Last week, the fantastic Justin Langlois of Broken City Lab asked me to answer this question for an interview series they are doing:
Is social practice, as a term or label, more valuable in extending the reach and possibility of visual artists, or more valuable as an articulation of an entirely different space and mode of production?
Interesting question, and I had a great time answering it. You can read my submission here.
The parting thought of my answer is that there is danger in the label social practice, the danger of false expectation – that everything will be fun, easy, feel-good, and bring people together. When in fact, social practice can often be challenging, disturbing, and deal with some really unpleasant subject matter, all to attempt to bring light to some injustice or rework societal systems from some different angle.
As a case in point, soon after I wrote this answer I went to Suzanne Lacy‘s Three Weeks in January candlelight vigil and performance. This reiteration of her 1977 project Three Weeks in May visually catalogued the past three weeks’ incidents of reported rape in Los Angeles through an enormous map installation on the exterior of the LAPD headquarters downtown, accompanied by months of conversations with activists, educational seminars, performances, a sound installation, and various other elements that comprise a signature Lacy project. The culminating performance asked audience members to share their stories, reflect on the crisis of rape in individual lives and in the city as a whole, and finally to commit to a goal to end rape and sexual violence in the next 40 years. Most powerfully, generations of rape activists took the stage at the end after sharing some truly heart-wrenching stories that were difficult to hear, and more than once brought tears to my eyes.
As squirm-worthy as it seems on the surface, truly examining this subject is a rarity in any forum, especially if one does not have to. It is easy to simply push out of one’s mind. But such is the importance of projects like Lacy’s and their power. As if to reinforce these thoughts in my head, one supporter of the project thanked me for being there. “This means a lot that you are here,” she said. “There are a lot of more fun events you could have gone to tonight.” She was right, but I wouldn’t have traded in my meaningful experience for anything easier or more feel-good.