A Forum On Socially Engaged Art And Counterpublics

“Rather than addressing [a certain] loss of faith by collapsing art and ethics together, the task today is to produce a viable international alignment of leftist political movements and a reassertion of art in its inventive forms of negation as valuable in their own right. We need to recognize art as a form of experimental activity overlapping with the world whose negativity may lend support to an organized political project without bearing the sole responsibility for devising and implementing this.” - Claire Bishop, 2011

The last decade of the 2000’s has seen a tremendous surge in activism that ranges in form from social media outlets and commercial sponsorships to independent funding platforms such as Kickstarter. “Socially engaged” artists hybridize characteristics of both artistic and activist projects; in doing so, they aim to form works, groups, spaces, activities, and discourses that challenge and propose alternatives to dominant social, political, and historical narratives.

The goal of this forum is to explore the tensions, contradictions, and possibilities inherent in the sphere of socially engaged art. We will both examine the art-historical lineage of this form through specific case studies, and contextualize it within theoretical discourses about the public sphere. We will pay particular attention to the intersection of artistic projects and “counterpublics,” groups which exist in some way outside of the dominant model of a general public. These groups engage in what theorist Michael Warner has described as a “world-making project,” generating representations and discourses that point to alternative, even utopic ways of living. In this way, they mirror socially engaged artists attempting to revive and expand a radical leftist imaginary.

Topics addressed will include:

- How has social engagement in art evolved from the 1960s until today? To what degree is it possible to compare geographically and temporally distant practices?
-How have artists intervened in public space? How do fine art, street art, and activist activity function within public spaces?
- What makes a space public? How do we engage with public versus private space?
- How are publics formed? To what extent are publics dependent on the circulation of literature? What other factors are involved?
-What constitutes a counterpublic? How might counterpublics be defined positively rather than oppositionally?
- How is the (re)writing of history related to counter discourse? Can history be used as a tool for social change?
- How have artists used archives in their work? How might the archive be considered a theoretical "site"?
- To what extent are the goals of art and activism contradictory? How have artists dealt with this contradiction?

Time and Location:
Tuesday Evenings, 6-8pm

Lorem Ipsum Books
1299 Cambridge Street / Inman Square

Forum Dates:
July 3
July 14
July 31
August 14
August 21
August 28

Activities: Reading group and facilitated discussions; guest speakers related to discussion topics; possible culmination in a group project.

Fees: None, though donations toward Corvid College will be encouraged

Texts for the class and detailed scheduled to be posted soon.
We're looking into several locations, including Lorem Ipsum in Inman Square. Will most likely be held on either Sunday or Tuesday evenings.

Mediators: Patrick Serr and Valerie Moon

TO ENROLL: Please e-mail either of us to indicate your interest, or go to the enrollment page here!

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