinate this residency program. He is a longtime community-oriented artist in the Bay Area who holds a Master’s in Public Health and City Planning and teaches on art and social change at UC Berkeley. I’m not an academic, and I was a little intimidated about partnering with a think tank. But Evan is fluent in art and research. His feedback on formal concerns and artistic process was helpful. And, his input on how the work fits or intersects with Haas’ work was reassuring and complementary. In many ways, he was like a “fixer,” who helped me figure out what kinds of support he or Haas could offer. In some aspects, such as in parts of the book, I thought of Evan more as a collaborator.
Haas invited artists essentially “to create original work… to illuminate and advance our understanding of belonging… [in projects] that explore practices of dialogue.”
The residency included:
Additional funds for materials were considered. (I asked for about $6k to cover travel, materials, studio rental, printing, etc. Though I reside in NYC, I did not have to pay for accommodations since I could stay with family in the Bay Area.)
You can learn about the Belonging Project at Belonging.ChristineWongYap.com.
November 1, 2018 through May 1, 2019. (The webpage says it’s a year-long residency but it’s technically only six months—or only about five months leading up to the conference.) I was interviewed in early October and notified in mid-October.
The residency culminated with a display of the work at the Othering and Belonging Conference in early April.
I traveled to California three times for this project, for a combined total of about three months. I did two five-week stints. The first was for outreach; the second was for production. The third trip was to prep and attend the Othering and Belonging Conference.
The generous stipend allowed me to focus on this project for 30–50 hours per week from mid-November to late February.
The schedule was tight; I’ve encouraged Haas to allow future AIRs more time. It wasn’t just that six months is a short time. It was also the timing around the winter holidays. I found it challenging to schedule workshops and find volunteers since semesters and organizations’ programs were ending, and students were doing finals. I also happened to start my project right when the Bay Area was suffering extremely bad air quality days that disrupted school and work routines.
Haas is located on the UC Berkeley campus. The program is actually more akin to fellowship in that you aren’t provided with a space. The Haas office is small, and not set up for an AIR. In fact, many Haas staff and researchers work remotely in far-flung locations.
For one month, I printed at Kala Art Institute. I was previously a Fellow at Kala, so I was familiar with Kala’s studio, staff, and rules. I asked them if they would barter studio fees for conference admission; they agreed. Going back to Kala was a great experience. The staff and community of artists wholeheartedly welcomed me. They handed over keys and letting me get to work right away. A sense of belonging and interdependence are tangible there. It feels like those values are in the DNA of the place. I spent many 10- to 12-hour days working there.
Aside from Kala, I worked at my family’s house and did offsite workshops and meetings all over the Bay Area, from Benicia to San José. Fortunately, I could borrow a family car. I transcribed, edited and designed in my apartment in NYC.
The conference was at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland. Haas gave me two columns which were 6 to 8’ wide each to display my project on. I created an interactive mapping activity, launched the book, displayed the bandannas, and showed a slide show of certificates on a video monitor they arranged for me.
[Photos above: Courtesy of Lee Oscar Gomez.]
Haas held an open call for applications for the AIR program. I can’t remember how I heard about it. The application was refreshingly streamlined. All you had to do was email a short letter of intent, a CV, and a link to a website (or 10 images, or 3 minutes of video). There was no fee to apply (hooray!)
From the pool of several dozen applicants, some were interviewed via video chat, and one was selected. I was honored to be selected, and doubly honored to learn that the jurors included Brett Cook (whose murals I’d admired for years) and Roberto Bedoya (who has written seminal essays on creative placemaking).
First, I met with Evan and we started by self-organizing: I came up with a timeline, a budget, and a draft of outreach materials (I wrote my “dream” budget and a “get-by” budget, they opted for the “get-by” budget and I made it work). He gathered feedback from Haas staff, and I made amendments.
As anticipated, the outreach phase was the hardest part. Fortunately, I lived in the Bay Area for over 30 years, I worked with many organizations, and I knew a lot of artists and art professors. Evan helped by connecting me with groups, reaching out to his own networks, and hosting a dinner. Some groups reached out to me after seeing Haas’ announcements, or individuals submitted their story after seeing the call in Haas’ newsletter. Evan also helped out by having materials translated into Spanish.
All the submissions made a 170+ page Google doc. When I was working on compiling, reading, and editing the submissions, I got caught colds, twice in four weeks.
I was happy to be back at Kala and to enter the production stage. Printmaking is very humbling. You have to be methodical and plan thoroughly. I learned a lot.
The experience made me adopt some principles that systematically prioritize patience over productivity:
This makes for better results, a more sustainable pace, and a healthier and happier attitude.
From past residencies, I’ve learned:
This is going to sound extremely boring and unsexy, but I think administration, communication, and organization were crucial to a successful partnership. This is an unusual residency in that Haas is most interested in belonging and dialogue; they leave you tons of leeway in how you structure and execute your project, who you choose to work with, what you ask for, where you work, and when you accomplish benchmarks. Being self-directed and having self-management skills are critical. Again, it sounds banal, but in my wrap-up phone call with Evan, we realized that since we’d kept each other informed along the way, there were no major surprises or changes we needed to debrief.
Getting reimbursed in the UC system involves a lot of paperwork. I recommend that future AIRs learn about the documentation requirements, be diligent about keeping receipts (especially anything related to travel), and expect that check turnarounds will be lengthy.
This is a really amazing opportunity for any artist who wants to tackle a self-directed project around belonging in the context of researchers interested in city planning, public health and more. I’m so honored and grateful to have been the inaugural resident. It’s been a tremendous opportunity to realize this project, to partner with Haas, to collaborate with many supportive community organizations, and to be entrusted with so many contributors’ stories. I feel that the seeds of this project were planted in 2016, and the fruits of this labor can be nourishment for the future.
Years ago, I had the chance to be considered for a residency at a very large tech company in California. I declined because I knew I’d regret it (money comes, money goes, but regrets haunt me for years.) Later, when I learned that their residency came with a $10,000 stipend, I didn’t second-guess my convictions, but I couldn’t help but think about what I would do with that much money.
It just so happens that the Haas honorarium is the same amount as that tech company’s. I did this project for so many other reasons beside the money. But this coincidence reaffirms that I did the right thing saying no. I garnered the same amount of financial support without compromising my values. And I did it partnering with a deeply ethical organization that actively promotes values and social justice. This helps me feel a sense of self-congruence for me as an artist, the projects I make, and my greater purpose as a human. It gives me a sense of maturity and self-assurance about what I am doing, and that being true to my principles is always the right choice.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a $50 application fee for an open call for a group exhibition until now.
I’ve encountered $45 to 65 application fees for residencies, and $35 fees for open calls for three slides and $5-10 extra for additional slides, which could add up to more than $50 if the artist chooses. In any case, paying $45 for any fee seems expensive to me.
In principle, I think it’s an organization’s job to review slides of artists who are being considered for their programs. Reviewing entries is part of the cost of running the program. For galleries, looking for artists and viewing their artworks is part of the work of curation.
I get that the amount of entries can be overwhelming, that a lot of labor goes in, that jurors should be compensated, and that organizations want to offset those costs. (I’ve been a juror and I have worked at a gallery organizing submissions.) I also get that NYC is an expensive city to live in, and that open calls are a way small organizations generate income.
But, I also know that jurors may spend only a few minutes reviewing each entry. It’s up to individual artists to decide if having their work reviewed by unnamed jurors for the chance to exhibit in a group show is worth it.
Criteria I consider:
A Blade of Grass’ 2019 Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art received 571 applications for 8 fellowships.
Selected artists comprise about 1:71, or 1.4% of applicants.
See all Art Competition Odds.
Keeping a gratitude journal and writing gratitude letters have been shown to elevate mood.*
Even if people know gratitude can boost subjective wellbeing, they can come up with all sorts of reasons not to write gratitude letters, according to “You Should Actually Send That Thank You Note You’ve Been Meaning to Write” by Heather Murphy (NY Times, July 20, 2018).
They are afraid of being judged for spelling or grammar mistakes. The more I learn about belonging and vulnerability, the more damaging judgment seems to our relationships, our actions, and ourselves. Being judged weakens bonds. Gratitude strengthens bonds. If the fear of weakened bonds through being judged inhibits someone from strengthening their bond through expressing gratitude, it’s like different means to the same end: a lost opportunity to foster connectedness.
People can underestimate how meaningful a gratitude letter will be to recipients (i.e., “She’ll probably just throw it away”). Don’t assume inaction won’t be noticed. A longstanding pillar of the arts community recently told me that a student never said thanks for writing a letter of recommendation for them. He’s too nice to take my advice (“Next time, just tell her she’s dead to you”), but we agreed that administrative skills are the most important skills to have. Along the same lines, if you’re asking someone to coffee to “pick their brain,” show your gratitude by being conscientious. As experts in their fields, an hour of their time is worth a lot more than a coffee and a pastry.
Sometimes I feel a little down after finishing a big project. There’s so much work and energy leading up to a project culmination. There’s often an event with a lot of interactions and emotions. Then the high wears off. The days or weeks afterwards can feel sort of empty in comparison. Even if you are lucky enough to receive validation at the event, it can feel fleeting.
In large, participatory projects, I send and receive tons of emails and texts. There are notes of gratitude scattered throughout them. Maybe they gave me a little serotonin hit the day I received them, but I probably soon forgot about them wading through the tide of other messages. I think recovering that feeling of validation, of mattering to someone, is a hunger that social media exploits. But instead of finding it from others through a digital platform, here’s one way to self-organize it in a more lasting, analog medium.
This morning, I combed through my messages and transcribed notes of gratitude by hand into my journal. This reminded me that people want to participate in my project, are happy they did, and are eager to see and share the results. People took the time to tell me how participation and inclusion in a project matters to them. This means a lot to me on a personal level. And it’s helpful for me to understand as an artist in the social realm. (If you shared your gratitude with me, in this project, or at any time, THANK YOU!)
The act of condensing words of gratitude, enthusiasm, validation, and positive emotions into a few pages gave me a huge boost today. And in the future, if I start to question myself or what people think, I can re-read these pages. In moments of anxiety or self-doubt. I’ll have a piggy bank of gratitude to tap into.
* Source: Sonya Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness. A gratitude journal can be as simple as writing down three good things, as described on The Science of Happiness podcast, produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.