Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sharing a Public Practice

This last week I was invited to speak on an alumni panel at my school, Otis. After only being out of school for 4 months, I didn't have a new project to talk about, but was instead able to talk about my process of graduate education and of creating a public practice. As the date neared I became really nervous about telling people about the trials and tribulations of my process. Would this be relevant to anyone? Would anyone care?

After my 10 minute presentation was over I realized that this opportunity was a very cathartic experience for me. I was able to put many pieces of my 3 year long journey together. A process that started in Cambridge Massachusetts and finished in Los Angeles, California; through 2 separate existential crisis as I question first if I was a therapist and then if I was an artist. Ultimately I answered yes to the later question by finishing this degree, and am still in the process of exploring my relationship of being a therapist.

After the lecture there were a few questions that I hadn't decided how I would publicly answer, but I think I managed to offer a long version of the truth, as I talked out the possible responses. One of the other alum that is in the middle of archiving information about social practices asked if I would be interested in doing an interview. This of course will require that I firm up a few positions that I have on the field of public practice, such as: Why am I trying to make change through art?

Lastly, the part of the lecture that I found the most rewarding was at the end sharing tips for those that are in the middle, or just beginning, the process of their graduation education. By sharing my experience I hope that I may have been helpful as they journey on through the difficult process of creating a public practice.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thesis Defense

Last Thursday was one of the most nerve racking days of my graduate experience: thesis defense day. This is the point in which one must stand up in front of their artwork, explain it and defend your decisions with historical and theoretical references.

This was also the day that my written thesis was due. I was fortunate to have a dear friend of mine, Nicolette Jackson Pownal, to act as editor. What I thought would be a 2-3 hour correction of sentence structure corrections and grammar turned into an 8 hour review of the text, word by word and line by line. This intense scrutiny of the written text helped to clarify my ideas to a non-artist, which meant I really had to explain what I was talking about. I believe this process flowed over into the next day as I presented to my faculty.

I showed up to the gallery with notes typed up outlining what I would discuss, a professional outfit on and was prepared to be the first one to present. The faculty lined up in front of me like a firing squad and for 30 minutes I explained the conceptualization of the project and historical significance. Finally I opened it up to questions and comments, and there were a few points of clarification. All in all, it couldn't have went better! Over the rest of the day my faculty said the presentation was really good and my paper much improved.

Six hours later after my 5 peers had presented there was the last test--the private conversation where the faculty decide if we should graduate. Some 10 minutes went by and then we were called back in and all given the thumbs up! I now had the green light to graduate, and what a relief that was. I had proven myself to my faculty and thus will become a colleague.

Feild Internship Presentation Today!

There is 4 more days to go until graduation! One of the last requirements I need to fulfill is a short 10 minute presentation about my experience during my internship. Using a short 4 slide Power Point I will talk about the the role I played in the project BEING PEDESTRIAN, a collaborative project with artists Sara Daleiden, Sara Wookey and Linda Pollack (http://habeaslounge.org/)--3 amazing artists and women.

Here is a link to the description of the project:

About the project:
BEING PEDESTRIAN is a cultural tourism agency focused on walking.
With its playful prompts, BEING PEDESTRIAN invites experience of the public space of sidewalks and crosswalks in consideration of the invisible decisions that form the streetscape. Produced in collaboration with CRA/LA

My position as an intern included a variety of tasks that included: community outreach, public relations, production of stencils, attending planning meetings, participating in walks, proof reading, organizing, and communicating with participants. Throughout the internship the tasks were varied, and I was very receptive to the range of experiences that this opportunity offered me.

In final reflection, working with BEING PEDESTRIAN was most important for me in understanding my own practice. The project functioned in different ways and was defined differently depending on the parties involved. When it needed to be part of public art it was; when it needed to be community building it was; when it needed to be a social service it was. The sort of shape shifting that I witnessed the project go through is something that I have not finished reflecting on. In one case this offers maximum accessibility, but in another seems to conceal the art. Moreover, the project seemed to function on the level of critical consciousness raising. The form that some of the strategies took were similar to those I work with, which was perhaps originally why I felt that this would be such a good partnership for my internship. It turned out that it was, and offered me a lot to reflect on, along with good times with these artists that I hope to stay in touch with throughout my career.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gallery Install

This week we are in the mists of the final exhibition for our graduating class. There are 6 of us exhibiting together, which gave each of us a good deal of space. Since this week is really busy I will just quickly paste up some images of the install so far. It's looking great and we got the Suzanne Lacy approval today. Two more days to go, with lots of little details to get into place.

The pink rectangles are part of my exhibition. I have to say that this is a heavily curated show, to the point that we sometimes have to wait for further approval to proceed. A new experience, but nice to know others are looking out for the groups best interest, by making it the best showing possible.

Studio Visitors

Recently we had scheduled studio visits with curator Emi Fontana, from the West of Rome project. After her wonderful lecture I rushed back to my studio space to prepare for our meeting. I realized that I had a special guest coming to visit, and that I should really provide some hospitality in the form of food, as a token of appreciation. This required a quick trip to the store to purchase some Pellegrino, strawberries and pistachios.

If I have learned anything in Public Practice it is always have food around, as it inspires a communal feel. Breaking bread with someone is still a primal tradition that I think is a part of our psyche. So for this reason, and I am sure there are more, always provide food for your guests or project participants.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Sustain an Art Practie?

I am now one month away from graduation and about to step back out into the real world, or am I? The question of what's next is on my mind. I have been asking myself this question about art and sustainability for years now, and have mostly worked around it; making projects when I needed to. Since I view my art practice as an externalization of internal thoughts and conflicts, mixed with contemporary social issues, this method of sparse production works for me. As I consider how to make a living this gets more complicated, because I never viewed my art practice as an income generator. Recently I came across a good article that legitimized my feelings concerning this issue: e-flux issue 24, viewable here:

With this in mind, I've realized that its not about choosing art or another profession. I want to be an artist. I want to be paid to philosophize and develop aesthetic experiences that explore the world we live in. Yes, I want these things, but I live in a world that is dictated by money, capital and no health care without it. Perhaps this is an existential dilemma that would not be necessary if I was an EU citizen.

I now have 2 clear options to proceed in, as I wrap up my graduate work for my MFA. I can leave this program and go back to work for the arts education sector, which is not a bad place to be. I like children and the mission, but am skeptical of the pay ($=health care/life). I also found out that I was accepted into Cal-Poly Pomona's Urban Planning Program. This, as you can imagine, is a hard thing to talk myself into, 2 more years of school right now. And what if there are no jobs in planning after all, and I moved further away from my professional experience in Arts Ed? These are the components of my personal dilemma, but I think most of my generation are in this boat.

It can be a very difficult thing to explain to family and other generations, that there really are no more safe jobs. Teaching for example was a sort of back-up plan. I believe education is extremely important, but didn't think I had the stamina for it; however, there are great benefits. All that aside, there are no teaching jobs. This year over 5,000 educators were laid off in Los Angeles alone. The possibilities of teaching does increase as you look at other geographical areas, but I'm not sure I want to plan my life around a more rural local.

Looking at other artists' practices can also be helpful. One of the big problems that I had after my first year of graduate study at Otis was that they kept bringing in artists that had other graduate degrees outside of art. They were professionals in these fields (planners, architects, designers), and I was now paying to hear how they self-fund there artwork in other fields! This was a big conflict for me, and remains one, as I try to create a very personal professional path that gives my life meaning.

This concept of work giving meaning to one's life is a construct by the way. I have been reading Alain de Botton's "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" and it was interesting to learn that the United States' founding fathers perpetuated this concept of work having meaning. This seems to make a lot of economic sense, doesn't it? Carlos Castaneda also discussing a similar idea in one of his books about the pain of loving too much. When everything in your life stems from a love relationship to that object, the possibility for pain can be experienced on all fronts. I have to say that this is another legitimizing feeling that I've had recently. Just give me something that I can make $$ doing that I have a less intensive personal relationship to, so I can pour it into the artwork.

I can't say that I can really offer a solution here, accept the obvious one of try to do both. One thing I've realized is that I did not take the easy path here, and that is why this is hard and hurts so much. Although, I can't say that I know any other way, or whether another way would have worked for me anyhow. This is my path that I've created, and the best I can do is to own it, honor it, and remind myself that its a rough road to travel.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pedagogy Conference

This weekend was a weekend intensive called "Concentric Conversations," which was part of the Pedagogy Practicum course at Otis. With only 2 more months left, which includes a thesis paper and gallery exhibition to produce, I really wish this course would have came sooner, like last semester maybe so I could absorb a little more. Alas, there is never enough time, so I am at least glad to have had the experience.

In any case, it was a lovely series of conversations with people who care deeply about various forms (institutional, art-based, community-based, individual, informal) of education. After reading a few texts my authors like Chris Robinson, Paulo Freire and Mercado, the connection between pedagogy and public practice was very clean: its about creating change by starting with personal agency. The conference also offered 2 sessions of case studies where artists and collectives (Public School, Ava Bromberg, Ultra-Red, Ashley Hunt, Slaguage) discussed their practice in relationship to pedagogy.

The personal connections that I made with my practice and pedagogy was through Freire's concepts of the "unfinished being" and "self-realization through education." These concepts reminded me why I had studied art therapy, why I had worked as an educator and what I was trying to achieve through participatory projects: individual experiences that can lead to a sense of agency and perhaps even lead to collective change.