In/With/For the Public
Issue

11.2 / In/With/For the Public

January 15 2020
Illustration by Will Betke-Brunswick.

Introduction

Art Practical Editors

Having in the end, and despite all the impossibilities, drawn near Relation and acknowledged our presentiments of how it works, now we must disindividuate it as a system, stretch it to the mass that bursts forth just from its energy, finding ourselves there along with others.

— Édouard Glissant, from Poetics of Relation

The existing discourse on public or social art is, at this point, quite long. Framed by examinations of generosity and exchange, engagement, conversation, dialogue, commoning, participation, intervention, emancipation, action, site-specificity, culture-building, relational aesthetics, revelry, risk, power, artificial hells, new institutions, and public servitude, a wide variety of practices from around the globe have been espoused, compared, and critiqued. For each outline of promise and possibility, we encounter a number of critical positions that acknowledge both good and bad intentions, unacknowledged privilege, failed collaborations, squandered resources, and the violence of exploitation, disappointment, and abandonment. We wish to acknowledge important critical positions, but also to inspire and empower current and future generations of artists to develop creative, ethical, and sustainable ways of engaging with the public. For this issue, we began by recognizing that it takes practice to do this work well, and so we have reached out to a number of artists who have first-hand experience navigating the complex landscape of making art that engages with the public.

In the 2019 “We Need to Talk About Social Practice,” one of the most frequently read pieces on Art Practical, artist manuel arturo abreu reformulates a critique of social practice in contemporary art, arguing that “[m]eaning is created socially, in a network of contemplation and action. Focalizing art’s social component is at best redundant and at worst exploitative of the marginalized communities from which it so often draws.” On the note that imbalanced distribution of power and resources have often come into play in the works critiqued, abreu echoes arguments Claire Bishop has developed over several decades. The particular exploitations called out in the article hinge, at least some part, on the preposition at play in this formulation: “from which it draws” suggests a cultural vampirism, not without foundation in certain cases. On the point that focusing attention on the public and social possibilities of cultural production is redundant, however, I ask whether the redundancy at play exceeds that at the core of representation in art, overall. Are social or public practices any more redundant than painting? Questions about how we allow room for reciprocity and ask for greater accountability for public art projects fall outside of the scope of abreu’s article, because the writer prefers to propose that direct action take place outside of the field of art, inherently also suggesting a limitation on the scope of what art can be. Can we retain a critique of what has come before, but reframe the possibilities for the future in order to hold space for the project of shifting culture rather than limiting its scope? In/With/For the Public calls on a different set of prepositions. It brings together reflections from a small selection of artists who refer to their own practices as public, social, participatory, interactive, collaborative, and/or under the rubrics of civic engagement, place-making, or devised art. It looks for possibility in these fields, asking first and foremost how we might expand the expectations for public practices.

This issue has been produced by Art Practical with the support of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation on the occasion of the 2020 Exploring Public Art Practices Symposium at the Oakland Museum of California. The symposium is organized as part of the Rainin Foundation’s Open Spaces Program in order to showcase artists who are creating powerful and engaging work that shifts the field of public art practice. Some of the artists who contributed to this compendium are presenting at Exploring Public Art Practices this year; some have been a part of the Rainin Foundation’s Open Spaces Program or have presented in previous symposia; and some have not been formally affiliated with Open Spaces, but have relevant perspectives that the Art Practical staff found important and inspiring. The mission of the Rainin Foundation’s Open Spaces Program is to support temporary place-based public art projects in Oakland and San Francisco that engage communities, demonstrate artistic experimentation and energize public spaces. As a platform in its tenth year, Art Practical connects diverse regional voices and amplifies underrepresented perspectives from the Bay Area and broader West Coast. As such, all the practices represented here are rooted in California or nearby regions of the western United States. This compendium does not pretend to be comprehensive. It is intended to supplement the discourse of the symposium by shedding light on the various processes that are involved in the logistical inner-workings of public practices.

Dispersed throughout the amazing contributions produced for this volume, the reader will find hand-drawn illustrations produced by Art Practical Publishing Assistant Will Betke-Brunswick, who is also currently an MFA student in Comics at California College of the Arts. Some of these illustrations reiterate the prompts from which we invited contributors to choose as they composed their submissions. Beginning with “How do you build allies?”, these prompts were devised to encourage artists to provide specific advice as they composed their reflections in writing, through illustrations, diagrams, collages, or recorded conversations. Together, we hope these responses might help us find ourselves there, along with others, and with energy.

— Christina Linden, Interim Executive Director, Art Practical

Features

Relationships as Material for an Arts Practice

Relationships as Material for an Arts Practice

By Gregory Sale, Johanna K. Taylor, Dr. Luis S. Garcia

The success of Future IDs depended upon our ability to nurture and negotiate complex relationships across disparate constituencies, geographic regions, and through fraught politics and policies.

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An Invitation

An Invitation

By Ellen Sebastian Chang

Before working with the public, let’s recognize that we are the public. 

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The Bowtie

The Bowtie

By Julia Meltzer

All projects are temporary; vandalism is almost a given.

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WHAT IS PUBLIC

WHAT IS PUBLIC

By Szu-Han Ho

ENCRYPTED EMAIL, SECURING YR EMAIL, ENCRYPTED MESSAGING, SECURE PRIVATE WEB BROWSING...

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Resources

Resources

By Art Practical Editors

A list of resources for artists who are interested in working with the public.

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