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

kyle mckinley bicirider at gmail.com
Mon May 30 04:16:26 AEST 2016

Hi everyone,
I want to chime in quickly to thank everyone, and especially Corrina and
Michaela for bearing with us through some glitchy technical problems with
the list server. I suspect those are my fault, somehow… though I have an
MFA in digital media, I’ve never really shaken loose the sense that
computers break as soon as I get near them… a curse left over from years
spent as a luddite, the machines can smell the fear on me.

And I wanted to appreciate the anecdote that Corrina related about the
shift in K-12 curriculum in the United States from “civics” to “social
studies.” She reminds us that, “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.” This rings true with my own experience as
well, and is reflective, I believe of a larger lesson that we can take from
the history of art, education, and social movements — a lesson that I’ve
been coming to again and again in these discussions. That lesson is that
even the best intentioned endeavors will come up short — or even hasten the
deleterious affects of gentrification and neoliberalism — if they are not
grounded in accountability to a community or social movement.

As Nick Mitchell points out in a widely read series of tweets on
intersectionality and the history of adjunct instructors in the academy (
the emergence of new disciplines and methodologies (women’s studies, ethnic
studies, we might include performance art / et all for our purposes on this
list) in the late ‘60s was a direct, if begrudging, response of the academy
to new and unexpected pressure *from the student movements* to broaden the
scope of university study. These appear as an epistemological shift of
tectonic proportions. That seems to resonate with Corrina’s sense that the
period in which “civics” was taught in K-12 educational settings in the US
coincided with the strength of the anti-war movement (or maybe the New Left
and its aftermaths more generally?).  For our purposes today, it might be
worth thinking about whether, and to what degree, socially practiced arts
appear in response to, and are accountable to, social movements and
marginalized communities.

In short, the frequently heard claim that “social practice is so white”
seems to me less an inditement of anything intrinsic to the genre or its
discourses, so much as an accurate description of who many artists are in
effect accountable to — a disproportionately white and bourgeois art market
and disproportionately white and bourgeois group of funding agencies. If we
agree that this is the case, then it seems to me to pose new and quite
exciting questions about how to reshape and reimagine the relationships
between artists and social movements, as well as, as we have attempted to
do throughout this month, artists and social reproduction.

more soon,

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