[-empyre-] week 4: social practice and institutions

Corrina Mehiel corrinamehiel at gmail.com
Sat May 28 11:10:15 AEST 2016

Greetings from the mountains of Western North Carolina.  This is
such an interesting opportunity to virtually meet all of you in this
community.  I am honored to be part of this thread.

I write to you from the studio of Mel Chin in rural North Carolina.
I'm working with Mel full time this year, after partnering with his
Fundred Dollar bill project remotely since 2014.  Last year I
integrated the project into a social practice course I taught in
Cincinnati.  I've never worked as an assistant for an artist in this
way before, always in the past when working in community arts
education there was little to no emphasis on authorship, and was more
like a film production, where everyone had different roles to play to
create a large scale - or small scale - project, class or workshop.
The projects I'm working on with Mel are focused on environmental
issues, policies and social practices, and while they are a product of
his vision, have many contributors and partners.

I've been teaching / making / coordinating for years, and sometimes
the work seems to overlap, and sometimes it seems more like threads
that momentarily intersect, then diverge.

As an artist and educator I focus on engagement and the aesthetics of
shared / community spaces.   Lately I've been specifically thinking
about the artistic traditions and visual culture in public spaces
being continually shaped and changed by the people who inhabit them,
questioning how that impulse can happen in our consumer-based and
capitalistic western society.  Nothing ground breaking, but it is
interesting to me how themes resurface when I move and as I age. The
project I've been working on for the past two months is an
intervention in the city of Cincinnati, as the city parking authority
has been lagging behind in the transfer from coin parking meters to
card-readers, there are a few hundred half cut-off parking meters in a
rapidly changing / quickly gentrified neighborhood.  The cut meters
add to the overwhelming visual transition and blight, generally filled
with trash of all sorts.  In the meantime, the stickers have been
retrofitted with stickers that instruct you to "pay-by-phone" which
means you have to stand next to this broken meter full of wet garbage
and punch numbers and pay for the privilege of parking in a city that
is enforcing parking fees without investing in the community.   I cast
the interior of the meters, and created custom concrete planters that
fit in the broken meters throughout the neighborhood, planting a tiny
flower pot in each meter. While is was more a guerrilla style
intervention than a community coordinated effort, the performative and
engagement aspects of the action have lead me to make new conclusions
and offered new questions as collaborators have presented themselves.

I met Kyle McKinley in February at the College Art Association annual
conference.  We presented in a panel that was focused on social
practice in the institution.  We are both adjuncts, as many academics
are these days.  As an adjunct instructor, teaching at various
schools, the issues around tangible social impacts makes any course
ethically risky.  On the flip side, asking students to do research in
a strictly hypothetical way, I have found, leads to disinterested
students who may not grasp the importance of more deliberate,
human-centered, empathetic projects, which is problematic in its own

In a direct email from Michaela, she brought up the idea of the "real"
and I thought I'd leave with a statement of hers to hopefully ignite a
discussion:  "I'm particularly interested in tangible social impacts
resulting from artistic practice and how and when it is important to
measure impact related to arts practice - who measures it and whether
or not artistic practices are always public."

I am also interested in the real, I suppose that is part of my
interest in working with Mel Chin, his work often goes beyond
representation and seeks long term real change in policy and action.
And as I mentioned earlier, as an adjunct instructor-teaching at
various schools, the issues around tangible social impacts makes any
course ethically risky.

Looking forward to thoughts & responses...

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