By Sue Bell Yank
I’ve recently been talking to several cultural practitioners about how to educate those with a more traditional notion of art in understanding and contextualizing today’s social practice. The notion of expanded or post-studio has been around for some time now, but the historical contextualization of social practice is still very much in formation. My own efforts in this realm have been mostly trial and error, guided by some very sharp and inquisitive theoretical minds, but the way I trace the development of social practice seems to find some resonance with others striving to do the same thing.
Now, I must give a disclaimer – there are so many multiple influences and complex practices that contribute to how we understand social practice today, but from a purely pedagogical standpoint the following seems most useful for bridging the gap. I start at Beuys, simply because he is a well-known albeit controversial historical figure who was able to encapsulate his paradigm-shifting work in a few useful phrases. Most notably, the phrase “social sculpture,” which illustrates Beuys’ idea that activities which structure and shape society are a form of art no longer confined to a material object or artifact. From this radical notion (and buttressed by decades of expanded, non-object based conceptual practice) arose a variety of mostly non-object based practices engaged in social and spatial issues.
These follow several major veins that are relatable but manifest in varied ways. I would describe them as such:
Relational aesthetics – projects focused on congenial gatherings like making and distributing food or beer, discussions, invitations, and exchange (i.e. Rikrit Tiravanija)
Systems analysis – projects focused on uncovering, analyzing, criticizing and/or celebrating current systems that contribute to a deeper understanding of how society works, often with the goal of shifting those paradigms (i.e. Merle Laderman Ukeles, LA Urban Rangers, the work of Teddy Cruz, Urban China)
Pedagogical Practice – projects focused on sharing information in a non-traditional format, often user-generated and multi-disciplinary (i.e. The Public School, SOMA, The Mountain School of Arts)
New Models – related heavily to systems aesthetics, these practices focus on modeling new (or forgotten) societal systems that undertake issues ignored, perpetuated, or inadequately addressed by current systems (i.e. Project Row Houses, Watts House Project, Victory Gardens, Fallen Fruit, various eco urban farming collectives, the work of the Harrisons)
There are of course many variations and overlaps amongst these categories, and work that does not fit so well in any of these. The semantics of these categories can also be argued about – the titles are working titles and may not adequately encapsulate the definitions I have put forth. Nevertheless, I find this framework useful as a starting point. In terms of current work, I do believe that research-based analysis of social and spatial systems (Systems Analysis) is very much where it’s at – though plenty of relational aesthetics practice still exists, more model-based and solution-based practices are prevalent.
This framework still brings up some questions for me, questions that solidified when I examined the very interesting “Map for another LA” put out by the Llano Del Rio Collective just recently. The map is meant to describe growing “collectivist activity” that in many ways fall into the “New Models” category of social practice – though the practitioners may identify as artists or not. I will post further about my thoughts on this map, but now I leave you with a few questions:
1) What core values run throughout these different practices – and why?
2) Are these infrastructural practices?
3) What institutional or civic strategies that may be focusing on the goals described above (systems analysis, new models, new forms of pedagogy) are not considered social practice – and why?
4) Are the “new models” that strive for reproducibility actually spread? Or do they only perpetuate other “new models”?
“For a period of time I did assemblages and collages using found objects, and they would sooner or later coalesce into something I could call art. A sculpture or a wall piece. I was working under the spaghetti theory of art. If you want to know if the spaghetti’s done, you throw it on the wall or the ceiling and if it sticks, it’s done. You put something in an art environment, you call it art, and if it sticks, it’s art”
By Nicolas Bourriaud
1) The role of the artwork is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever the scale chosen by the artist.
2) The possibility of a relational art (an art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather then the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space) points to a radical upheaval of the aesthetic, cultural and political goals introduced by modern art.
3) It is no longer possible to regard the contemporary work as a space to be walked through (the “owners” tour is akin to the collector’s). It is henceforth presented as a period of time to be lived through, like an opening to unlimited discussion.
4) Duchamp: “Art is a game between all people of all periods.”
5) What do we mean by form? A coherent unit, a structure which shows the typical features of a world.
6) What does a from become when it os plunged into the dimension of dialog? What is the form that is essentially relational?
7) There are no forms in nature, in the wild state, as it is our gaze that creates these, by cutting them out in the depth of the visable.
by Myra B. Cook (The Come-Alive Classroom 1967)
1. Portray a few key ideas. Do not clutter your map with a mass of detail.
2. Lettering should be bold, clear and easy to read.
3. Colors should be standard: Blue – Water, Green – Lowlands, Yellow, Orange – Higher Altitudes, Brown.
4. The scale should be clear and easy to use.
5. Symbols should be carefully chosen and explained.
6. The key or legend should be placed conspicuously in one corner. Title, symbols, colors and scale should be clearly shown. Bordering the key will help it stand out.
By Chris Perkins (as part of the 2008 Association of American Cartographers meeting)
To be subversive, is to wish to overthrow, destroy or undermine the principles of established orders. As such subversive cartographies offer alternative representations to established social and political norms. Maps are no longer cast as mirrors of reality, instead they are increasingly conceived as diverse ways of thinking, perceiving and representing space and place which express values, world-views and emotions. Maps are no longer part of an elite discourse: they can empower, mystify, and enchant. More critical assessments of mapping increasingly explore subversive contexts strongly associated with innovative methodological approaches, with mapping seen as an explicitly situated form of knowledge. This shift has been strongly facilitated by the increasing popularity of new media, burgeoning technological change and newly developing mapping spaces (eg OpenStreetMap, WorldMapper and EmotionMap). So subversive mapping has an agency, which can be enacted outside existing cartographic conventions. It has escaped from the grasp of cartographers: everybody is mapping nowadays.
from Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford; Stanford University Press, 1988), pp.166-184.
The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth–it is the truth which conceals that there is none.
The simulacrum is true.
If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map becomes frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts – the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing), this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra.l
Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.
In fact, even inverted, the fable is useless. Perhaps only the allegory of the Empire remains. For it is with the same imperialism that present-day simulators try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models. But it is no longer a question of either maps or territory. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference between them that was the abstraction’s charm. For it is the difference which forms the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real. This representational imaginary, which both culminates in and is engulfed by the cartographer’s mad project of an ideal coextensivity between the map and the territory, disappears with simulation, whose operation is nuclear and genetic, and no longer specular and discursive. With it goes all of metaphysics. No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept; no more imaginary coextensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation. The real is produced from miniaturized units, from matrices, memory banks and command models – and with these it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. It no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance. It is nothing more than operational. In fact, since it is no longer enveloped by an imaginary, it is no longer real at all. It is a hyperreal: the product of an irradiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere.
In this passage to a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor of truth, the age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials – worse: by their art)ficial resurrection in systems of signs, which are a more ductile material than meaning, in that they lend themselves to all systems of equivalence, all binary oppositions and all combinatory algebra. It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have to be produced: this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference.