EDITION #25

March 3, 2014 · Print This Article

Behind the scenes photos from Pedro Vélez‘s Instagram.

City Vacant as Artists Depart for Chicago Edition of Whitney Biennal

Did some big movie thingy happen last night? Whatever. The real thing we’ve been waiting for is finally here: The Whitney Biennial plus Armory double punch. Chicago is about to be quieter than a John Cage performance and emptier than Detriot as the Midwesterners gear up for their big moment at the WB this week. Nevermind this list of 21 art events in March, the action’s happening in NYC.

In the tradition of William Siertua’s 2012 Whitney Houston Biennial at Murdertown in Logan Square, another posthumous tribute biennial is set to take place at Julius Caesar in Chicago. Painter and pedagog, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung is the only artist to appear in both the 2014 Whitney and 2012 Whitney Houston Biennials, but MZH and co-2014 “participant” Diego Leclery are absent from the 2014 WHB at the space they formerly ran together. Opening March 16th, the Julius Caesar edition of the Whitney Houston Biennial features those artists who assist and collaborate with Whitney Biennial artists.

Not to be one-uped by Chicago, NYC is countering with their own “everywoman” Whitney Houston Biennial in Dumbo, and raises with the last ever Brucennial, which we hear is also a ladies only exhibition. Looks like women, or at least nods to them, are big in the forecast in 2014.

At least those of us back home in Chicago can take some solace in the fact that the VIP opening is shaping up to be the equivalent of a really good Ren opening. No shade though, WTT? couldn’t be more stoked for the 17 or so Chiagoans in the Biennal. We’re especially curious to see what cool dad Diego Leclery cooks up, and who doesn’t love a good Elijah Burgher occult dropcloth? Oh and did we mention that you should also totes go gawk at B@S’s own Duncan MacKenzie and Richard Holland doing interviews at Volta?

We’ll be here waiting on the couch until y’all get back.

Sassy Fleischauer takes on Hollywood Sign Meme

Hollywood Sign Gif

“Here’s how to use that hollywood sign generator,” asserted Fleischauer last week on Facebook.

NY artists bring “Borough” to Chicago

The West Loop felt anything but “regional” at Deanna Lawson’s and Derrick Adams’ opening at RHG last Friday night. Hour d’erves were passed and the galleries were filled with well suited-up New York banker looking cats. Posh attendees, including artist Mickalene Thomas (both artists first appeared at Hoffman’s in Thomas’ exhibition tête-à-tête in 2012) and Bomb Mag editor, Betsy Sussler, (who both flew in for the affair) swirled around the charasmatic and stylish Lawson and Adams, who were just as striking as the work. Blurring the lines between the two, Adams showed up to the exhibition in a herringbone suit and camoflague print button-up that matched the patterns in the trees of his large scale collage works.

Photo by Deanna Lawson

Bad Mickey!

The main gallery was devoted to Deanna Lawson’s nothing if not sumptuous large format photographs. The most arresting piece in the show is arguably Mickey & Friends <3, 2013, a commanding horizontal photograph of unclad women embracing in front of a Mickey Mouse mural. Mickey licentiously glances over at them. The three nude ladies posing in unison in front of a red velvet curtain was a close second. Lawson even manages to make a simple pink blanket on a red bench look steamy.

Work by Derrick Adams in “Borough”

Karthik Pandian and Derrick Adams

Dapper Dudes: Karthik Pandian and Derrick Adams in front of Adams’ work.

Gallery girls and Rakowitz

Gallery Girls: Claire Flannery, Anastasia Karpova Tinari and Cara Lewis with The Breakup artist Michael Rakowitz.

In the front two rooms of RGH, Derrick Adams’ large collages merged the architectural with the psychological. Adams constructed his own “Borough” of homes from elementary school fence decorations, Restoration Hardware catalog furniture, and camoflague pattern trees. Figures are incorporated into the doll houses through fashion mag cutouts, sewing patterns and art historical fragments. Further underscording the metaphorical dimension of the homes are the miniature versions of portraits from Adams’ Deconstruction Worker series hanging on the walls of his own doll houses. The exhibiton is capped by an actual doll house in the front gallery window construced from silhouettes in Adams’ distinctive style.

Adams' dollhouse

Adams’ doll head house.

Rhona’s been killing it on the freshness tip lately. The Lawson and Adams exhibitions are on view until April 5th.

Rhona Hoffman Gallery is located at 118 N Peoria St #1A.

Who wore it better? Mexican Andrew or Chicago Andrew? Did you hear there’s a California Andrew version as well? Rafacz just went public with a gallery he’s opening in L.A. called Loudhailer.

Cultural Center Legitmately Cultural

DJ Earl

Lunch party time with Deejay Earl.

If you work anywhere near the Cultural Center you owe it to yourself to visit for Wired Fridays. We caught footwork master Deejay Earl two Fridays ago and it was pretty much life changing. The “study room” area on the first floor turns into a club with most eclectic midday crowd you’ve ever seen. Best people watching ever, old ladies, footworkers, tourists, you name it. Earl took the bizarre scene in stride and his set was on point.

Every first and third Friday of the month at the Chicago Cultural Center, Randolph Square, 1st Floor North. 78 E. Washington St.

Reading is Fundamental

Case of the Vase. Art never makes the headlines unless it’s something bogus like that whole Ai Wei Wei fiasco at the Perez Art Museum in Miami. Be still my Facebook stream. At least this one thoughtful meditation by Ben Mauk on the medias overblown reaction to the case almost makes up for it. Mauk’s mention of Damien Hirst’s hundred million dollar monstrosity also reminds us of Rachel Cohen’s fascinating piece for Believer Magazine on the relationship between bankers and artists throughout the ages. Overlap much?

Really though? If you do happen to find yourself in big ol’ New York City trying to fit in at Whitney Biennial Fashion Week, you might want to stock up on ADIDAS pants and slip on sandals with socks. Just remember one thing: no one out-normals Chicago. We’re not even really gonna get into it but this article pretty much sums up our feelings on the norm-non-matter.

[Social] Practice makes perfect at CAA. Obvi must read Jason Foumberg’s Scene + Herd for Artforum. That Dieter Roelstraete photo is beyond.

#Your an idiot. Can’t help it, I really feel that “really annoying—while at the same time making you kind of half smile every time you read it” thing.




Episode 442: CAA with Michael Rakowitz, Jenna Frye, Jesse Malmed, Matthew Smith

February 17, 2014 · Print This Article

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This week: Duncan and Richard at CAA 2014! We talk to Michael Rakowitz in the first of what will eventually be a multiple interview series, this time we discuss his work The Breakup, currently on view at Rhona Hoffman Gallery. Next Richard’s new hero Jenna Frye on Makerness, BAS pal, artist, curator Jesse Malmed on WACH, and art book genius Matthew Smith of http://arenotbooks.com/.
This show is an epic. E P I C. So we put our hands up like the CAA can’t hold us.

Who on Earth eats spearmint gummy. Yuck.




Top 5 Weekend Picks! (1/10-1/12)

January 10, 2014 · Print This Article

1. Codification at LVL3

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Work by Alex Chitty and Zach Reini.

LVL3 is located at 1542 N. Milwaukee Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Saturday 6-10pm.

2. To Win And To Hold at The Mission

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Work by Liz Ensz and Jeremiah Jones.

The Mission is located at 1431 W. Chicago Ave. Reception Friday 6-8pm.

3. The Breakup at Rhona Hoffman Gallery

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Work by Michael Rakowitz

Rhona Hoffman Gallery is located at 118 N. Peoria St. Reception Saturday 2-5pm.

4. Release Show at Chicago Artists’ Coalition

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Work by Jesse Butcher, James T. Green, Kasia Houlihan, Chris Meerdo, Ryan Peter Miller, and Rebecca Parker.

Chicago Artists’ Coalition is located at 217 N. Carpenter St. Reception Friday 6-9pm.

5. Experience is Limited to the First Person at TRITRIANGLE

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Work by Cardboard Computer, Brendon Chung, Allen Trivette, Robert Yang, and Kevin Carey.

TRITRIANGLE is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Friday 7-11pm




The Rematerialization of the Art Object: Stone, Soil, Words, and Wood; A reflection on Chicago artists participating in documenta13

November 15, 2013 · Print This Article

Instigated in conjunction with “The Locational Turn? Reflections from Chicago on documenta in Kassel, Alexandria, Banff and Kabul” panel discussion held November 13 (2013) at the Block Museum on Northwestern University.

by Daniel Tucker

Anyone who tries to generalize about “the art world” owes you an explanation about which world they are describing. While there is undoubtedly overlap between major institutions, mid-sized institutions, high-end commercial galleries, universities, art schools, community colleges, apprenticeships, auctions, internships, craft galleries, non-profit galleries, informal and community-based cultural centers,  residency programs, private philanthropists, collectors, public grants, magazines, theoretical journals, blogs, public art commissions, street art, artist collectives and individual artists – they can still seem worlds apart.

One world that can seem worlds apart is that of the Documenta exhibition, founded in 1955 by Arnold Bode, to occur every 5 years and reconnect post-war Germany to the contemporary art conversations and practices developing internationally. Produced by the documenta and Fridericianum Museum Event Company which provide the ongoing organizational infrastructure to keep the project going, the exhibition is largely guided by a curator. This position is akin to “being the mayor of a small city,” according to Michael Rakowitz, a Chicago artist exhibiting in this years show (1). In 2008 the search committee arrived on Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev as the curator, and she began her work on January 1st, 2009 re-inventing what has become over the last 13 incarnations, a crucial node in the intellectual and critical discourse of art around the world – itself producing conversations, catalyzing careers, and generally generating trends that will be talked about in years to come (in Chicago over the last year at the MCA, SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries and U of C’s Logan Center Exhibitions there have already been three exhibits of re-worked pieces shown at documenta13). In the summer for 100 days, from June 9th to September 16th of 2012, over 300 artists, writers, and thinkers participated in documenta13 in Kassel, Germany.

In 2012 a remarkable number of Chicago artists were invited as participants. Theaster Gates (with John Preus and Rebuild Foundation), Claire Pentecost, Michael Rakowitz, and Lori Waxman are all exhibiting works. A number of Chicago-based authors produced texts for the 100 Days 100 Books portion of the programs including Brian Holmes, WJT Mitchell, David Nirenberg and Jane Taylor. To have this many participants from one city would be unusual, but for it to be a city so detached from the commercial facets of art selling (gallerists, collectors, auction houses, etc) and so oriented towards political, community, and socially-engaged art is what makes the decision stand out.

Locally there has been a thriving art community in Chicago that is focused on strong social bonds, engagement with concerns and disciplines that exceed the focus of art, and political and ethical commitments around themes ranging from war and labor to housing and food. This has a long history in the city, dating back to the 1960s in terms of direct lineages with existing practices. It has developed in a particular and regionally-specific way, while art since the 1980s more generally in the United States has experienced a gradual engagement with political and social life. All over the country, but particularly on the coasts, there are art schools and universities initiating “Social Practice” focus areas for students interested in art that deals with social forms as a material in place of traditional art materials and mediums that have come to include clay, video, performance, paint, photography, sculpture, murals, and interactive websites, among many others.

Through my study of Chicago, I have observed that this turn towards “the social” is less of a turn, and more of a ever-present fascination. It has also been observed today, as well as in reflections on history that the work in Chicago has always been more serious than elsewhere. In a dialogue held at the South Side Community Arts Center, respected photographer from the Black Arts Movement  Bob Crawford spoke to his experience doing a photo show in New York City, where he observed that “the Chicago photographers’ work was usually more political. And the New York photographers’ work was a little more “art,” narrowly.”(2)

Deeply familiar with the Chicago artists and authors participating in documenta13, I traveled to Kassel last summer to see their work and consider my hometown art scene in relationship to this massive global event. Below are a few scenes from that trip.

 

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Lori Waxman, Photo by Nils Klinger, Courtesy of Documenta (2012).

Words+

Jorg Doerig’s friends and family have joined him to go have his art critiqued. They pack into a small self-contained room, a sleek writers cottage of sorts, where Jorg unpacks his paintings of flowers, and a self portrait, and layes them out on some shelves and leaning against the wall along the floor. It was time for his appointment with the Chicago Tribune art critic and art historian Lori Waxman, who had been taking half-hour appointments with local artists in Kassel three days a week all summer. Over the visit she asks some questions, but mainly gives her attention to interpretation of the art.

“Why Paint?,” she writes in response to Jorg’s work. “For love of certain subjects.” She concludes.

To watch her type (a mirror of her laptop monitor is displayed on a screen facing the artist and a steady-stream of passer-bys) is akin to watching a live poetry reading. Nothing else can compare to the experience of watching someone invest herself in the creative practice of another. While art criticism has become a game so detached from the making and the maker, Waxman reinvests herself in people and their artistic output. And she herself is on display, revealing the writing process, her process.

Most artists Waxman critiques in this project, titled “60 WRD/MIN Art Critic,” have never had their art written about. For the most part she has executed this project in smaller towns throughout the United States with the support of a writers grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation. In these settings, her presence incites tremendous excitement.

She consults an online thesaurus. What is a synonym for “Lovingly”? Jorg stirs, he smiles and looks around at his friends. What a strange experience, to have someone craft language before your eyes about your heartfelt and time-consuming creative activities.

 

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Michael Rakowitzl, Photo by Roman Maerz, Courtesy of Documenta (2012).

Stone+

In “What Dust Will Rise?” Michael Rakowitz presents an entire room of enclosed vitrines and display tables immediately conjuring the space of a museum, a special collection or an archive. Upon closer look, you notice handwritten notes in thin black marker ink on the glass panes of the display shelving. Like many artists in this installment of documenta, Rakowitz engages in the legacy of the Nazi presence in Germany and in the present military operations and occupation of Afghanistan. The building in which his installation is presented, the Fridericianum, was a library when it was bombed in 1941 and all but 15% of the books were destroyed. The artist elegantly draws a parallel between that sited history, infusing it in the present, with the interrelated history of Taliban destruction of cultural artifacts in Afghanistan – most notably the Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

Presented on the tables I encounter replicas of books destroyed in that bombing, carved out of stone quarried in Bamiyan by artisans Rakowitz commissioned in Italy. Proceeding through the space, books from other bombings, fires, and cultural assassination appear. Many of the books were original printings with intricate woven and printed cover art, shown here in rich three dimensional carvings of the cover, spine, and worn pages – all beautifully carved with precise details. Other books take the form of an open spread, drawing attention to the content through subtle and surprising connections with the form or the act of destruction that inspired the installation. Others, like the oldest lexicon of classical medieval abbreviations, are just devastating because of what they contain, and what knowledge and culture was lost.

Surprise is the crucial word for this experience. As I proceed from case to case and book to book, I keep thinking that I have comprehended the scope of the artistic gesture. And then the next object or collection startles me.  He did what? I think. He really brought some building fragments from dismantled public housing in St. Louis, the Twin Towers, and the Berlin Wall? Yes. Stone carving chisels from Bamiyan made from the remnants of exploded cars and abandoned tanks belonging to the occupying forces? Yes. Surprise after wonderful surprise, the installation unfolds with linkages and nuances that dispel an attempt at easy summary, but provoke curiosity in an unwritten narrative about our ongoing human projects of creation and destruction, war, imperialism, pre-modern and modern.

A highlight of the exhibition, this surprise echoes the best parts of documenta13, an exhibit without an overarching theme – forcing each work to be viewed for what it is.

 

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Claire Pentecost, Photo by Anders Sune Berg, Courtesy of Documenta (2012).

Soil+

Entering from the garden into the narrow glass doors on the side of the Ottoneum, I am excited to see the work of Claire Pentecost in such an ideal location. Prominently and symbolically located in the the first theater built in Germany, now serving as the Museum of Natural History, the  installation is the entrypoint for an entire building full of works about seeds, science and ecology – one of the most coherent sub-themes within this massive and themeless exhibition.

Pentecost produced this work in residence at The University of Kassel Faculty of Organic Agricultural Science in Witzenhausen and following her participation in a soil workshop at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania.

The outcome is a multi-modal installation all centered around a proposed currency called Soil-Erg. She made dozens of drawings with pencil and mud, illustrating a heterogeneous paper money version of Soil-Erg, each depicting a different ecological scene or significant activist and research figures working with food and science. Above the two walls of paper currency, are differently sized medallions of soil. The elaborate tables at the center of the room are piled up with ingots of soil, reminiscent of fantastical gold stashes from Indiana Jones or Fort Knox.

Along the back wall is an intervention into the museum’s collection – a move made by a number of artists who found inspiration in the specificity of the temporary exhibition venues. On the left there is a glass display unit from the collection of the Otteneum that shows slices of soil from different depths of the earths crust. To the right, Pentecost fabricated a similar companion unit that serves as a compost pile that will accumulate over time. The insides are equipped with microphones and through use of a headset you can literally hear the energy, heat and process of the decomposition of organic waste. On one wall of the unit, a hand-written chart depicts the phenomenon of corporate land-grabbing in the global south where North American and European companies are buying up massive farm land and even creating “soil farms” throughout Africa and Latin America.

Pentecost’s participation in documenta13 is itself heterogeneous. She is one of the few exhibiting artists who also made a book for the 100 Books 100 Days project, she gave a number of lectures and workshops, made a video for the website dealing with the importance of seeds to culture, and was an instructor at the summer retreat on the theme of “retreat” at the Banff artists residency in Canada.

 

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Theaster Gates, Photo by Nils Klinger, Courtesy of Documenta (2012).

Wood+

The immersive “12 Ballads For Huguenot House” is spearheaded by Theaster Gates along with his design collaborator John Preus, studio manager Theo Boggs, and a rotating cast of staff from his non-profit Rebuild Foundation. Walking into the house,  I immediately feel a complex social energy. People buzzing around, up and down the stairs, posting schedules for the day’s activities and consulting with one another about what the morning has in store. The video and audio pieces scattered throughout the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building are still being switched on, and some people just waking from bed.  Art tourist’s are poking their heads into the sleeping quarters, asking the people clearly in bed, “do you sleep here”? The Huguenot House is undoubtedly alive with real humans and the art pieces themselves were just a small component of the overall project. It may have one artist’s name attributed to it, but something this alive is the work of many.

Mobilizing people to invest in places and buildings is one of Gates’ strengths. The building at 25 Friedrichsstrasse in Kassel had been empty since World War 2. Under very different historical forces, there are homes in Gates’ neighborhood in Chicago, Grand Crossing, that have also been abandoned for decades (though not quite as long as in Germany). As a crucial facet of his participation in documenta13, a deal was made where a house in Chicago would be purchased and its wooden and metal guts would be converted into objects to repopulate the building in Kassel and at a later date visa versa, forming a kind of architectural material exchange. This insistence that elite cultural institutions should subsidize projects in the places where he lives and works (which has now grown to include a number of Black communities throughout the midwest through the work of Rebuild Foundation) is something Gates unabashedly names in his public presentations.

And in the case of Hugenot House, this subsidy to Chicago cultural possibilities that lie in the future of that local project, have been reciprocated with real life-force being breathed back into the long abandoned building. Throughout documenta, it has been the site of performances, daily yoga classes, community meals and what are said to be the best parties in Kassel every Wednesday night throughout the four months of the exhibition.

Conclusion: The Rematerialization of the Art Object?

As Paul Chan, another participating artist with Chicago ties, commented in a recent interview during documenta, “It is a funny time in art when making something quiet is seen as radical.”(3) The expectation has been implicitly fostered through curation and critical writing that new art needs to be participatory. It is not dissimilar from trends in governance and commerce – participation is the key to the hearts and minds!

As a counterpoint to this trend, these four projects start from complex social problems and engaged in the social processes necessary to activate and engage those problems, and then they made art objects and forms. Finding material resolutions to distill the complexity of the world into a form is one of the contributions artists have historically made to the societies in which they live. The work presented at documenta13 by Chicago artists produces a productive challenge for the debates around socially-engaged art practice and its treatment in educational and art presenting institutions. Formalist reactionaries now commonly antagonize participatory art with the same odium as was applied to performance artists in the decades past while Social Practice fundamentalists claim that objects are dead and process is the new vanguard. Perhaps these artists show a third way, a marriage between the qualities artists have long attempted to capture with material forms and the complex social processes necessary to engage the complex social world in a meaningful way.

______________________________________

Footnotes:

1) Rakowitz, Michael – Conversation with the author (7/5/12)

2) Crawford, Bob – AREA Chicago (2008), http://areachicago.org/bob-crawford-and-margo-natalie-crawford/

3) Chan, Paul – Bad at Sports (2012), http://badatsports.com/2012/episode-358-paul-chan-with-john-preus/

 

[Special thanks to Judith Russi Kirshner, Marcia Lausen, Jennifer Reeder, Lisa Yun Lee, Carolina Ariza, Ayreen Anastas, Rene Gabri, and Scott Berzofsky]

 

 

 

 




Open Season: A Reflection on Open Engagement

July 6, 2013 · Print This Article

by Jen Delos Reyes

OE BaS Reflection

Photo by John Muse

Two countries. Five conferences. Seven years. 14 partnerships. Over 700 presenters. Over 1600 attendees. Since the first Open Engagement conference in 2007 this event has become a key meeting point for people interested in socially engaged art. Open Engagement: Art After Aesthetic Distance began as a hybrid project that used a conference on socially engaged art practices as its foundation and incorporated elements including workshops, exhibitions, residencies, pedagogy, curatorial practice and collaboration. I wanted to foster a different kind of conference—one that worked in the way I wanted to see it work: with a sense of togetherness, putting emerging and established voices side by side, highlighting different ways of knowing and learning, and serving as a site of production, as well as reflection. I wanted to contribute to the discourse on socially engaged art in a meaningful way. When Open Engagement began it was a student project. I was a graduate student. The conversations that I wanted to engage in were not happening at my school in Saskatchewan, so I decided to create the situation that would allow for me to have these discussions with people doing similar work. Open Engagement was the basis of my education, and now is a major foundation of my work as an educator.

This year as in most years my experience of Open Engagement happens mostly in the lead up—in conversations with students to determine the themes of exploration for the year, in the selection of keynote presenters, in the scheduling, planning, writing, partnerships, and all things organizing. In the day to day of the event itself I get to attend very few sessions, usually only the opening and closing sessions, keynote events, and a hand full of other projects and for a limited amount of time. My time during Open Engagement is mostly spent assisting and making sure things are running smoothly. But in that way of moving through the conference I intersect with people all throughout the day that I ask what they have attended, and what their thoughts are on the experience at the conference so far. This idea of needing to talk to others to fully experience the conference is intentional. Because of the parallel programming no one person can take in all of the projects and sessions that form the event on their own. We need to work together, and see from multiple perspectives to get a full sense of the field.

In 2010 at Open Engagement Pablo Helguera said that he had always heard that a conference is meaningful in as much as it generated new questions to follow up. If you didn’t find new questions then maybe it was not successful. I had a similar feeling about conferences, and it had been one of the ways I was measuring outcomes. The conference begins with a series of calls and questions, and throughout the course of the event and the conversations there are undoubtedly more that are generated. At OE 2013 we were making a concerted effort to capture that questioning throughout the weekend, and on Sunday before Tom Finkelpearl’s keynote talk were reminded by Michelle Swineheart of one of Sister Corita’s “quantity assignments” of generating 100 questions when embarking on intensive work and research. With this in mind, as well as earlier feedback from the day at a session between the Creative Time summit and OE where I heard from many participants that they wanted to work together to generate something during the conference and that in general there was a desire for sessions that allowed for formats other than being talked at, I decided that the final event would be an opportunity for just that.

For the closing event of Open Engagement 2013 instead of having a panel discussion between only keynotes and curatorial representatives we instead set out to collect 100 questions generated by the group assembled to further get a sense of what is emerging, what people are thinking, and where this conversation is going. The Sister Corita assignment felt fitting for a group of presumably invested individuals, who wish to continue to be involved in research and practice, to take this on together. It was a hope that as we would move out into the world after the conference that we could then reflect on this list of the questions we are currently asking ourselves about socially engaged art. The format was that each of our six panelists joined one of six seated groups that each had about 40 chairs (based on past years we were planning for between 200-300 people at the final panel), and we then had about 35 minutes to work together and for each group to write 17 questions and then we reconvened and the panelists shared the group work. After the instructions were given, at least 20% of the assembled group left instead of joining the break out groups. As I stood at the front of the room watching people choose to stream out, I wondered if I had made a mistake. The people that remained formed groups and were led in discussions to generate questions. There was one group in particular that voiced resentment, yet not enough resentment for them to have just left. This all came out in sharing of the questions at the end of the session. After many weeks I heard from someone who was part of that dissenting group how difficult it was to contribute questions, to have a discussion, and to feel like they could share. Days after the conference I heard some thoughts from Michael Rakowitz (who was the person facilitating that group) on the conference and the final event in general and he said, “You created a space for people to get upset, and that opens up possibilities for things that haven’t been done yet.” While I had no doubt that we had created a place for people to get upset I wondered what else the space was a possibility for. I thought of other conferences and their goals, Suzanne Lacy’s City Sites: Artists and Urban Strategies (1989), and Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art (1991), the Creative Time summits that began in 2009, and the more recent Homework conferences organized by Broken City Lab. Lacey was trying to create a space to develop language for socially engaged art that went beyond the limitations of forms like performance and conceptual art, and with the latter intended that the activities of Mapping the Terrain would come together as a publication. The most simple way to describe the Creative Time efforts is an attempt to become the TED talks for socially engaged contemporary art. The latest incarnation of the Homework conference takes a similar approach to Mapping the Terrain with a end goal of a collectively generated publication, and a similar format to Open Engagement with three keynote presenters and framing devices.

My last memory of Open Engagement took place at Boxxes, the club that hosted the wrap party for the conference. I showed up after a late dinner and took a seat behind the DJ booth where Paul Ramirez Jonas was virtually spinning tunes for the party. I was approached by a woman I met earlier in the day who is a funder at an arts organization dedicated to supporting socially engaged art. I found myself captive behind the DJ booth during a moment of celebration hearing out her frustrations with the conference. The parts of her dialogue that rang out the loudest in my mind were, “I am not here to learn with you, I am not here to generate your content.” I nodded throughout, and thanked her for so openly sharing her criticisms. I meant it. I still do.

This encounter made me think of who was present Open Engagement, and what they expected, and how at least for this person how much of a radical departure it was from what I thought people were there for. I revisited some writing from 2007 that I had done after the conference:

What does it mean to be open? What does it mean to be engaged? What if one were to be both open and engaged simultaneously? Openness is honesty, generosity, a sense of possibility, freedom, free of boundaries and restrictions. To be engaged is a promise. It is a commitment, an obligation. It is also a sense of involvement and participation. To have an “open engagement” implies a commitment that is potentially limited or short lived. But what if the two terms once united could keep their respective definitions making openly engaged a term that would embody an obligation to honesty, sharing and possibility? 

It happened, we did create a place of possibility, a place for honesty and sharing, one where many boundaries and expectations were crossed and left behind. What should Open Engagement be? Who should it be for? How can we adequately capture what is generated? Over the last few days I have been thinking about the possibility of an online community archive for Open Engagement that would be a collective effort that would be open for all to share their documentation, writing, thinking, and stories related to the conference.

I had always seen Open Engagement as a site of learning. In an online video conference with Ren Morrison from the Atlantic Center for the Arts weeks following the conference he off handedly referred to Open Engagement as being his “education”. The conference has for the past four years been a site of convening for many of the MFA programs with a focus on publicly/socially engaged art. The fact that this conference is so embedded in the structure of an MFA program makes the very nature of it educational, as well as the fact that even the very beginning was in an educational framework. In my mind we were all working together, learning together, and teaching one another. How we organize this conference collaboratively echoes the spirit of our program and our approach to learning. An education in our program is emergent, unorthodox, and at times unruly. This translates into Open Engagement feeling slightly unkempt, and in flux. And while this might be a point of criticism for some, I would not trade this instability for rigid professionalism or a set structure. It is important that we remain open to this conference and this conversation shifting and developing in unexpected ways. It is also important that we remain open to the realization that this may no longer be a site that is necessary, or that it might need to take a completely new form and possibly a new grounding. I hope that whatever becomes of it, that Open Engagement can be a site to work together, learn together and see what we are contributing to the field of socially engaged art from multiple perspectives. I am open to whatever comes next.

Jen Delos Reyes- Assistant Professor, MFA Art and Social Practice Program Chair

Jen Delos Reyes is an artist originally from Winnipeg, MB, Canada. Her research interests include the history of socially engaged art, group work, band dynamics, folk music, and artists’ social roles. She has exhibited works across North America and Europe, and has contributed writing to various catalogues and institutional publications. She has received numerous grants and awards including a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant. Jen is the founder and director of Open Engagement, a conference on socially engaged art practice and herself speaks widely on Art and Social Practice at conferences and institutions around the world. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Portland State University where she teaches in the Art and Social Practice MFA program.