In the fall I spent most of my freetime applying to grad programs here in Chicago to go back and study art (my undergraduate study was in art and curating). Considering how much time I spent on that process I figured I should at least publish some of the results of my application on my blog. Check it out here:
In Summary: I care deeply about the ways that people transform their lives for the better through artistic, political, and economic means and I try to facilitate that transformation for myself and others through publishing, writing, archiving, performing, exhibiting, screening and speaking provocative and timely ideas, forms and questions.
In the early 2000s, I was being politicized and coming of age while in art school and I took great inspiration from the people of diverse backgrounds internationally who were educating themselves about the complexity of free trade ideology and directly confronting its unregulated expansion. I was impressed with their utilization of emerging communication networks, and their sophisticated use of performance, video and graphics in articulating the personal and the historical implications of the decisions made by finance and regulatory institutions. This “social movement culture” captured my imagination and continues to inspire me. It was at this time that I moved to Chicago, and joined with a community of people working together to create a “campaign to reclaim all the space, land and visual culture” of the city from commodification, consumerism, and surveillance under the banner of the “Department of Space and Land Reclamation.” This locally-rooted approach engaged me, as I was more inclined to look at “free market fundamentalism” in my immediate surroundings, than to engage with the impact in far-off lands. These efforts illustrated for me an effective integration of culture and politics, where the artistic work was not subservient to dogma or agendas.
Amidst this period of experimentation with group structures and aesthetic approaches to exploring social problems, I became increasingly interested in the history of similar artistic practices. This led me to carefully consider approaches to archiving, exhibiting and documenting the work of collectives and documenting social and cultural movements. The challenges which our experiments faced were similar to our historical predecessors.
I took these experiences and in 2005, developed a new endeavor, AREA Chicago (Art/Research/Education/Activism). Through ten thematic publications, websites, events, and the “Notes for a People’s Atlas” project – a living documentary about the people working to better their lives and their city gradually emerged through the collaborative efforts of hundreds of people working with AREA. The themes of the publications allowed me to explore seemingly disconnected interests ranging from leftist history, to food and prisons through a common lens of locality. AREA also allowed me to practically address the challenge of having a socially-engaged art practice outside of the context of school by allowing me to access funding as an organization that I would not have been able to achieve individually. This work has led me to produce similar oral-history projects elsewhere. In 2008 I developed a 100 artist interview project across 5 cities entitled “Town Hall Talks: Regional Models of Art and Activism” for Creative Time. The following year I produced “Farm Together Now” a book of interviews and photo essays of activist-farmers throughout the country. Through the longterm engagement with local social and cultural movements in Chicago and elsewhere, I have been able to gain insights into the potential and the need for representational practices which allow people to express and reflect on their own ideas and culture. I have also encountered limits to this approach, confronting questions about the relationship between political ideas and the representation of those ideas and the challenge of developing aesthetics and rhetoric capable of transgressing the immense social barriers class culture and race identifications. I am also challenged to consider aesthetic and conceptual strategies which can address the incoherence and fragmentation of contemporary social and political life, instead of simply hoping that curatorial pluralism and sensitivity to complexity will make everything disparate come together.
The challenges I see and have yet to see require experimental, aesthetic and poetic responses to get further than instrumental means towards predetermined ends. It is to this end, that my next body of work and educational pursuits will be committed. I hope to attend graduate school specifically in the fine arts to move my practice into its next phase and to learn from and experiment with new and historical artistic strategies to determine where I need to go next. In school I would like to find a way to step back from a practice which has become mired in administrative logistics and think about, discuss and make the forms, words, images and ideas which are needed to do more than resist the status quo and document the resistance to the status quo – but to change it.