voltairine: (raeg)
[personal profile] voltairine
An example of school shit that is getting me down lately:

A guy in my public art and ceramics class is doing his final installation project at the convent of the Order of the Grey Nuns, a huge old building that is being converted into part of the university as the population of grey nuns dwindles (there are only a few left, and they're not actively recruiting young ladies into nunnering as a career path). In his proposal, he talked about how the "real history" of older buildings like the convent building is being forgotten because young people just don't care about history, and how he planned to represent the dwindling population of nuns with repeating, identical figures of nuns and angels installed in staircases around the building.

Of course, he hasn't actually TALKED to any of the women who are still grey nuns and still live at the site of his installation. Why would he TALK to them? They are his subjects! It's not like they might have OPINIONS about why many convents have dwindling numbers, or the conversion of their home into university property - it's not like he's planning on literally installing art in their home that they've had no input or say in or even been informed of or anything. And naturally he's not planning on going any further back in his exploration of the history of that location, to acknowledge in his exploration of the convents history the fact that the convent did not simply always exist, and was in fact established as part of a long history of religious institutions participating in the colonization and appropriation of Indigenous land and resources. I mean, I'm not saying he should write a book on that one spot, if he wants to specialize that's fine, but nowhere in his proposal or his research notes does he ever talk about the founding of the convent or allude to anything that might indicate that it wasn't always there, which irritates me considerably, because for a history-oriented project it shows a really selective and self-limited knowledge of history.

This is what I mean when I say there's a lack of critical analysis in art school. Public art is a really varied medium, and there are a lot of ways of practicing it. Public art can be advertising, architecture, sculpture, it can be something that was created by the public or something that invites public interaction with the piece, or something that is designed to inspire dialogue in the public sphere or reflect a specific community, it can be functional or decorative, political or not, but in our class we don't really have any discussion about this, we're pretty encouraged to ONLY approach public art in terms of specific sorts of installations. It's really limited, and the discourse in the class has so far actually served to discourage students from approaching members of the community and talking about what needs could be served with their installations.

Like, in one discussion, the prof said: "You need to be able to anticipate a number of public reactions to your piece. There are three main ones that I've observed, which are that the piece is left alone, or in the case of a piece that's designed to be altered and redistributed parts of it are moved and taken, or people break it." I mean, jfc. 1) there was no talk of public discourse as a reaction to the piece, or of how the piece might impact the community at all, and 2) How about, instead of trying to "anticipate" reactions like you're looking into a crystal ball, you actually talk to the community that will be interacting with your work? And see what they think about it? MAYBE THAT WOULD HELP?

I'm sick of the idea that an artist is someone who is divinely inspired or otherwise is a vessel for some greater message that they are "passing down" to the rabble through a process that is highly individualized. That art isn't something informed by dialogue and community and experience, conceived of through a process of research and discussion and development, and created using practical skills. In a way, I think the whole idea of the artist-as-divinely-inspired-messenger-to-the-masses actually serves to delegitimize art as a form of actual communication and discourse, as something with a practical function in society. And it bugs me to see that perpetuated in art school, where you'd think people would take their craft seriously enough to look critically at all the ways it can be created and used.


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May 2011

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