A practice of Social work or Socially Engaged art?

A practice of Social work or Socially Engaged art?

28 April 2013 at 21:40

What does it mean when a group of artists form their own institution? Is it resistant or merely an internalization of existing institutional models? Does this mode of operating change the relationship between participants, context of display and the role of the artists as facilitators and how? What assumptions are being made about artists as privileged agents, free to create their own self-determination? What is the potential to create a significant political, aesthetic and social experience for participants that can resist individual prestige?

The elemental physical actions of the art making process have been converted into situations that now demands a different set of verbs: to negotiate, to coordinate, to compromise, to research, to organize, to interview. “The artist used to be a maker of aesthetic objects; now he/she is a facilitator, educator, coordinator, and bureaucrat.” (Kwon 1997:103)


There are currently many examples of artist-led interdisciplinary collectives and non-profit organizations working to explore and unfold ideas around locality, infrastructures, education, and creative practice leading towards civic change. This form of engagement, which readily takes up and is inspired by social issues, and which routinely engages the “collaborative participation of audience groups for the conceptualization and production of the work, are seen as a means to strengthen art’s capacity to penetrate the sociopolitical organization of contemporary life with greater impact and meaning.” (Kwon 1997:96) This dissemination and undertaking of research through projects, events, workshops, installations, and interventions seemingly offers an injection of creativity into a situation, surface, place, or community, seeks also to connect various disciplines through research and social practice, generating works and interventionist tactics that adjust, critique, annotate, and re-imagine the cities and social environments where they occur.


These alternative spaces in some degree or other aim to creatively respond to the issues/ situations directly experienced in a community, while also negotiating the ways in which other community members experience the identified issues. This extended form of practise demonstrates that additionally to their new bureaucratic functions, “artists have adopted managerial functions of art institutions (curatorial, educational,archival) as an integral part of their creative process.” (Kwon 1997:103)


But what does this really mean for the community that is impacted by the artist’s work and the long-term impact of the projects on the lives of the affected communities? How do the various points of engagement generate new questions about artist-run initiatives and practices today?



Cit: Miwon Kwon. 1997, One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity. October.Vol. 80. (Spring, 1997), pp. 85-110. TheMIT Press.