At a time of increasing inequality and social tension, what role can art play in bringing people together? Can artists working in public spaces shift perceptions and attitudes? Does socially engaged practice inhibit artistic excellence?
Civic Actions: Artists’ Practices Beyond the Museum delves into these crucial questions, focusing on the intersection of social and public projects, and the possibilities of art practice in public space. This essential publication is international in focus and features formal essays and critiques along with conversational reflections by high-profile artists, curators, academics and cultural practitioners from across Australia, the Asia-Pacific, Europe and North and South America, who work with communities in the public realm.
Expanding on the 2015 conference of the same name, Civic Actions considers the intersections of socially engaged and public art practices within a global context, with a focus on Australia and the MCA’s ground-breaking C3West program. Since 2007, C3West has collaborated with businesses and non-arts organisations across Greater and Western Sydney to create artist-led projects which give voice to local issues.
Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, MCA Director, said: “The contributions in the book highlight the transformative capacity of contemporary art, and the ways in which a range of organisations, from artist collectives to brick-and-mortar art institutions, can work in non-art locations and contexts in manners that are dynamic, responsive and collaborative.”
In ‘Culture is the Language of the Commons’, Nato Thompson, Artistic Director of Creative Time, focuses on socially engaged art through the dual lens of class and race. He writes, ‘The idea of taste that persists in the art world is outdated, and people who say “there’s good or bad art” are being fake. There are just points of entry, intrigue, complexity, power, performativity.’
Curator and writer Hetti Perkins discusses the need for Indigenous-led art projects in the public domain, which transform rather than exploit the environment: ‘Art or cultural activity in an urban landscape is a mechanism by which living memory can be activated, maintained and amplified to embrace our contemporary experience, often in stark relief to what appears to be an otherwise utterly colonised space.’
Artist Jun Yang considers whether art has the potential to initiate social change or if any such efforts are inevitably co-opted by economic systems designed to maximise profit; if art is a powerless luxury in a time of social turmoil; and if artists are ‘the biggest secret supporters of the commercial and conservative power systems’ that they criticise.
The publication discusses the work of a range of leading artists, including: Héctor Zamora (Brazil and Mexico), Theaster Gates (USA), Ivan and Heather Morison (UK), Tony Albert (Australia), Paul Chan (USA), Suzanne Lacy (USA), Kara Walker (USA), Sylvie Blocher (France), Angelica Mesiti (France and Australia), Jeanne van Heeswijk (Netherlands), and Lara Thoms (Australia).
Edited by Blair French and Anne Loxley