“Strachan’s project was a declarative statement and performance that was entitled You Belong Here. The installation featured a 100-foot neon art piece that would be transported from one location to another on a 140- foot barge on the Mississippi River. The barge that carried the neon piece was made visible from different regions and places throughout New Orleans. It was created to pass on a message to the residents of the city, encouraging the city dwellers to examine themselves and what the city of New Orleans means to them and their futures.”From PublicDelivery.org
“Lau’s series of portraits 21st Century Types (2005) reflects the multiplicity of contemporary British society and comments on the Imperialist othering of ‘exotic’ Chinese people and culture. Lau constructed an opulent hybrid Chinese/English portrait studio in Hastings and over six weeks photographed hundreds of passers-by. The resulting images are a monument to place, race, people and the passing of time. The series also acts as a direct statement on the use of photography as unconscious bias, examining the politics of cultural representation and visual ‘archives’ through the genre of contemporary portraiture.”Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (Manchester, UK), exhibition page for Multiplicites in Flux, October 15, 2020–January 31, 2021.
“Lee’s film Britishness (2019), 57 min, complicates the often indefinable notion of ‘Britishness’. Comprising spoken word poetry, interviews, and group discussions, the work follows young writers from Sheffield as they affirm, reject, and revise their visions of national identity and grapple with the consequences of Britain’s colonial history and their own personal experiences. The film posits ‘Britishness’ as a concept that is constantly in flux, moulded by ever-changing social, economic, political and historical narratives and carrying different significance for each individual. Through this lens, Lee invites viewers to question and re-evaluate their own definition of what it means to be British.”Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (Manchester, UK), exhibition page for Multiplicites in Flux, October 15, 2020–January 31, 2021.
Socially-engaged artworks and events that reveal relationships and faith in humanity.
Claire Titleman: Good Grief Workshop
Mast on Fig, LA
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.
Lenka Clayton & Jon Rubin: Fruit and Other Things
Carnegie International, Pittsburg
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.
Calcagno Cullen, Amanda Curreri and Lindsey Whittle: Archive as Action
Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati
Through June 16, 2019
This exhibition makes me happy because:
- Amanda Curreri is a grad school classmate who’s one of the smartest people I know and her relational actions have a high degree of open-ended-ness and exploration that I find very risky and admirable. She is attempting to do nothing short of re-writing social relations and experiences of power.
- Calcagno Cullen is a like-minded colleague from the Bay Area alternative art scene who founded Wave Pool in Cincy, which does super interesting things in community-facing art.
- It’s an exhibition of socially-engaged art and all the artists are women.
- Though I can’t visit, I got a sense of the exhibition from Sarah Rose Sharp’s “The Potential of Participatory Museum Exhibits” on Hyperallergic (May 14, 2019) to learn more about what viewers experience (H/T Nyeema Morgan). The artists’ practices seem to cover a spectrum of participatory art, with objects to be manipulated, objects as interfaces that collect contributions (artist-as-gatherer?), and objects as props for shared physical experience in real time.
We can all be World-Makers
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.
442 is a graphic novel following a regiment of Japanese Americans fighting in WWII even as their families were housed in concentration camps in the US. It was written by Koji Steven Sakai and Phinny Kiyomura, and the artwork is by Rob Sato.
You can read 442 by downloading the Stela app and subscribing.
Rob, a classmate from undergrad, posted about his grandfather’s and great-grandparents’ detention in a concentration camp in Rohwer, AR. He also wrote:
As fewer and fewer of those who experienced [Japanese American internment] firsthand remain in the world I hope their stories remain very alive, that this history can be as much a part of collective human knowledge as possible, and not for wallowing in pity but to arm minds against xenophobia and fear mongering. If there’s anything that should be taken away from the whole mess it’s these simple but somehow still bafflingly misunderstood facts—Japanese American Internment was not just “unfortunate” but wrong, it was unnecessary and protected no one, it was inarguably racist, it could happen to anyone, and actions like it will be tried again and again and again.
Though “the court had finally overturned the 1944 decision that the United States government could force more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent into internment camps,” Japanese American internees “lamented that it came as part of the decision that upheld President Trump’s ban on travel into the United States by citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries.”
“‘This was absolutely the wrong case to include Korematsu in,’ said Alan Nishio, who was born in a California internment camp, Manzanar, in 1945…. ‘We are continuing to use the guise of national security to limit the civil rights of immigrants and people of color without really any basis.'”
—Jennifer Medina, “For Survivors of Japanese Internment Camps, Court’s Korematsu Ruling Is ‘Bittersweet,’” New York Times, June 28, 2018
“These immigration policies are for people who conflated America with whiteness, and therefore a loss of white primacy becomes a loss of American identity.”
—Charles M. Blow, “White Extinction Anxiety,” New York Times, June 24, 2018
I love Ryan Pierce’s paintings. I’ve been a fan of the techniques, narrative coherence, Charles Burchfield-esque pulsing life, and the tension between hope and hopelessness in his paintings since we went to grad school together.
Ryan’s newest project, The River in the Cellar, sounds amazing. I love this combination of fiction, paintings, books, and geo-cached participation. It’s such a brilliant combination of Ryan’s interests in ecology and wilderness (as seen in his work co-founding Signal Fire, which helps artists and creative agitators engage with our remaining wildlands).
Ryan describes the project this way:
The River in the Cellar is a short fiction set in my painted world: a future of accelerated climate change and new forms of governance. The book includes eleven full-color archival inkjet prints corresponding to the storyline, and—here’s the participatory part—the prints will be cached throughout the Portland and Mt. Hood area, and it will be up to the reader to locate and assemble the illustrations while reading the book. The project is offered in a signed edition of 200.
There are a few ways to play: you can come to the reading event and buy the book and see the original paintings that comprise the color prints. You can order one from my website and assemble it another time. Lastly, you can skip the scavenger hunt and order the book with the complete accompanying print set for $50 here.
More info: RyanPierce.net
To create Class Set, Bay Area artist Jessalyn Aaland invited artists to create posters featuring a quote by authors or activists. The artwork was reproduced via Risograph printing and offered for free to K-12 teachers, bringing art and inspiration into resource-strapped classrooms. Over 4,000 posters have been distributed so far.
Each of these artworks are also freely available for PDF download. Non-teachers can also purchase the set of 10 posters for a very affordable price of $100, which will be invested in a second round of posters.
Teachers can find more information about the authors and artists in a curriculum companion (freely available as a Word doc or PDF). It also contains activity handouts, including activities for students to make their own posters.
Sometimes I worry that being a project-based artist makes my work too ungainly to explain. Class Set is a great example of a project that is satisfyingly cohesive as a whole. The sum of its parts form compelling connections with audiences and constituents. The fact that the posters and curriculum are freely downloadable is an important part of the project—the posters gain life through their movements through the social imagination.
I love the inspirational messages in the posters. The following ones especially resonated with my current interests in interdependence, trusting the process, and courage in the face of vulnerability.
Skateboarding is such a perfect metaphor for the importance of failing (and falling) in the process of invention. If you don’t know about Jeffrey Cheung and Unity Skateboards, read about them in the NY Times.
For more info, or to download posters or the curriculum, visit ClassSet.org.
Participating artists: Jeffrey Cheung, Veronica Graham, Sarah Hotchkiss, Carey Lin, Paul Morgan, Yetunde Olagbaju, Grace Rosario Perkins, Sofie Ramos, Muzae Sesay, Chelsea Ryoko Wong
Featuring quotes by: Sherman Alexie, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Stephen Bantu Biko, César Chávez, June Jordan, Corita Kent, Ursula K. Le Guin, Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison
HT: Susannah Magers (IG: @suzorsuziq)
Angela Davis once talked about the importance of being able to imagine liberation. If you’ve only known a world where you’ve never been free, it’s difficult to envision something else. If an autocratic regime becomes the new normal, and we are only able to respond with opposition, we have yet to imagine true self-determination.
When I make art about positive psychology, optimism, or happiness, I’m really talking about getting familiar with your inner life—paying attention to your mind and heart. A strong sense of self fuels the courage of one’s convictions. From where I stand, cognitive behavior strategies and real political agency are both points on a spectrum of self-empowerment.
Funkadelic’s song, “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts,” is sort of so perfect that I will only say three things: it speaks to these themes, is 12 minutes long, and is probably best heard in a listening party of one. Get out the good speakers, silence the distractions, and sit back; some of the work to be done is within.
If you haven’t yet read Drooker’s graphic novels, do! They’re amazing. I’ve discussed some of the stunningly elegant compositions at length in my workshops. And moreover, I think of them especially now because Drooker doesn’t shy away from depicting the terror of state violence, nor affirming life, creativity, and resistance. There is empathy, joy, and ferocity in these stories.
One of the most remarkable things about Hidden Figures (also recommended) is how it makes vivid the mundane and constant ways that systems of injustice dehumanize all involved. I hope that we are entering period of sustained resistance, and though powers will do everything they can to misdirect, exhaust, and numb us, we will insist on being staying human, listening, and keeping our hearts open.