WHAT’S YOUR AGENDA? WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO REACH? by Jen Delos Reyes

When people ask me, “Who is your public? I say honestly, without skipping a beat, “Ross.” The public was Ross.”
-Felix Gonzalez-Torres

There are three parallel introductions to this journal, one written by each of its founders. The reasoning behind this is mainly to highlight the overlaps and divergences in our approaches, to shift the focus from the idea of a single author, and to show that we won’t always agree and that multiple perspectives can exist here. As Ted Purves stated in an email while in the formative stages of this project, “This sounds great, count me in (but promise me that we can be crabby from time to time…)”

Randall Szott was the first one to write his introduction for 127 Prince. I have prefaced my introduction with a question that Robert Storr asked Felix Gonzalez-Torres in an interview conducted in 1995. I was reminded of this exchange because of Randall’s sentiment that he would love for his mom to be able to read this journal, though he realizes that is unlikely due to the “field we are staking out.” So, if Randall’s mother is not the audience for this journal then who is? To answer this I return to Storr’s question, “What is your agenda? Who are you trying to reach?”

Just as Felix Gonzalez-Torres did not skip a beat when he would answer that his partner Ross was his public, I will state bluntly that my audience is an art audience. I know that is an especially gauche statement to make as someone who is engaged in what can be defined as a social practice of art, but it is a reality. I position myself as an artist. I have situated my self within this field because I believe in it. And though I draw from and engage in other areas to inform my work, my main focus and commitment is art. I think it is a refreshing honesty to be able to admit that your audience is an art audience, what is wrong with that? I know that the readers of this will likely be other artists or people engaged in this area. I would rather be forthright about this fact than pretend or assume to be making anything for an idealized or imagined audience.

The problem of assuming or targeting an audience—especially non-art, or “community” audiences— is one that I find to particularly plague certain types of socially engaged art practice. As a visible minority and artist, earlier in my art education I was challenged as to why I wasn’t making work for “ my people”, why I wasn’t representing them. My response to this was that I am an artist first and a minority second. This is a journal for “my people.”

In a previous interview I was asked, “What is your argument for the adoption of social practice into fine arts?” I replied that I make no argument for the adoption of social practice into an art canon. There is no need for me to any longer fight for the validation of these types of practice as art. They have already been adopted. It is now within the discourse. The only argument I make lately is for strong, critically engaged, compelling art—social or otherwise. Alternately, my response to this question could have been that I am an artist first, and a social artist second.

I am one of the people that Randall mentioned from the “art set” that likes to refer to things as “platforms.” I see 127 Prince as a platform for generosity. I think there is something philanthropic about creating a structure for other people to participate in, even if those people happen to be others interested in art. I want this to be a place that features discussions and exchanges. I want for this to be a place for people to share their writing and thinking about their work and the work of others. I want for this to be a place that not only supports existing work, but something that makes the creation of new projects, dialogues and ideas possible.

I have taken on the seemingly divergent position of wanting to contribute to a discourse—an art discourse specifically, if not exclusively. I have also outed myself as critical. I feel the need to express that worshiping at the altar of art or intellectual criticality does not detach me from the simple human experiences that Randall wants to keep at the forefront of this publication. I want to put love and “common” aspirations back in the mix too. To return to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, he was an artist who made intellectually invested and critical art that drew from his life experience, culture, and the commonalities of human experience while simultaneously being strongly positioned in the art world and its structures:

“In a way I am trying to negotiate my position within this culture by making this artwork. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to feel? Who am I supposed to identify with? And finally, above all else, it is about leaving a mark that I existed: I was hungry. I was defeated. I was happy. I was sad. I was in love. I was afraid. I was hopeful. I had an idea and I had a good purpose and that’s why I made works of art.”

Ultimately it seems I am a human being first and an artist second. Such a revelation exemplifies what I see as the limitless generosity of Felix’s work—the loving and sharing of his humanness. The origin of the word philanthrope comes from the Greek philanthropos, from philein ‘to love’ and anthropos ‘human being’. There is a generosity in being able to love someone despite their differences and their humanness. I hope that this journal will be a place where we can show love for varying viewpoints— artists, non-artists, professionals, amateurs, cool people and awesome people. As a human being I have my faults and my weaknesses. I get upset. I get frustrated and sometimes I even get a little crabby. In response to the email from Ted I mentioned earlier Randall replied, “Crabbiness is fine. We all have overlap and divergences which, of course, is healthy…” and more than that, human.