Curator Statement

2013.06.29

In this first decade of the 21st century, a critical mass of activism has emerged.

Likewise, socially engaged art is on the rise, shaking up foundations of art discourse, and sharing techniques and intentions with fields far beyond the arts. But unlike its avant-garde predecessors such as Constructivism, Futurism, or Dadaism, socially engaged art is not an art movement. Instead, these cultural practices indicate new ways of life that emphasize participation, challenge power, and span disciplines ranging from urban planning and community work to theater and the visual arts.

This explosion of work in the arts has been assigned catchphrases such as social practice, relational aesthetics, new genre public art, and dialogic arts. Yet, the projects themselves defy easy categorization, and raise contradictions regarding issues of authorship, and traditional notions of art. In fact, they often have more in common with guerrilla and urban gardens, alternative economic and education experiments, and civic-minded, nonprofit organizations. Such efforts might not be described as artworks, but their collaborative spirit, investment in community engagement, and deployment of cultural programs as part of their operations compel us to consider what they do, not who they say they are.

With the aid of numerous curatorial advisors, Living as Form searches the post-Cold War era, and the dawn of neoliberalism, for cultural work that embodies these tendencies. The projects in this exhibition serve as points of departure for specific regional and historic concerns that find common ground. In response to austerity measures that continue to ripple across the planet, pockets of autonomous, collective action have become integral to daily life. Just as the Situationists of Paris 1968 predicted a world in which relations are mediated through images, people now intuitively understand reality in terms of spectacle. Art production in the 20th century might have been a rarified field, but in the 21st century, cultural production has become a necessary component of organizing social action. In other words, if the world is a stage, then the players must learn the skills of theater.

Site-specific and event-driven, the projects in Living as Form resist display in an archive such as this one. They address multiple audiences, and pay equal attention to the power of media. Each video, pamphlet, poster, and image remains a pale shadow of the original action. Nonetheless, we use the sheer scale, geographic range, and interdisciplinary nature of the work to illustrate that the skill sets of art are now among a series of complex social organizational methods meant to transform our world. We hope that by exacerbating the tensions that exist among the myriad forms, this archive will inspire further inquiry, and ultimately, new approaches to social practice. To that end, we have commissioned several living projects in order to encourage participation, and to provide a glimpse of the energy that surrounds this work. For the artists, activists, and engaged citizens in Living as Form, it is that energy, not the notion of art, which propels them toward the elusive goal of social justice.

Nato Thompson
Chief Curator, Creative Time

 

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