I am a visual artist with a social practice exploring what it means for art to be “useful” in relation to social change. I do this through a variety of methods, including production, curation, administrative, management, educational, developmental, conversational and collaborative approaches. My work is informed by the concepts of “artist as producer” and “curator as producer” (Roberts, 2009; Bude, 2012; Birchall, 2013). A starting point for how I conceive of my practice is Benjamin’s (1982) The Author as Produce, and in particular his call for artists (authors) “to side with the proletariat” and aim to “transform the apparatus of bourgeois culture” (Foster, 1995). I have long been influenced by Wochenklauser’s (n.d.) position that “artistic creativity is no longer seen as a formal act but as an intervention into society.” As Holmes (2012) puts it, “the question is not how to aestheticize ‘living as form,’ in order to display the results for contemplation in a museum. The question is how to change the forms in which we are living.”
To date, the primary vehicle for my work has been a building in north-inner-city Dublin that houses A4 Sounds, a socially engaged artist-led studios and gallery. I use this space to create and foster networks and happenings, and to develop relationships with and among artists, communities, activist groups, and campaigns. I leverage these relationships to produce collaborative exhibition programmes, educational programmes, and events that facilitate important conversations on issues that impact people locally and are mirrored nationally. I identify ways to use A4 Sounds’ position as an artist space to intervene in society at multiple scales. In this work, I am influenced by Sholette’s (2011) concept of “dark matter”, and his research on politically engaged art collectives and spaces (e.g. Sholette, 1999).
My work to date has been centred on this particular place; the building has served as my medium and my “micro-universe,” a tool for experimentation in art and collective ownership (Trans Europe Halles, n.d.). The work has begun resonating with artists who are developing similar practices and identifying similar emergent themes in other countries. This represents a turning point in my practice, while raising questions about how a long-term place-based arts practice can operate on a global stage. What does international collaboration and dissemination look like for work that is inherently local? How does work that uses a particular physical space translate to geographically-dispersed networks?
Ironically, at the moment that these questions became important for my work, an unprecedented pandemic upended the aspects of my practice that were based on shared space and place-based community. Suddenly, in logistical terms, there is very little difference between working with artists in Dublin or artists in Chicago. This has added a new dimension to my practice: on the one hand, the building’s utility as a tool is called into question; on the other hand, social distancing effectively eradicates geographical distance. At the moment when the “micro-universe” is set to expand, its existence is also threatened, and by events brought on in large part by the societal structures it sought to challenge.
However, my work has always been intended as a “factory of imagination” that is more than a fixed physical space (Trans Europe Halles, 2017). It is an approach, a process, a way of organising, and a body of knowledge. If history is anything to go by, the new crisis will bring new opportunities and threats. I originally co-founded the A4 Sounds collective during a global economic crisis, and crises have informed my practice since. In thinking about the current crisis, I am again influenced by Sholette as well as by Klein (2008) and Mirowski (2014). While a new round of disaster capitalism is again on the horizon, is there also space for “disaster communism” (Out of the Woods, 2018)? What “forms of oppositional praxis” will open up or close down in the coming years (Sholette, 2017, p. 152)? How can my practice contribute to imagining alternative futures, contra the supposed inevitability of capitalism (Fisher, 2009)?
It is this combination of exogenous and endogenous reasons that makes now the ideal time to develop this body of research. Over 12 months I will achieve this by critically examine the concept of producing-as-art, while developing new international partnerships, facilitating new approaches to social change, and recognising the urgency of the current moment.
- Benjamin, W. (1982), “The author as producer”, in Thinking photography (pp. 15-31). London: Palgrave.
- Birchall, M. (2013), “On Artistic and Curatorial Authorship: Editorial’’, Oncurating.org, Issue 19, pp.4-5
- Bude, H. (2012), “The curator as meta-artist: the case of HUO” in Texte zur Kunst, 22, p. 114
- Fisher, M. (2009), Capitalist realism: Is there no alternative? London: Zer0 Books
- Foster, H. (1995), “The Artist as Ethnographer”, The Traffic in Culture, Refiguring Art and Anthropology, Edited by George E. Marcus and Fred R. Myers, University of California Press. Retrieved from https://monoskop.org/images/8/87/Foster_Hal_1995_The_Artist_as_Ethnographer.pdf
- Holmes, B. (2012), “Eventwork: The Fourfold Matrix of Contemporary Social Movements”, available at https://brianholmes.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/eventwork/ [accessed 10/5/2020]
- Mirowski, P. (2014), Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown, Verso Books
- Klein, N. (2008), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, London: Penguin Press
- Out of the Woods, (2018) “The Uses of Disaster, For a Life Worth Living”, Commune Mag, Issue 1, available at https://communemag.com/the-uses-of-disaster/ [accessed 10/05/2020]
- Roberts, J. (2009), “The Curator as Producer”, Manifesta Journal 10
- Sholette, G. ‘’Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture’’, London: Pluto Press, 2011.
- Sholette, G. (2016) ‘’Counting On Your Collective Silence: Notes on activist art as collaborative practice’’, Afterimage: The Journal of Media and Cultural Criticism, pp. 18–20
- Sholette, G. Delirium and Resistance: Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism, edited by Kim Charnley; foreword by Lucy R. Lippard, London: Pluto Press
- Trans Europe Halles (n.d.) “About Us”, available at https://teh.net/about-us/ [accessed 10/5/2020]
- Trans Europe Halles (n.d.) “Factories of Imagination: Investing in Cultural Changemakers (2017-2021)”, available at https://teh.net/project/factories-of-imagination/ [accessed 10/05/2020]
- Wochenklauser, (n.d.) “Artist Statement”, available at http://www.wochenklausur.at/index1.php?lang=en, [accessed 10/05/2020]