Social Practice Queens (SPQ) is a collaboration of the Art Department of CUNY Queens College and the Queens Museum of Art with the goal of developing an MFA pilot program in Social Practice. The vision is to serve as a model for education in this field by combining the expertise of a group of artists, administrators, educators, and those engaged with local issues specific to Queens, NYC, one of the most complex and multicultural urban centers in the world.
The first cohort of SPQ students began the program in spring 2012 with a semester-long introduction to the Corona, Queens neighborhood and its newest public space, Corona Plaza. The Queens Museum and its organizers have been instrumental in transforming Corona Plaza into a programming and organizing platform for the community, and have been actively collaborating with the students in the development of their projects, which are set to launch this summer.
And, plans are afoot for a conference in the spring of 2014 in the QMA’s new expansion wing that will emulate aspects of the Open Engagement conference at Portland State University, but with a decidedly NYC flavor.
SPQ collaborators Prerana Reddy and Jose Serrano of the QMA offered some insight into this experimental partnership, and what it means for the collaborating institutions, students, and community stakeholders alike.
Juliana Driever: You chose to name this a “social practice” program, though there is a bevy of other ways of calling this work: new genre art, socially engaged art, relational art, et cetera. Is using the word “practice” a way around using the word “art?” Are you interested in pushing this kind of work beyond a specifically art-oriented dialog?
Prerana Reddy/Jose Serrano: The choice of the words “social practice” was more pragmatic than anything. There was no deliberate distancing from using the word “art.” It had more to do with acknowledging the growing community of practitioners that has come to identify with this particular terminology.
What we did spend a lot of time on was discussing what form of ‘social practice’ we could excel at, and how that might end up in our branding. So there were ideas ranging from ‘urban social practice’ to ‘critical social practice’, which would have been intended to highlight the kinds of artist projects that address the complex urban fabric of a place like Queens, or signal a stronger critical-political component, respectively.
JD: There are a handful of other “social practice” (or similarly dubbed) MFA programs in the U.S. The interest in this discipline as a course of study seems to be growing. Do you think this creative interest has something to do with the larger state of social relationships, a shift in the state of art pedagogy, or a conflation of these and other circumstances?
SPQ graduate student Seth Aylmner collaborates with the youngest artists of Corona toward the creation of a bronze sculpture for Corona Plaza. Courtesy of the Queens Museum of Art and Queens College Art Department.
PR/JS: There at least as many answers to this as people involved in the initiative. Some might say that the development of these programs has to do with simply fulfilling a need, as more students identify with this type of work and are looking for graduate degrees…
There has been an increased pressure on arts and academic institutions to define the benefits they provide to society at large. In an era of economic crisis, there is always a pressure to think of arts and culture as a luxury that can be cut. I think there is a genuine belief on the part of those who work in these institutions that art provides not only educational benefits, but a cohesive and inclusive space for a healthy and engaged civic life of the communities that they work in and with. In a time when public space is increasingly privatized and policed, it behooves artists, designers, and public intellectuals alike to work together to strengthen the public sphere. Social Practice emerges at a time in which what practitioners know intuitively must be expressed more concretely and analyzed more rigorously.
JD: Unlike other social practice MFA programs, SPQ is in direct partnership with a major museum, which is a unique set-up for an MFA program to start, but even more so given that much socially-engaged art typically takes place beyond museum and gallery contexts. Does the QMA’s investment in this program also signal a shift in the role that museums play in support of such work?
PR/JS: At the Queens Museum of Art, we are constantly striving to examine whether the avant-garde in the realms of art and politics can actually meet. Can an art project simultaneously address aesthetics and concrete social goals in public space? This is a constantly evolving process, one that must be responsive to shifting demographics, economic conditions, political will, unplanned crises, and a constantly unfolding definition of art. Unlike the confines of the gallery or contracted set of artistic services rendered in non-museum spaces, engaging in complicated social relations in the “real world” involves a surrender of control over outcome as well as some amount of risk. This is not something that all museums want to enter into or are well-positioned to do.
Families read together at the UNI Project’s Mobile Reading Room at a Community Celebration at the newly designed Corona Plaza, 2012. Photo by Neshi Galindo.
However, equally, if one is receptive, such projects provide invaluable input in the context of a long-term, iterative experiment in local knowledge production. It also requires staff with specialized training and social networks outside of or in addition to those found in traditional curatorial or museum administration spheres. For example, the QMA staff includes two community organizers, three art therapists, and more than twenty teaching artists whose backgrounds and language repertoires mirror the diversity of our largely new immigrant neighbors. QMA’s exhibition program consistently exhibits artists who work collaboratively with our community members, and our partnerships include municipal agencies, local advocacy organizations, health care providers, urban planners, local business associations, and public libraries. Furthermore, these staff must be consistently present in community spaces and events, and possess the intuition, social skills, and social capital to overcome communication barriers and historic mistrust of arts institutions.
Participatory public artist projects exist within triangular set of relational dynamics amongst the Museum, the artists’ projects, and audiences. Museums have curatorial and social questions that are motivations for commissioning such projects: the development of new species of artists residencies within museums as labs for investigation; mutual education and different modes of interaction; the changing understanding of the mission of museums and their responsibility to the cultural vitality and health of local communities; the visibility (or invisibility) of participatory art practices and their relationship to traditional gallery exhibitions and experiences; and the role of documentation, presentation, and new digital and interactive (web2.0) technology in the life and dissemination of such emerging practices.
JD: Because “social practice” implies an inherent nature as an applied art, is there the desire/need for the equivalent of a “materials and techniques” handbook or something such? In a very practical sense, how does one approach teaching this area of study?
PR/JS: We don’t necessarily have a “unified theory” of how to teach this work, because it depends so much on context, but we’ve been doing a lot of experimenting. First, nothing is more important than lived experience. It is important to encourage students to develop projects and actively participate in the initiatives of others, including more experienced artists but also with people and organizations in other fields that align with their interests. The museum provides “these points of access” for students to enter into ongoing projects as they unfold and to meet a wide variety of artists, organizers, and administrators at various points in the process of “social practice.” But we have realized that there are important community organizing skills that seem to be relevant to most of the student projects. QMA’s Public Events Department is also “on-call” to advise students how to manage permits, navigate city agencies, work with CBOs, find necessary technical services or advice, which are also key components in this type of art practice.
Maureen Connor, one of the lead faculty of SPQ, recently instigated a social practice pedagogy group that is jointly developing an introductory Social Practice syllabus with other NYC and East Coast faculty this Spring. They have been meeting weekly since mid-December and are teaching the course while developing it. In addition to Maureen, the group includes Caroline Woolard, Scott Berzofsky, Robert Sember, Mark Read, Laurel Ptak, Sasha Sumner, Shane Aslan Seltzer, and Susan Jahoda.
JD: Taking human relationships as a medium and a context is an undoubtedly tricky thing. Have you identified/partnered with key figures from Corona to help facilitate projects with the students? What has been the community involvement and response to this initiative and its projects?
PR/JS: That “permaculture” approach has been a kind of ideal for Corona Studio, and into this context we introduced SPQ and the first cohort of students. In the spring of 2012, the first SPQ course was based out of Immigrant Movement International, and was focused on the transformation of Corona Plaza. It was called: “Corona Studio: Transforming Corona Plaza” and was opened to both graduates and undergraduates in both the Art Department and the Urban Studies departments at Queens College. Throughout the semester, we invited some of our most valued community partners as visiting lecturers to help the students develop “listening tools” that would help them have meaningful conversation with the stakeholders of the plaza, and in doing so, learn to see the potential for creative interventions in a more holistic community context. Over the course of the last year, the students have remained connected to the community by participating in many of the museum’s ongoing public events in the Plaza, and by carrying forward their own creative projects in Corona with the support of the Museum and its partners. Many of these projects will culminate with public events in Corona Plaza throughout the summer of 2013.
Community celebration at the newly designed Corona Plaza, 2012. Photo by Neshi Galindo.
For example, Barrie Cline and Sol Aramendi, two students in the program, are collaborating on a project with members of the community organization New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), a long-time community partner of the Museum which advocates for the rights of recently arrived and often undocumented immigrant workers in Corona. The first installment of the project will culminate in the launch of a publication showcasing the writing and photography of the members of NICE in collaboration with union tradespeople from the Harry Van Arsdale School for Labor Studies, an institutional connection offered to the project by Barrie Cline.
JD: A criterion common to some of the most successful community-based projects is sustainability: the desire and ability to stick around in a community for an extended period of time. How have you considered encouraging a meaningful, lasting relationship between the students, the college, the museum, and the community?
PR/JS: We’ve had the opportunity to think about this question quite a bit, as the Museum has invested a lot of time and energy addressing the sustainability and health of our relationships in the community of Corona.
Over the last eight years, we have had an actively cooperative stance in terms of our community relationships, and have developed a strong network of over 40 community partners, some of which participated in creative collaborations we proposed to them — for example, working with one of our commissioned artists, or co-producing a cultural event in Corona Plaza.
Corona Studio was born from a desire to sustain these creative relationships, by committing ourselves to a program of commissioning long-term artist projects that are actively interested in working creatively and cooperatively with our community partners in Corona, and the people of Corona at large.
Workshop at Corona Plaza by Change Administration and DSGN AGNC. Courtesy of the Queens Museum of Art and Queens College Art Department.
The first of these commissioned projects was Immigrant Movement International, a cultural space initiated by Tania Bruguera that is going into its third year and has become the de-facto home of many of the local cultural groups that we have been working with throughout the years, like the Corona Youth Music Project. We have also developed long-term projects in Corona with the Ghana ThinkTank artist collective, the Change Administration, and DSGN AGNC design collectives in the context of the transformation of Corona Plaza. In the case of each project, our goal was for it to benefit from the relationships developed by the ones that came before, and for it to pay it forward to those that come after.
So for example, Immigrant Movement International became an active partner and the host for many of the gatherings organized by the Ghana Think Tank, and the social projects surrounding Corona Plaza.
We have been thinking about the question of sustainability not simply in terms of each of the individual projects, but also in terms of their fluidity and openness to connect with existing relationships and resources, and their willingness to re-invest their community energy into subsequent projects, as well as other locally-driven initiatives.
Each participatory art project allows new, often unforeseeable, partnerships and projects to emerge based on the skills and insights learned through their interactions both with the community collaborators and the Museum. The community who participates in those projects might shift their perceptions about what art is and what roles it could play in social life, what types of personal transformations it could bring about in terms of self-perception, new social interactions, and political possibilities. The challenge then becomes one of capacity and commitment: how to continue to build upon these possibilities and to remain accountable to partners beyond the lifespan of a project or a grant cycle that supports it. On the evaluation side, it is difficult to understand the impact of such projects. Exit interviews, final reports, surveys, and the like represent a very small slice of what takes place in a participatory art project, somewhat like a single frame in a serial scan of a longitudinal social process. Ultimately, we believe the engagement approach of any institution is necessarily situated in both ecological and ethical terrains, in that such endeavors live within a dense, interconnected local environment as well as a set of contested value systems that must be constantly negotiated towards generative rather than reductive outcomes.
I love love love Triple Canopy and always have. Today, I thought I’d share one of their latest contributions. You’ll have to link over to their website, but it’ll be worth it, I promise.
Hey. Duncan (me) is on a panel tonight.
Here are the details.
1328 W. Morse Avenue
Chicago, IL 60626
WBEZ – Chicago Public Media
You know what they say about opinions, right? Now more than ever, in this brave new digital world, everybody’s got one. But criticism does something more—something vital to all of the arts communities it serves. Join your host Jim DeRogatis and an illustrious panel of local critics as they discuss their role in the new media landscape. We’ll also enjoy some dramatic readings of noteworthy critiques by Chicago actors, and you’ll have the chance to challenge what the “experts” are saying as the audience is invited to go interactive via Twitter!
• Sarah Zupko, editor the Chicago-based Pop Matters Web site
• Andrew Barber, editor of the hip-hop blog Fake Shore Drive
• Donna Seaman, who writes about books for Booklist and other outlets
• LaShawn Williams, the arts editor of the Gapers Block Web site
• Leah Pickett, who writes about pop culture for the WBEZ blogs
• Kris Vire, one helluva great theater critic
• Jim “Tankboy” Kopeny, ace music writer at Chicagoist
• Duncan MacKenzie, co-founded and contributes to the Bad at Sports art blog
• Drew Hunt, who reviews movies for the Chicago Reader
• AND… a special guest who will appear incognito (as many food critics must)
Here is a link… LINKY
Barbie and La Nouvelle Vague (part 1)
It is my interest in what Jean Luc Godard thought about Barbie, if he ever thought about Barbie, which leads me here. Pick out any one of his films as a point of reference and watch for the female protagonist. She has the essence—the je ne sais quoi. And, her hair is elegant, neatly coiffed, falling in place like the snow on all of Chicago and sliding against my window. It’s 2p.m., but it looks more like 7p.m. outside. I love her. I hate her. Barbie shaped my social consciousness. This afternoon “Barbie, Barbie, Barbie” is my constant mantra. She represents the essential feminist that I want to be and the sexual icon so many love to hate. Perhaps this is why Godard used Barbie’s essence as a point of reference when casting his female characters. Consider Patricia Franchini, played by Jean Seberg, in “À bout de souffle” (“Breathless”) and Camille Javal, played by Brigitte Bardot in “Le Mépris” (“Contempt”), these protagonists are much like Barbie as they appear ambivalently sexy, intelligent, stylishly dressed, and all the while aloof.
It’s also at this point that I must note that Barbie helped to close the “racial divide” of my childhood. A year after I was born (1980), Mattel embraced the “changing times.” The company began to produce “multicultural” Barbie(s). So, when I played with Barbie I never had to worry about being “black” or “white.” She was “politically correct,” especially since Midge (Barbie) was introduced to represent “mixed” girls and “family” life. Midge and the other “multicultural” Barbie(s) meant well, but overall they reinforced “stereotypes.” Nonetheless, I remember playing with Midge and Barbie. The focus shifted to how “pretty” they were, how “thin” they were, and how the blue of Barbie’s eyes reminded me of my grandmother. It’s so “cliché” to say that I wanted to dress like Barbie. I thought, at 8, that I was a doll. My mother called, and still calls, me “JamieDoll.” Perhaps a defense of my close connection is necessary as I realize that people like Dr. Kamy Cunningham say that Barbie is the “anti-clone for every woman who wishes to be more than surface deep, she is the alter ego ideal for American m[e]n [—the] virgin/whore she makes men out of little boys” (Barbie Doll Culture and the American Wasteland). It’s not easy being Barbie.
And, it must be understood that I see Barbie’s anatomical faults. Laurell K. Hamilton wonders, “Did you know that if Barbie was a real woman with those proportions, she’d have to carry her kidneys in her purse” (The Killing Dance). I marvel, as Barbie’s body is a scientific feat and her eyes are those of Bambi’s if ever reincarnated. But, I digress. I’m not a woman that wants Barbie’s measurements. I’m a woman that, on a recent trip home to California, hugged my mother only to feel her unruly scarf the color of Barbie pink. The unmistakable pink used to market Barbie’s uncomplicated, uncluttered life. I saw Barbie’s independence in every strand of my mother’s scarf. I find a defense for Barbie at every corner.
The notion behind my mantra was reinforced as I watched Ann Romney take the stage during the Republican National Convention (RNC). Would Godard have cast Romney to play one of his protagonists? She certainly looked the part with her perfectly coiffed blonde hair falling on her shoulders, red lipstick, red silk-taffeta dress, with cuffed sleeves and small V-neck, and black leather heels. The je ne sais quoi of Romney’s ensemble was its shade of red. It vacillated from fire-engine red to cerise to “Jolly Rancher red” (New York Times). Romney was reminiscent of Angela Récamier, played by Anna Karina in “Une femme est une femme” (“A Woman is a Woman”) as she mirrored Angela’s gentle pursuit and spoke with phrases full of spunk. Now, I’m pacing in my office, spooning through a jar of peanut butter—the natural kind, the kind with water on the rim. Barbie posters are stacked on the desk and Midge (Barbie) is back in her box. I wonder if Barbie likes peanut butter?
Jamie Kazay teaches in the English Department at Columbia College. A California native, she holds a BA in English from California State University, Northridge and an MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry from Columbia College. She co-curates the Revolving Door Reading Series and is currently reading of a lot of Camus, Derrida, and Dorothy Allison. Her collection, Small Hollering, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2011.
It has been a crazy and historical week. Taxes due on Monday are likely by now all but forgotten with the Boston marathon tragedy and all the subsequent images of police in Watertown, followed by the final capture. At such times I feel grateful to be an artist, among artists, given the ability to reflect slowly on surrounding events while remaining appreciative of the good earnest work of my peers. Because it feels like there is just too much to unpack in a few short days. This week on Bad at Sports seemed to raise and recycle the spector of the 60s (between fashion designer Michael Cepress, sculptor Aris Georidiades, and Edra Soto. Questions about language and the body and where we stand as producers in a contemporary culture.
On Tuesday, LA correspondent Adrienne Harris posted about the roller coaster ride entailed in writing and producing an independent film:
“Independent film is a mysterious beast. It can mean a lot of things, from a group of friends shooting a short film on their I-phones, to Lena Dunham’s inspired Tiny Furniture, shot with her own family/friends in her own home with her own funds (as I understand it) to films loaded with movie-stars, loaded with cash and pre-sale money, BUT no major studio attachment until after it has debuted at a big film festival. To say you are making an “independent film” is simply to say that a major studio did not, in fact, hire you to write the next movie in whatever Young Adult Fiction, or Super Hero franchise. But other than that, the term is vague. Very vague.”
Richard Holland interviewed Aristotle (Aris) Georidiades, who’s show opened this Friday at Carl Hammer Gallery in River North. Georidiades says at one point,:
“Most of the work for this show is made of materials that I have collected that are generally related to buildings built prior to the 1960s. I also continue to use objects that might be considered obsolete or on the verge of being obsolete. I think that by using these materials and objects in my sculpture, notions of our current condition are brought to mind. Of course there are some typical motivations underlying this work. Typical in that I am a “maker” who appreciates materials and I notice the way the world around us is made. Materials and the methods of manipulating the materials can and should carry and covey meaning. Visual artists know this don’t they? I should also add that I continue to believe in the power of objects. As an artist I find it very challenging to try to create compelling objects in a world filled with objects whether we call them art or not. I am not really repurposing old work although at times I do reuse materials from an old piece.”
Thomas Friel wrote about James Franco, who curiously appeared in my dream last night and (no doubt because of Friel’s post) made me sleep-think, “How strange that my Franco is playing himself in my dream”). Friel writes:
“Reality TV and YouTube are now established parts of our entertainment culture, providing instant celebrity status or notoriety. By always trying to make reality, how are we actually interacting with it? We are constantly posting and reposting, recycling videos, content, news; in essence, information we are trying to process as reality. This blends in with all the fictional stuff. How do movies become the stand in for experiences not personally had, influencing our actions and their expected outcome? Do we envision our lives cinematically, possibly as a result of our experiencing through media?”
FROM PORTLAND! Sarah Margolis-Pineo interviews art fashion brainiac, Michael Cepress, who at one point says:
“The boundary gets identified when you start to push against it. So how do you push against boundaries when you’re making clothes? Do you encourage a man to wear a shaped garment that we would never otherwise see on a man? Do you put a transparent cloth that lets us see the body in a way that we’re not accustomed to seeing? A big part of fashion design for me is: what is the body itself; what does the body embody; and how does that turn into something? So part of my practice, almost weekly, is to draw the figure, both male and female. I look at the body and then I figure out what is it about the pose, the person modeling, or what’s on my mind that day, that can turn into a garment concept. This rendering on the end [for a garment featured at Bellevue Art Museum] expresses this most clearly: here he is with an open stance, and you can’t help but see this burst of light or energy from his chest. As a physical thing, this expression is embodied as a vest with dozen lapels.”
Gene Tanta opens with the following question:
“I misread “you” instead of the “I” you have. How does this change the tone of the text? How does this change the idiomatic expression itself: “I break for strangers” or “I will rock you like a hurricane” or “the children are our future”? How does this change the sense of a dialogue between a subject and an object of desire on the skintight highroad of language?”
Which is to say, if you happen to be in Bucharest on May 11th, nihilist poets are gathering to discuss their work, asking the question, “How do your poems ‘take responsibility for their freedom’ as Sartre put it? Camus found relief when the Sisyphean bolder was rolling back down the mountain. Where do you find relief? Is finding relief and closure why you write your poems?” Which is perhaps a fair question for any and all of us, no matter where we are…
Thea Liberty Nichols interviews Edra Soto this week about her porch installation at Terrain in Oak Park, where “Soto uses [Sabina] Ott’s front porch as the root stock to graft her installation, comprised of patterned, bright white screened gates… [A]lthough they mimic the aesthetic appeal of similar gates in [Soto's] native Puerto Rico, they function quite differently in the terroir of Oak Park.” In addition to talking about her work at Franklin, Soto said of her installation:
“Yes, this patterning comes from iron fences that still exist in Puerto Rico. Many are in my parent’s neighborhood (where I grew up). The neighborhood was built in the early 60s and in addition to the aesthetic appeal, the screens provided security and ventilation. It’s easy to find all kinds of information relevant to the problems related to criminality at that time. However, there’s not much information about the pattern designs of the fences… Their beauty allures me but their potential of becoming modern art when taken out of their original context spooks me!”
And don’t forget to check out last week’s SUNDAY COMIC CONVO with Sara Drake —
Last but not least, allow me to add a couple of art reviews around and about town that I particularly enjoyed this week — Claudine Isé wrote about Thomas Demand’s photographs at the Graham Foundation, W. Keith Brown discussed Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford’s show at the Hyde Park Art Center and Jason Foumberg highlights Chicago sculpture.