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

Corrina Mehiel corrinamehiel at gmail.com
Mon May 30 02:32:48 AEST 2016

I thought I'd chime in again before the week is over, since we really
only touched on introductions and haven't addressed the questions
brought up by Don't a few weeks back.

As Kyle laid out for us to wrap up this month of thinking / discussing
social practice projects and artists and the complicated relationship
to institutions.  "This (final) week might serve as an opportunity to
reflect on the challenges that (funding) institutions and socially
practiced artworks present to one another, and...the
opportunities...?... How Don't Rhine’s comments in week 1 present a
critique of the ways in which institutions expropriate value from the
participants of socially practiced art ("participation in its value
form").  To the extent that such institutions are themselves
implicated in processes of displacement and gentrification, and to the
extent to which such institutions are de facto put to service as an
extension of the State, such critiques should serious pause all of us
who imagine art as a force for social transformation."

Do we have a choice?  For those of us who have been through a lifetime
of education within these (partially) publicly funded institutions, we
have these threads of the messy history of creativity and ingenuity
coopted by corporations and political interests, in a way we are the
products of these traditions.  It is no longer possible for me to work
in a way that I can pretend I am not participating the processes of
displacement and gentrification.  If I have the opportunity to teach
within a college or university I am also upholding the traditions of
privilege and opportunity whether I like it or not.  I am in no way
claiming to celebrate these traditions and abuses, I am only admitting
that as participants in the traditions, we are keeping them alive.

I've been thinking more and more about civic engagement and what it
means to live in and practice and engaged community.  When I was in
middle school in central Pennsylvania in the early 1990s, my older
brother was in a civics class in 10th grade.  By the time I became a
sophomore, civics had been removed from the curriculum and "replaced"
by social studies, which was in essence, a repeat of early American
history.  The short lived moment in time that civics was adopted by
our education system (I believe) was a result of the activism around
the Vietnam war, and by the 90s things had again shifted, and the
current state of hyper BREAKING NEWS had won, pushing back against
civic engagement and journalism.  So where do - especially our youth -
find mentors and spaces for learning strategies to push against these
traditions and tendencies?

I am living outside of Asheville, North Carolina right now, a state
that is on everyone's radar in the midst of an ugly political moment,
and a less and less United States... supposedly.  I had the
opportunity to take a HOOD HUGGERS tour of Black Asheville last week,
and was exposed to a deeply disturbing history of an ignored and
repeatedly squeezed out Black community that goes back generations.
The artist who took us on this tour of the real effects of what we all
commonly refer to as gentrification, is working with a small community
of activists to provide these windows of insight and understanding to
people like me, complete outsiders - as well as those who may be
willing to listen who have deep roots in western North Carolina.  The
web of connections and different projects go between major
institutions, grass roots community groups, non-profits, corporate
stake holders, developers, you name it.  The human implications of
social injustices, whether hidden or out in the open, must be exposed
from all possible angles.  If that means compromise with the "enemy"
is there a way to measure the gains vs. losses?  What happens to the
families that are being displaced across Asheville, as well as every
city in this county who puts property value and the interests of
corporate stakeholders above citizens?

In this moment of social media, siloed thought,  growing paranoia and
lack of compromise, I am advocating for the idea of compromise.  When
there are algorithms in place that keep all of us happy, pacified and
pushing us to forget how to confront ideas that are different than our
own, we risk the ability to see things from different perspectives,
and hold our ideas closer and closer to our hearts, confusing ideas
with emotion.  How can we as creative types, "social practitioners,"
instigators work with what we have now, really own it.


I'll leave that one for someone else to address ))

Corrina Mehiel

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