Reading Response Week 1

Socially Engaged Art and Digital Practice

09 Sep 2018

The first week of socially engaged art is all about introducing yourself to what a socially engaged art practice is. My background in this topic stems from studio art studies. I am familiar with the term Social Practice but hearing Social Engaged Art led me to believe that they are something different, but I think they are rooted in the same idea - i.e. you are engaging with the audience as part of the work.

This is different than the traditional modes of making art where the artwork exists with or without the viewer. Like a sculpture which stands apart from the space it resides and the viewer. This form of art makes the work exist only to be subject to the viewers gaze and creator no longer an agent of the work.

In contrast, the social practice medium is a conversation between the artist and the viewer. The artwork itself is the interaction between the space, viewer, and artist. Herein lied my confusion between terms: social practice and socially engaged worked. Where the social practice is a medium and social engagement is an explicit description of how a piece is to be received.

This weeks readings:

How the Art of Social Practice is Changing the World

Hischorn Gramsci Monument

Miranda writes Thomas Hischorn’s Gramsci Monument, a backyard fort which serves as a site for community engagement. She positions the work as participatory art. It is work the same vein as Rick Lowe’s “Project Row Houses” and Fluxus.

All of these traditions, and many others, have made their way into social practice, a stream of participatory art that tends to display a strong sociological and political bent, often in an effort to draw attention to social ills and conditions. Sometimes, these projects are meant to incite empowerment or change in a community.

Tom Finkelpearl, author of What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, describes social practice as a “reaction against the excesses of individualism.”

Nato Thompson, curator of Creative Time, describes this type of work in opposition of technology. He further uses the term manufactured encounters and illustrates that it is not unique to the art world, giving Apple Store an example of being a site of engagement - albeit with a commercial interest.

In academia, social practice artwork is used to describe artworks that reach beyond studio practice and art history traditions. Instead it draws on transdisciplinary fields such as social theory, political theory, and theories of public space.

Pablo Helguera describes social practice in the museum as one that connects with museum-goers in unusual ways.

Critics of social practice say that it is “perceived as too much like community organizing to feel truly like art.” The reach of social practice makes it difficult to critique on an artistic level. How does one criticize engagement? However, others consider art as a means to engage with people and the environment and call attention to the woes in the world. With that frame of making art in mind, social practice is an ideal medium.

Pepón Osorio: The impact of ReForm

Grady writes about Pepón Osorio’s project, ReForm (2014-2017). ReForm is an installation which includes the public as part of the fabrication and conversation. Osorio used a closed-down elementary school as a site of his piece where he asked members of the community, including former teachers, the principal and former students, to join him in celebrating what the former school meant for them. With people from the community, he refurbished the school and created homages to education in the former classrooms.

Grady discusses the form of the work, describing the resulting object as a painting. This painting is the result of a multi-media installation. However, the object of the piece is not considered the objective of the art, rather the making of the work is the “art”. It was the process of collaboration and communication of the individuals who contributed to the artwork. Looking at the work through this lens complicates the formal critique of the work.

Pepón Osorio is a well-known artist outside of the community and he describes building trust and engagement as the process of the work. He created a space for people to engage and reflect on their experiences. To allow for individual expression, Osorio resisted from sharing his perspective as an artist when working with his collaborators. This open dialogue addresses the issue of power dynamics between the artist and the subject, where he placed his privilege in the backseat.

ReForm has since closed but it’s impact has lasted much longer than its exhibition. His collaborators were able to reflect on their own personal histories and move forward in their own life goals.

Who Are the Key Figures in Socially Engaged Art Today ?

This reading reflects on the stars of socially engaged artwork. These artist blur the line of what is considered art and more specifically what does art do.

“It focuses on very specific issues, observations and problems, and it takes many different forms, sometimes expecting from the viewer to be the active art-maker.”

Dangling Conversations

“The term “socially engaged art” is not universal, but lays out his reasoning for using it, which is that the basis of such work, for him (Pablo Helguera), is in relationship building and cocreation; that is, in the engaged part of the art-making. “ - Grady

Proyecto Paladar is a work created by Craig Shillito involving many partners and took place at the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam, in Havana. It took the form of a pop-up restaurant during the Biennial. The piece took place in three basic exchanges or dialogues.