[Autumn/Winter 2009 - "Art and Its Cultural Contradictions" in Afterall] PREAMBLE: A FLOOD OF QUESTIONS: What is at stake when artists, architects, curators, organisers and other cultural producers facilitate bricks-and-mortar change, on the ground in cities, with citizens, communities and institutions? How do we test the interrelationships between the practices of artists and urban policy makers? What is the metric that we might utilise to determine effectiveness? And what do we mean by effectiveness? Critical effect? (Or, for that matter, critical affect?) The putatively emancipatory outcome generated by some kind of new situational knowledge? Or, is it a question of generating ambiguity, per se, as a means of problematising hegemonic political, economic and cultural formations?
Is it conceivable to imagine that the cultural and intellectual capital of artistic labour can generate sustained, and sustainable, responsiveness to urban crises that would offer palpable functionality (or applicability) for people's lives - contra to the useful uselessness of the aesthetic condition that is supposedly ennobling of mind and spirit, or generative of disinterestedness as a prerequisite for absorption and contemplation? Have we taken into consideration that as art critics, art historians, curators and art theorists we might be misapplying criteria of aesthetic evaluation in relation to the evaluation of art projects that arise from sometimes uncomfortable, difficult circumstances? Is it perhaps just a question of re-calibrating our criteria of evaluation or, at the very least, how we communicate to others our experience of a specific work within a particular situation, so that criteria remain sufficiently fluid and tactical? What does it mean to encounter a work of art in the midst of economic and social ruination?
This essay seeks to raise such questions on the occasion of and in relation to a new biennial (Prospect.1) and a new cultural initiative (Transforma Projects), both of which emerged in New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina disaster that in 2005 flooded 80 per cent of the city, and killed nearly 2,000 people, as efforts claiming to engage in the regeneration, rebuilding and revitalisation of various aspects of that city's cultural, economic and social life. Prospect.1 and Transforma Projects are distinct from each other in terms of ideological and organisational strategies and infrastructures: the former presenting itself as the first international biennial in New Orleans (i.e. event-oriented), with official support from local and state government and major art world benefactors, and a more conventional 'top-down' hierarchical curatorial/exhibition process; the latter operating as a small cultural initiative on an emphatically grass roots level, involving 'bottom-up' socially participatory processes (i.e. rethinking normative institutional hierarchies) to generate and utilise art projects as a means of facilitating social rebuilding within economically and socially disenfranchised communities in the city, yet also supported by major art foundations.
Monday, November 02, 2009
Art and Its Cultural Contradictions
This essay raises questions about the role of the artist/creative engaging in neighborhoods, communities and cities. How do they participate and involve? How much time in the community "counts"? How can artists/creatives have the most meaningful impact?
Posted by Steven Dahlberg at 4:25 PM