I’ve been a fan of Mel Chin’s art since I learned of the Fundred dollar bill project (inviting students to color in bills, collecting them, and presenting them to Congress to request funds to fix local environmental injustices). And I’ve been a fan of the idiosyncratic artist since hearing him speak at the College Art Association conference in 2011. Chin’s a smart, collaborative, humble social practitioner and an unpretentious famous artist. He’s Chinese American and a through-and-through, singing, guitar-strumming Texan. He’s obsessed with the flawed human condition and environmental injustice, and makes art that earnestly and optimistically seeks change.
See Mel Chin: All Over the Place at the Queens Museum through August 12 (with auxilliary public artworks in Manhattan). I especially love the Flint FIT project.
Read an astute review, “Mel Chin’s Tongue-in-Cheek Encyclopedia of the World,” by Ryan Wong in Hyperallergic. This passage sums up some of the contradictions and poetics of working in social practice:
“Revival Field” and “Flint Fit” fill a unique role in the spectrum between art, social practice, and activism. In political terms, they might be called prefigurative — gestures that are both effective in themselves and utopian, albeit on a small scale. While Chin acknowledges that there is more work to be done in Flint, the project both embodies a new politics and gestures towards more. As he puts it, “You gotta show it can be done.”
The term “prefigurative” is intriguing. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:
Prefigurative politics are the modes of organization and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought by the group. According to Carl Boggs, who coined the term, the desire is to embody “within the ongoing political practice of a movement […] those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal”. Prefigurativism is the attempt to enact prefigurative politics.