I recently participated in the ongoing Open Engagement blog project “100 Days 100 Questions,” which has employed many (100 actually) artists and organizers and writers in the socially-engaged art practice field to answer questions. As number 64, I was given “Does it end at art?” and my answer goes something like “No! Well…yes, kind of it does. But not really. Sort of.” Best kind of answer! Check it out.
When I first started thinking about this question, only cliches and tired arguments came to mind – perhaps indicative of how entrenched certain critiques are when discussing social practice. My inner monologue went something like this:
First thought––well, art can clearly be a catalyst for and contributor to social change. I can think of lots of projects–likePark Fiction in Hamburg Germany, which after many years years resulted in a park and became a paragon for participatory planning and right to the city movements; or work that proposes alternative societal systems while simultaneously exposing problematics, like Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Homeless Vehicles or FutureFarmers founded by Amy Fransheschini; or the viral political and iconic power of the graphics of Gran Fury during the Act-Up movement. So art is not an end, it’s a beginning. Who’s to measure the resonant power of political artwork anyhow, “social practice” or not?
And then the second thought reared its head––well, measurement is a problem and will always be a problem. Art has to be an end in itself, despite its social value, because otherwise it must be leveraged to meet metrics. It then loses its inherent risk capital, its experimental nature, its agonistic outlook––because art investigates the exclusions in society, the unforeseen, the imbalances and impossibilities––and would be fettered unimaginably by having to meet a standard. Any success realized by an art project according to some outside metric would need to be taken up by someone else, isolated, replicated, and built upon. This is not an impossible task––just impossible for art.
So I reach the third thought. Art is an end in itself, and here I go policing the boundaries of art, exactly the tired (and frankly, boring) exercise that I try rigorously to avoid when thinking or writing about social practice.
Read the rest here.