[-empyre-] social practice / institutions / whose measures?

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Mon May 30 00:59:27 AEST 2016

dear all:

apologies for writing at point where I've not been able to read all previous discussions;

i was struck by the last post (Corrina) and wanted just to respond impulsively,
after a industrial strike action  (teachers union in the UK) last week dismantled a
symposium-workshop i had planned for a long time on:

“Algorithmic Culture & Participatory Art in Times of War”

with participant Bojana Kunst going to address “Precarisation and Institution” – and this may relate to the last point you make
about 'social practice' in adjunct instructor-teaching conditions that are at risk (if I understand you correctly).

Bojana, who did not attend and would not have crossed picket lines, had planned to reflect on the relation between "precarization of artistic experience and governmental precarization that finds today its most visible form in the rise of participatory events and exhibition of sociality"

This I already found very challenging, in the context of current imperatives to "participatory" modes of artperformance.

"We are surrounded today with ‘responsible’ institutions, which could be only exposed as social places because of the meticulous normative procedures, excellent logistical skills and top-off curatorial management. What is then urgently needed is to instil disobedience in this perfection of procedures and disclose the material infrastracture of the institution. To think more about stubborn institutions, connected with the surrounding habitat, an earthly infrastructure, which would not create clouds of experiences that can be easily whipped away and replaced with the new ones, but that would spread the practices and materialize the temporal and spatial quality of actions." [B Kunst]

Thinking backwards (about a performance/body class I was invited to teach at our Social Works program at the school), I realize now that I had no clue what context
(of health studies / NHS policy and social work with 'social service users' as they are called in the UK) I had crossed into, though i did notice that my intent to work physically and with some experiments in embodied disalignments
(wanting to get under the skin of questions of abled bodies) failed quite visibly. The social works students were unmoved. 

I also realized –  when I brought them a chapter from Shannon Jackson's book, 'Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics' (London : Routledge, 2011) –  that they could not connect to the performance studies context of that book – and I had just wanted them to glance a the intro  (which addresses disabilities studies) and the last chapter on 'Unfederated Theatre, Paul Chan waiting in New Orleans'.

Jackson is quite astutely critical of Chan's intended invention (bringing in his ideas for a theatre production/Waiting for Godot) into post-Katrina New Orleans and the black communities most severely affected by the impact of the flooding, the destruction of their homes and neighborhoods; she also admires, and discusses in some detail, the organizational efforts Chan made to connect already existing or emergent community activisms or responses. 

Now, Corrina, your own project which you describe (in Cincinnati) is fascinating and I am trying to visualize it, and hope more discussion arises and you get feedback here, perhaps also from folks who have experiencd it, and its effects.
I just here wanted to respond to (and ponder your work for/with Mel Chin) your question about tangible social impact, who measures it (as art or social work) now or in a longer run? its real change in policy and action?  

Mel Chin is highly revered in the Houston arts comunity where I have worked for many years, and in January 2015 we all went to the opening of his shows (at several museums and at a gallery), called 'Rematch" or "Degrees of Separation," and at the Houston Art League they featured Mel's drawings, diagrams and paraphernalia, accompanied by new (unauthorized) physical alterations of oil portraits.. alongside studies and artifacts related to his large-scale landart or rejuvenation projects and collaborative teamwork [and as you imply, "Fundreds"  – the original, hand-drawn interpretations of $100 bills by children –  involves kids, to  collaborate on an educational and lead-poisoning prevention community project]. 

Presumably, the Fundred Dollar Bill Project represents a process of demonstrating the power and value of collective expression;  still, I had a curious sensation, attending an art opening of art work, while also knowing that Mel does these huge projects (without his name attached?) , and in the video that is appended to the Fundred website [http://www.fundred.org/] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rV71FeUgFjk) Mel stands at the microphone like a business man selling an impossible idea;  he starts by saying, 'right after Katrina they brought me down to New Orleans as a trouble shooter.......
The he says he left, feeling absolutely impotent, as an artist, having anything to say about the catastrophe.

Would you care to comment on how you felt about this notion of the artist as social worker/troubleshooter, coming up with 'unauthorized" projects that do need supporting publics? 
what constitutes these supporting publics and who says/knows what is tangible?


Johannes Birringer

[Corrina Mehiel schreibt]

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.  ......

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. ........

[Michaela]  "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 
various schools, the issues around tangible social impacts makes any
course ethically risky.

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