in My Work, Process, Research

Response to Social Practice Art

Not sure why, I always had the impression that ‘Social Practice Art’ was isolating, that it was only available and created for the ‘alternates’ of society. After delving into the reading, I have came to realise that it was the complete opposite of ‘anti-social’.  However, I have to admit I struggle deeply with the contention of such a practice and having it labelled as ‘Art’. Hear me out as I attempt to break down my thoughts through the various points brought up in the reading.

“merely a vague aesthetics of progressive uplift”

This phrase, perfectly sums up what I was struggling with as I read the article. It really pushed the boundary in terms of how I viewed Art. Made worst because I assumed I had a pretty liberal view of Art.

While this is definitely not the focus of the artist mentioned in the text, but I can’t help but question “Are people just listing this sort of practice under ‘Art’ just so as to allow what they are engaging with, to be made legal under Art cultural property laws?” “Are people just trying to protect what they have done to help others under the name of Art?” Especially since most of these pieces always seem to alert law enforcers because of its subtle rebellious nature.

the category of “social practice” attempts to forestall the problem of its own incorporation into the system by deliberately removing itself from commerce and making outwardly avowed political solidarity part of its defining trait.

This line paints ‘Social Practice Art’ as an in-between of politics and art. But upon more research, to me, it seem that no matter how much emphasis it has put into it being detach from the notion of commerce, by wanting to have a foot stepped into the Art field, it almost seems impossible to escape the commercial market.

In the above video (at 17:11), it demonstrates how a gallerist was vying for the gold tarps of Olga Koumoundouros: ‘A Notorious Possession’, which was a social-sculpture-cum-housing-protest. This suggests that components making up the process of executing such a genre of work has unintentionally became a sort of commodity.

Bridging across, then it got me to think if this sort of art then unintentionally practices the sort of notion behind: “The White Man’s Burden”(1899). The (imperialist) interpretation of this poem proposes that the white race is morally obliged to civilise the non-white peoples of planet Earth, and to encourage their progress (economic, social, and cultural) through settler colonialism.

When an artist attempts to bridge sociopolitical driven into art, where do we draw the line between being exploitative of the marginalised communities for the sake of Art and truly wanting to create Art to bring action to a certain cause/community?

In fact, the ability of this brand of art to still enrage social and aesthetic conservatives may well be the strongest evidence that it is still worth engaging with.

One of the most interesting aspect of this Social Practice Art Form that intrigued me was there being no need for excessive call for participation. These days, an exhibition going on at a certain museum is always coupled with (flashy) advertisement around. If there was to be a performance happening, collaterals would come floating by. But with this Art form, is seems as if people just stream into, participate, contribute, to the project at hand without the need for persuasion. I think this seems to enhance the fact that- exactly because people subtly recognise an issue around, which is why is it so easy for audience to just be drawn towards part taking in the project. There doesn’t even seem to be a need for a call to get people to being aware of a particular issue, and wanting actions need to be taken, subconsciously a mob is gathers to complete inherently good acts. It presents people with purpose. This in an of itself is a powerful tool to get the community to questioning the paradigm society has created.

Just like how the ‘Art and Craft’ movement in the mid 19th century played out to provide an alternative to the cookie-cutter industrial boom then, there seems to be a parallel when analysing ‘Social Practice Art’. ‘Social Practice Art’ exemplifies a strong desire within the community.

In conclusion, through wrestling and tearing apart this reading/ and more, it made me re-evaluate on my (twisted) perception on Art and my own artistic practice. What is it exactly do I want to bring across with my Art? I have always framed Art as an umbrella of aesthetic structures that is meant to provoke ideas, anything beyond that what an idea I have never explored, or never questioned. Hence, to me right now, by bring ‘good acts’ into the context Art, seems forced (even though I know it’s not) and unnecessarily extra. But one thing I cannot deny is, looking at the bigger whole, it is just our duty to humanity, Art or not, to help where help is due.

  1. Good response Yi Dan!  You bring up the important point and danger of exploitation of marginalized communities in this kind of artmaking. During our discussion tomorrow in class, it would be great if you can describe and elaborate on Olga Koumoundouros’ “A Notorious Possession” and how it evoked settler colonialism in “The White Man’s Burden.  I’m curious to know what you think and would like you to share your thoughts in class.  

    Your last questions are what I hope you’ll explore further during the semester as you consider what the form of your thesis project will take: “What exactly do you want to bring across with your Art”?  If it’s not prioritizing aesthetics, what would it priortize instead? How does art “help” in your experience?