Introduction by Tracy Candido

When I first met Randall Szott we were both speaking on a panel titled “Doin’ It Together: Artist Run Support Networks,” organized by InCUBATE, at Chicago’s NEXT Art Fair in the spring of 2009.  A audience posed questions regarding the issue of art-as-labor vs. art-as-leisure, and subsequently the idea of economies and value systems in art: Is there a difference between sweat equity and the artist’s cultural discount?  Should we even attempt to compare and contrast the gift economy (or free economy), where artwork or art experiences are created and given away for free, with a co-opted commercial economy, where a transparency regarding money, payment, and funding is revealed in the creative process?  Randall and I approached these issues with varying viewpoints – his argument was for art-as-leisure and for a free art economy, and mine was advocating for art-as-labor, the art worker, and exploring ways of co-opting a commercial model in social art practice (which is often outside of the art-as-object discussion or at the very least is critical of engaging in an object-centered dialogue).

After the debate in Chicago on art economies, it seemed like a natural progression to me to start a new art journal that would attempt to reflect a critical discourse, via community dialogue, held by artists and cultural producers on the topic of public/social art practice.  I contacted Randall and ask for his thoughts on collaborating in such a venture.  He responded by saying that he has actually been organizing such a journal with Ted Purves and Jen Delos Reyes called 127 Prince, and asked if I would consider representing New York as an editorial board member.

I greeted the invitation with enthusiasm, and here I am writing my introduction for 127 Prince.  I’d like to introduce myself as part artist, part academic, part arts educator, and part administrator.  I really like reading journals, and I really like critical dialogue, and lately I’ve been unsatisfied with the fleeting and momentary discussions surrounding social art in New York.  Perhaps it comes with the territory, so to speak.  Is it due to the fast pace of the city?  Once you’ve stepped in the door to one event, there are five others you’re sad to be missing.  It’s wonderful to constantly be engaged by new ideas, new art, new modes of expression but we’re so busy running from one place to another that our conversations about such ideas and art tend to occur on the subway with our colleagues, at the bar with our friends, or on Facebook in the form of status-related comments.  All are informal and informative ways of comparing notes with other like-minded individuals, and all are channeled through social avenues – valid, but often hurried and brief.

I say we need an archive of these debates!  It’s been said that the art world is one of the least regulated markets, and I believe that is also true in regards to the art world’s level of excellence.  The art critics (in print or online) do just part of the work – we as a public need to be demand excellence from artists, administrators, cultural producers, curators, even the critics themselves.  This is what 127 Price will be about for me – a public forum, a community dialogue, an archive of critical text, in order to signify the importance of utilizing our art community as a resource.

In addition to viewing 127 Prince as a site of much needed critical discussion on social art practice from coast to coast, I also recognize this journal as a space for varying perspectives on such art practices.  As I mentioned earlier, Randall and I have somewhat contrary but overlapping politics that we seem to subscribe to when locating social practice in our worlds.  I want to continue challenging the expectations of this genre or movement as they arise by using the virtual pages of 127 Prince journal to insert discussions about topics such as funding for social art projects and the economies in which they currently exist, the idea of utopian narratives in social art practice, ways food and eating are used as a medium and outcome, and the concept of socially engaged art practice as a tool for arts education.

I agree with Randall that using “art speak” is often alienating to the very communities that we hope to engage with social art practice, however I also recognize that new scholarship in art speaks directly to the community from which it came.  So, I’d like to invite not only scholars, thinkers, makers, and doers, but also the learners, the participants and the interested – to read, reflect, respond, download, share, and talk.  If the work we are discussing exists in the space between art and life, then I encourage you to generate and participate in critical discussions prompted by social life rather than by a work of social art.

I encourage you to dig in to the material you find here and to contribute your ideas and critical voice to 127 Prince.  Print out what you like, circulate issues about which you have questions, talk to your friends and colleagues about what you’re seeing and feeling in social art experiences, and come back to 127 Prince and tell us about it.

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2 comments

  1. Jeff Hn

    Hi Tracy! After leaving Open Engagement, I’m very interested to continue this discussion with other New York folks. Having built a perspective and community out of the international hub of object exchange, I couldn’t help asking, “yeah, but what about the real world?” To live in New York is to understand impact, and I just don’t see many of these programs as creating deep, sustained cultural or community impact. Much of what I saw at OE (outside of the individuals who say “I don’t do social practice”) lived in the academic world – both in terms of audience and support.

    And ultimately, after all the academic jargon, I still don’t feel like I have any real footing for critical review. NOT ALL GARDENS ARE AN ART PRACTICE. And if they are, they don’t all operate at the same aesthetic level. Please help me to find some qualitative discussions about “social practice.” At this point, I feel like the work is ultimately rooted in the practitioners personality – so is “good” social art just a popularity contest?

  2. Tracy Candido

    Hi Jeff!

    I think creating deep, sustained cultural or community impact is difficult in any area- institutional, grassroots, academic, or artistic. While I will have to think more about if “good” social art is a popularity contest- I do think that what I saw at OE were groups of people who either already knew each other or met each other for the first time after already being connected virtually via Facebook, or were introduced through mutual friends, attempting to connect socially but through the channel of a social practice project during the conference. I think these kinds of gatherings made themselves visible in this light through the language of the social invitation- we didn’t have a get-together at someone’s house, we had a Soup Caucus to discuss issues with our programs that involve food. Dinners were organized as part of the conference, etc. Social projects have seemed to begin to replace social time (or quality time), and I think Randall could make a point about art as leisure here.

    So, in some respect, yes, “good” social art may be about popularity, although I’d like to find another word, because if you don’t want to be social with someone in life outside of art (the “real world”), perhaps you wouldn’t accept their invitation to engage in a critical social space with them either. All that being said, as the lines around such projects are often blurred, and as the communities that produce these projects become stronger and perhaps more insulated and protective, the “real world” doesn’t get much of a chance to engage- whether critically or not.

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