Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Genre Public Art Thoughts

Hello Fellow Peer Seminar-ers,

I'm so sorry that I missed the call this evening. It appears as though some fantastic conversation has started.

I wanted to share with all of you a short essay I wrote about "Culture in Action" piece we read. It brought up a lot of interesting queries for me (as I can tell it did for you as well; based on the blog entries thus far).

Here is the essay. I look forward to your thoughts. I also look forward to being in conversation with you around the thought-provoking entries you've written thus far.

Reflections and Intersections with “One Place After Another”

What an interesting juncture point I am at since digesting the theories and practices of community-infused art. I am struggling with questions around the possibilities of true collaboration in situations where you (the artist) are the foreigner. I am struggling with connecting the dots between society and art. I am querying the role of collaborator, delegator, and creator while trying to fuse them in a non-threatening way dring collective creation.

As I read Kwon’s essay on New Genre Public Art, I felt connected to a terminology that truly describes my practice; a process that embodies active exploration (through discourse and improvisation) to create meaningful work that interrogates the purpose of social constructs and barriers of the human experience.

Kwon describes New Genre Public Art as “visual art that uses both traditional and nontraditional media to communicate and interact with a broad and diversified audience about issues directly relevant to their lives – is based on engagement”. (Kwon, 105)

I think as a theatre artist, this kind of blending of social and artistic elements into a piece of work that is meant to promote discourse and understanding is a necessary practice.

I have spent much of my creative life interpreting people’s work in a “traditional” sense. Working in the theatre as an actor/director in very common theatrical venues has hindered (at times) my yearning to engage and communicate directly with the community/audience in which I am serving.

This personal and artistic need to engage in dialogue has encouraged me to branch out to the kind of art I want to make. An artistic practice that is more holistic; one that consistently breaks down the fourth wall and asks the audience to journey along, side by side with me. I want the community/audience to experience the narrative without a spectator separation.

As I contemplate the possibility of this art practice, I am brought back to my inquiry around community connection. Who is the community I wish to serve? What draws me into this collective? As an outsider how do I confront feelings and actions that could possibly inhibit my connection and effectiveness with the group?

One of the interesting points brought up in Kwon’s work was in relation to the “Culture in Action” project. I found it extremely interesting to know that certain artists (such as Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler) were not present with the community that they were serving 100% of the time. They engaged support from Sculpture Chicago to be their “indispensible mediator… during periods of the artists’ absence from Chicago (which was most of the time of their yearlong affiliations with “Culture in Action”)”. (Kwon, 121)

This time of disconnection between the artist and the community in which the collaboration is happening is troublesome. I truly believe that if you are going to create a piece collaboratively with, by, and for a specific community, you must immerse yourself in that community. How can the collective experience continue to resonate and enrich when the lead collaborator is absent from the process. This whole dichotomy seems rather corporate and micro-managementesque to me.

I believe that we have a responsibility to our fellow communities of collaboration; a responsibility that includes us doing more and getting our “hands dirty” throughout the process. How can we expect respect from those parties in which we are querying, identifying, and creating with if we do not spend a majority of our time co-existing?

This brings me to my next question; do we create for ourselves, the community in which we serve, or both? I like to think that we strive to serve both. I think that as artists there is always going to be a piece of ourselves that needs this work; but I also believe that there is a much larger part of us that wants to engage with those who connect with our work.

That is why I create works that (hopefully) encourage open and honest dialogue; conversations that allow us to go down deeper within ourselves to explore how our collective experience can heal and how art can be a living, breathing, co-existence within the human experience.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read.

All the Best,


  1. Hi Fran!

    Great mini essay. :) Lots of good questions and thoughts. Like I mentioned in Nancy's post, it has been an interesting experience reading for this peer seminar while being the musical director for "Music Man"--and certainly asking myself questions about community. I plan to make a post on that soon!
    You should send your writing to your advisor, it is a good reflection of your thoughts and questions. :)

  2. Hi Fran,

    Co-Existing!! I think thats the key Fran. I am learning that everyday as I think about enter into scared space, which for me means other peoples space. How do we gracefully enter and ask the questions that are needed in order to Co-Exist and Co-Create? For me the process and dance of entering into different spaces and communities, is to start by doing the day to day things that help people to connect, smile, and maybe even get mad at you. But if you are honest enough in your humbleness to co-exist,like you say in your essay. I think we might find a opening in which we can begin to work from and see what might be revealed. Hey we live in duality so we might clash but that might be where all the good stuff is. I decided to do a film about the art of hanging laundry. I have had to ask very awkwardly, humbling, and gently, if I could interview and ask questions about laundry plus film the laundry if there is some hanging. Well, beautiful stories, and amazing laundry so far although some rejects which I respect and those folks who have said yes applaud with great respect. Great essay as Laura stated. Nancy