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?
[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.

1 comment:

  1. Each individual human being possesses a unique, highly developed, and
    sensitive perception of variety. Thus aware, man is endowed with a natural
    capability for enacting internal mental and external physical selectivity.
    Quantitative and qualitative choice-making thus lends itself as the superior
    basis of an active intelligence.

    Human is earth's Choicemaker. His title describes his definitive and
    typifying characteristic. Recall that his other features are but vehicles of
    experience intent on the development of perceptive awareness and the
    following acts of decision and choice. Note that the products of man cannot
    define him for they are the fruit of the discerning choicemaking process and
    include the cognition of self, the utility of experience, the development of
    value measuring systems and language, and the acculturation of

    The arts and the sciences of man, as with his habits, customs, and
    traditions, are the creative harvest of his perceptive and selective powers.
    Creativity, the creative process, is a choice-making process. His articles,
    constructs, and commodities, however marvelous to behold, deserve neither
    awe nor idolatry, for man, not his contrivance, is earth's own highest
    expression of the creative process.

    Human is earth's Choicemaker. The sublime and significant act of choosing
    is, itself, the Archimedean fulcrum upon which man levers and redirects the
    forces of cause and effect to an elected level of quality and diversity.
    Further, it orients him toward a natural environmental opportunity, freedom,
    and bestows earth's title, The Choicemaker, on his singular and plural brow.

    Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by nature and nature's God a
    creature of Choice - and of Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and
    definitive characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
    foundation of his environments, institutions, and respectful relations to
    his fellow-man. Thus, he is oriented to a Freedom whose roots are in the
    Order of the universe. selah

    That human institution which is structured on the principle, "...all men are
    endowed by their Creator with...Liberty...," is a system with its roots in
    the natural Order of the universe. The opponents of such a system are
    necessarily engaged in a losing contest with nature and nature's God.
    Biblical principles are still today the foundation under Western
    Civilization and the American way of life. To the advent of a new season we
    commend the present generation and the "multitudes in the valley of

    The message is this: Trust Freedom. Remember, tyrants never learn. The
    restriction of Freedom is the limitation of human choice, and choice is the
    fulcrum-point of the creative process in human affairs. As earth's
    choicemaker, it is our human identity on nature's beautiful blue planet and
    the natural premise of man's free institutions, environments, and respectful
    relations with one another. Made in the image of our Creator, free men
    choose, create, and progress - or die.

    Free men should not fear the moon-god-crowd oppressor nor choose any of his
    ways. Recall with a confident Job and a victorious David, "Know ye not you
    are in league with the stones of the field?"

    Let us proclaim it. Behold!
    2009 AD: The Season of Generation-Choicemaker Joel 3:14 KJV

    semper fidelis
    Jim Baxter
    Sgt. USMC
    WW II and Korean War
    point-man/follower of The Lion of Judah