Insert ____ Here 2011 was a re-imagining of the project I created in 2008. This time I collaborated with 350.org to make it huge! And global. We wanted to put the power of creative thinking in the hands of community organizations and give people a chance to think positively in the face of climate change. View all the sites at insert-here.org. And we partnered with artist Paul Notzold for an interactive projection project.
I came up with a quick (and I hope fun) project to use in place of presenting my work ay the Creative Capital/Creative Time workshop on Real Community Engagement. I wrote the words "power" "memory" and "change" on three small stones. I gave them to people in the workshop and asked that they use the words on the stones as a starting point to telling a story (personal experience, fact, hope) to another participant, and then to pass that stone to the listener and ask them to do the same. The idea was to emphasize the participation and experiential education aspect of my work. It was a means of communicating a real sense of the work that I do instead of showing slides of projects gone by. The metaphorical stones in the water and the ripple effect. It seemed to work well, people said they had interesting experience hearing the stories and liked that they had a chance to engage on a more personal manner than they might have without the stones. It broke them out of their shyness and got them sharing stories.I allowed the participants to keep the stones if they felt a personal connection. Alyson Pou kept "memory," Arlen kept "power" and I went home with change.Thanks to all the participants for being willing to engage (Anna Muessig, Nuit Blanche NYC; Arlen Austin, Hanns Eisler Nail Salon; Beka Economopoulos, Not An Alternative; Bridget Finn, Cleopatra's; Carey Clark, The Point; Caroline Woolard, Our Goods Christopher Robbins, Ghana Think Tank; David Michael Perez, FEAST in Brooklyn; Hope Ginsburg Sponge; Mary Mattingly; Matthew Slaats; Paloma McGregor, Urban Bush Women; Petrushka Bazin, The Laundromat Project; Tracy Candido, Community Cooking Club).Feel free to use this idea in your next group situation...
New York City is an interesting place. Eight million people in a relatively small radius of space all crossing paths on sidewalks, roads, trains...
Most of us live in buildings with at least 2 other families/residents and some live in buildings with hundreds or even thousands? of other residents. Sometimes we are friends with people in our buildings, sometimes we only know them in passing. Some people know the super or doorman better than their neighbors, and the super and doorman don't live in the building (or even borough). We have friends around the corner and friends 7 train stops, or 2 train changes away or in other boroughs.
We ride on the train with people from lots of different neighborhoods, heading to lots of different jobs and activities. We stand in line behind each other in the coffee shop, grocery store and movie theater. But how do we connect?
How do we create deeper relationships with those around us?
How do we start to care about each other?
Learn about things we have in common?
Come together to create a healthier happier and more sustainable city?
Its more than crossing paths, it is creating small shared responsibities that teach us to rely on one another for the larger things
It is creating shared experiences inwhich we can learn from one another.
It is opening ourselves up to success and failure.
It is about overcoming, fears, worries and self-consciousness.
These are only questions and intitial thoughts. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Okay, so you probably know that I have been working on the Seeding the City project for over two years now. And this past September the project launched! YAY! It was a long time in the planning stages.
So the point of the project was to find a handful of people who were interested in installing small green roof modules (little trays of green roof that were less than 2'x4'). These people were then to reach out to their friends/neighbors to interest them in putting modules on their roofs too. The goals were to create a network of people in a region who were all interested in urban environmental issues and spark a wave of green roof building - more on all that here.So it started slowly with a few people interested - I kind of thought there would be loads of people who wanted a free green roof! Then I started to get interest from institutions, and although this wasn't the intended audience, it seemed like a good idea anyway. So when we went to install the first modules the comments were along the lines of "that's it?" "that's so easy!" -- and I realized (after my great experience with the planting program with Covenant House) that there was some other potential here. So I brought up the idea of doing a planting program with the residents of this particular institution. If they cover the costs (at just over $1,000) we could do run a half day workshop and by the end of that they would have a larger green roof - about 2,000 square feet worth!
I have since planted at a pre-school, an environmental organization and another school, all of whom are interested in doing planting workshops in the spring! So that is 4 more green roofs than NYC had before I started the project.So, while I may not (yet) be getting the broad reach that I had hoped for, I am getting to install some larger scale green roofs with some great people. And the green roof education reaches a broad base of people who will one day build their own networks...
I was recently invited to speak about my work as part of a Pratt colloquium whose theme is the urban landscape. I asked the organizer if perhaps I could design an interactive project for the students to participate in and then spend the time discussing that project instead of me coming in to lecture (yes I am a big believer in experiential learning).The project idea that I came up with was based on the experience of past projects and some upcoming projects. In order to create a closer connection or deeper understanding of their landscape, I asked the students to come up with a data set that could be mapped, but that was unseen. (Much like the 10' above sea level line or historical topographies).The students presented their projects: mapping the paths of campus cats, overlaying a star chart on a nearby park & mapping the constellations, the path of a sail boat from point A to point B and how it is altered by the weather, mapping access points to graffiti a spot, documenting ritualistic paths (daily chores, special trips), mapping crime sites and documenting those, using the body as landscape/map, using historic/personal maps/events to explore, paths implied by remnants, spaces with arbitrarily assigned meaning.
All these projects enabled us to discuss a great range of experiences and issues:-the concept of boundaries, how are real and perceived boundaries manifest, and how does that affect one's experience or interpretation.-emotional attachment/detachment to place-relationship of the body to experiences-changing landscapes (in weather, time, seasons)-communities that one discovers through a deeper inspection of place, how those communities exist & interact within the space-the psychology of landscape: how does it alter your perception, awareness, emotions and responses-the constantly changing landscape of an urban environmentIt was great to see the projects (thank you all!) And to have the time to delve into this discussion.It also makes me want to start a website to collect these wanderings and the experiences that people might share.For more information on work like this, start first at the Conflux Festival - the great gathering of psychogeography, then check out these projects:
- Cherry Blossoms by Alyssa Wright
- Green Line by Francis Alys
- Kalch by Julia Mandle
- Paths of Desire
untitled pratt cat, originally uploaded by kara canal.
I was looking this morning for more information on the book, Conversation Pieces, by Grant Kester, when I came across this summary of books on public art. The books that Alison Green reviews are Mapping the Terrain: New Genres in Public Art by Suzanne Lacy (which I just ordered on a recomendation from Amber Hasselbring), One Place After Another by Miwon Kwon, Conversation Pieces by Grant Kester and The Lure of the Local by Lucy Lippard. I won't go into detail about Green's text, as you can read it here. But I do want to pull out one of the discussions about the role of public art in the context of "community" or within discussions (or even, gasp - actions) of social change. Here are a couple of statements from Green's text (sorry I haven't read the books yet or I would pull directly from them):
Lacy's explicit focus is on the 'community' aspect of public art, as well as its ability to address 'real' social issues. She considers public art a 'highly competitive alternative gallery system'.1 She also eschews artists who have successful careers in the art world who periodically make public art works, or thematise the idea of public communication in their work. For Lacy, the most successful public art projects are ones where the artist works as a kind of agent, or facilitator, and is connected to or connects themselves in a genuine way to a real constituency rather than an abstract 'public'.
For Kwon, all of the transgressive and subversive gestures which were the domain of the avant-garde in the early part of the twentieth century have become mere glosses, patinas of radicality that cover what is essentially conservative work, fully-assimilated into political agendas but rarely truly effective as community projects or as artistic ones. For her the stakes are high; the debate on public art comes down to 'the future of democracy', in other words whether we live in a progressive society that both looks after its citizens properly and leaves room for protest. If art becomes a salve, it absolves those in power from making structural changes that condition social inequality.
In each of these, Kwon probes the idea of 'community' - how it's identified by the artist, whether it exists in advance of the project or is created through it, how it's formalised, and who ends up representing it. Her discussion raises a key question that's shared by arts professionals and community groups but not always artists: how the quality or success of public art is evaluated.
Kester has no illusions about the limitations of dialogical art practices, or of activist ones for that matter. He writes, 'Not all conflicts can be resolved by free and open exchange because not all conflicts are the result of a failure among a given set of interlocutors to fully 'understand' or empathize with each other'.3 He works hard not to idealise the artists he cites as doing exemplary work (WochenKlausur, Helen and Newton Harrison, Stephen Willats, Suzanne Lacy, Littoral, among the best known) and, perhaps better than Kwon does, holds a magnifying glass up to a range of their projects. Kester's conclusion is to the point: the best activist and dialogical art has left little trace in the critical literature almost as a result of the fact that the distance between the artist and audience was negligible - this is the goal, but it also indicates how marginalised this kind of practice remains within the art world and critical discourse, not to mention bureaucracies. The best work slips under the radar.
Green's discussion of the texts is a discourse on the value of different types of public works and how we got from there to here (how plop art and community art intersect and have transformed over time). But I am currently interested in the specific aspect "If art becomes a salve, it absolves those in power from making structural changes that condition social inequality."
I had a long conversation with two friends of mine not long ago about the role of artists in political and social agendas (one works in this realm and the other is more traditional) and as well the impact of private funding filling the gap left by the lack of federal funding for the arts and how all of this, overall impacts the culture of our country. (I also had an interesting conversation yesterday with another friend about how a lack of government funding when there is no private funding model, can affect contemporary art).
Here's the gist of the conversation: President Bush (the elder) in his 1998 inaugural speech called for limiting government spending and asking everyone else to take up the slack:
"I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in."
—George H. W. Bush, 1988
There's even an organization called Points of Light.
Anyway, what became the real takeaway in the new Bush administration (is he neo-bush?) is not just limiting funding (because yeh, I do think we all should be involved in our communities - in fact I think community service should be an option for funding your college education) but completely removing the funding and leaving it to the private sector to, well, do pretty much everything. So when arts funding for individuals dried up, private foundations stepped in, when the arts funding for organizations started moving towards funding conservative and traditional groups, private foundations started funding the emerging and cutting edge groups.
And, as government support and funding for social projects is redirected elsewhere around the world - non-profits and, yes, even artists, are stepping in to fill the role of what was previously a government responsibility.
Is this right or wrong? I honestly don't have an answer for that. They whole reason I got started down the path of creating works in public was the very frustration I felt over no one else (i.e. gov't) taking the reins and providing information to people.
Do I think artists are potentially more effective than government or even organizations working in the sector - yes, I definitely do. Artists can think more creatively, inspire action and provide an entry into the complex issues by way of art itself. Artists can move more quickly, think more strategically and take on bigger risks.
However, there does need to be some sort of support system in place for this kind of work. Is it right for me to do the work of the OEM without their support? Is it right for Amber to green the mission in SF without the city governements support? Is it right for Andrea Polli to develop extensive plans for wind turbines on the Queensbridge w/out support from National Grid (ne ConEDd)? Sure, a lot of the agencies are happy to take advantage of the project once it has started (I hear Bloomberg is interested in Polli's project) but where is the support for creative thinking right up front?
If there were better support for these kind of projects - would they get boring and complacent? Or would they get better? (Bigger dreams?)
I am working on a plan for "MY NYC" a plan for a utopian version of NYC (yes more trees & a park on park avenue - yes wind turbines on the bridges - yes a monorail looping the city!) do you think I could get funding from PlaNYC for developing it?
Probably not. But I think I will do it anyway.
This idea was directly generated from Matthias Merkel Hess' posting, "Getting Dirty at the Hammer." In it he mentions that the panel discussion (featuring Steve Badgett/SimpArch, Amy Franceschini/Futurefarmers and Nance Klehm) discussed the role of the gallery for artists who work in communities on a project basis. Amy Franceschini stated something about (in Matthias' words) "Franceschini said the gallery can be used as a testing ground and that failure is possible without hurting anyone."Last night I was trying to figure out how on earth I would store the 100+ plots for the "Seeding the City" project as they await installation. Then I realized that it would be a fabulous gallery show. I could keep all of the plots on the floor of the gallery, as they left the gallery to be planted, in their place would be inscribed the location to which they are taken (the address of the roof). Along the walls would be images of the plots in place. I can even create a little string based network of the plot spaces in the gallery. I LOVE THIS IDEA! So now I have to either find a gallery that would be up for this for the entire 3-5 month project timeline (at least it is summer!) or get a Swing Space from LMCC. If you have a gallery & are interested, be sure to contact me!
I talk a lot about building community and the importance of networks, I do a lot of maintaining those networks (on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=812474238, twitter: https://twitter.com/e_mo and now tumblr: http://evemosher.tumblr.com [mostly a repository for stuff i want to read or dross]) but in a way, you dear blog reader are part of my community too. In a very big way. In fact you may know more about me than those who get the 140 character updates (maybe - I can be very informative in short bursts).So my point is, that in the interest of building this community - tell me a little about yourself. In fact, go crazy and promote yourself all out in the comments. Include links to websites so that I can know who you are too...