In the words of Raqs Media Collective:
“The best kind of art, like the rain, invokes a re-ordering of the cognitive and the sensory fields. It asks of its actual and potential publics to open doors and windows and let the other worlds in. This re-ordering–subtle slight, sure, sharp or soft as the case may be, whether it is a desultry drizzle across a few frazzled or jaded synapses, or the neurological equivalent of an electrical thunderstorm and sudden downpour — is why we bother with art in the first place. When it rains art, we do not reach for umbrellas. It makes sense to let ourselves soak, as long as we can, like children dancing in the season’s first rain.”
In the same vein, my art practice does not discriminate audiences in the application of art but almost always disrupts a habitual pattern to inspire a personal or social shift. As Creative Director of limeSHIFT, our art interventions have influenced empathy, community and leadership in private companies, universities and neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, and New York City. Many of our working practices are directly informed not just by individual artistic processes, but also by the working modes of artist collectives.
Artist collectives have occurred throughout history, often gathered around central resources, for instance the ancient sculpture workshops at the marble quarries on Milos in Greece and Carrara in Italy. Collectives featured during both the Russian revolution when they were set up by the state in all major communities, and the French Revolution when the Louvre in Paris was occupied as an artist collective.
An artist collective is an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together towards shared aims. These aims can include almost anything that is relevant to the needs of the artist, ranging from purchasing bulk materials, sharing equipment, space or materials, through to following shared ideologies, aesthetic and political views or even living and working together as an extended family. Sharing of ownership, risk, benefits, and status is implied, as opposed to other, more common business structures with an explicit hierarchy of ownership such as an association or a company.
The aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy. Beyond sharing materials and ideologies, artist collectives have showcased time and again that collaborative processes tend to benefit all of the members of any given community.
Earlier this summer when our team met with the Chicago Public Art Group, the muralist John Pitman Weber shared that at its core “art created collectively in public space allows for the re-birth of the identities of all involved.” After 40 years of leading the creation of murals in Chicago, Weber is acutely aware of the power of art to heighten our awareness of who we are and where we belong.
We met with Weber and his collective because Broder–a LEED Platinum real estate developer working on a new construction site in the upscale neighborhood of Lincoln Park, Chicago–had come to us wanting to bring art to that particular site. The 200,000 sq.ft. development is enclosed by a 75 ft. plywood fence. As a mindful developer, Broder was looking for an interactive, playful and family-friendly art piece to brighten the site and add beauty to the neighborhood.
Our aim was to understand Lincoln Park through the lens of community engagement. We proposed a three week process to understand different stakeholders, create artistic concepts inspired by the community and make the art. The final product would be a community-inspired art piece on the construction wall engaging the community and enhancing everyday experiences for people who live and work in that neighborhood.
limeSHIFT put out a call to artists from the midwest that create playful and bright public art pieces. Among them, we considered project proposals by Ruben Aguirre, Don’t Fret, POSE, and Mosher Show. Through comprehensive deliberation, the client selected a collaborative concept by artists Ellen Rutt and Patrick Ethen. Their dimensional patchwork concept felt inclusive and bright.
Working with a broad range of community organizations, from the Lincoln Park Community Shelter to the DePaul Museum and the local branch of the Public Library, limeSHIFT held pattern-making workshops where participants got the opportunity to express themselves through art-making. We think of these processes as alternate avenues to awaken the imagination. We also put out a call for people to submit artwork online via social media using the hashtag #LPPMus. All of this content would be used by the artists in the crafting of the final patterns that would make up the mural.
The Lincoln Park Patchwork Mural will exist for 18 months during the construction of the project and will be installed on the property of the completed building for the tenants to enjoy.
For nearly 60 years, Americans for the Arts has convened an annual convention for arts and community leaders to network and discuss strategies for building stronger towns, counties, and cities through the arts. As this professional field has grown, so has the gathering. What started as a small group of 45 people in 1955 has now grown to nearly 1,000 each year.
I was invited to speak as part of the ‘Embedded Artists and the Power of Residencies’ session. Like any good insurgency, artist residencies–inside schools, governments, businesses, and more–can quickly move from “why” to “how did we do without?” In the session, we dived deeply into examples of successful residency programs and gather ideas for how to replicate them in any community.
This session addressed issues of arts education, community development, diversity/equity, engagement, leadership, private sector engagement, public art, and public value. I was honored to be on the panel with Lisa Temple (The Community Engagement Manager at Adobe), Shaw Pong Liu (one of the Artists-in-Residence for Boston Creates), Charles Tracy (Director of Arts Partnerships for the National Park Service), Elizabeth Segarn (Staff Writer for Fast Company Magazine), and it was moderated by Myran Parker-Bass (The Executive Director of the Arts for Boston Public Schools).
I had the opportunity to share work from Monday Morning Kabul, Beware of Colour, and Colour in Faith as predecessors to limeSHIFT. I connected many of the artistic practices that we have developed over the past decade in public space to the ways in which corporations can activate the imaginations of their employees and in the process elevate the company’s culture.
The president of Americans for the Arts (AFTA), Robert Lynch, addressed the convention and begun with: “Risk. Controversy. Action. Vision. Vibrancy. Equity. Accessibility. Power. Innovation. Failure. Design. Community. Leadership. These are the concepts you’re grappling with now…” As a startup, we are dealing with all of these things on a daily basis. The conference was filled with ideas that inform the way that we think about our company’s challenges.
“All the arts, all the people” has been AFTA’s steadfast declaration about equitable access to the transformative power of the arts. It is an aspirational phrase—and one that limeSHIFT strives to meet.
We founded our company because we believe that access to a full creative life is essential to a healthy and democratic society. Lynch concluded his speech by stating, “Our core belief that all people should have equal access to the arts has never wavered, but the political, social, and economic circumstances in which we carry out our mission are constantly evolving. We all must evolve, too.”
limeSHIFT exists to support this evolution.
Curiosity is a critical trait of people who bring about innovation in our world. From Thomas Edison to Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein, we have seen humans shift the narrative of our collective existence by allowing their curiosity to transport them from awareness to action. Some of the most celebrated artists of all time have created masterpieces by using their curiosity to experiment on canvas (Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock, and Jean-Michel Basquiat) and more recently on everything from smartphones (Miranda July) to building facades (Jenny Holzer) to plates (Vik Muniz). In her latest book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” Elizabeth Gilbert makes the case that allowing ourselves to use curiosity as a tool for everyday living could not only bring about a more fruitful life, but a more pleasurable one, too.
The way that Gilbert sees it:
“The trick is to just follow your small moments of curiosity. It doesn’t take a massive effort. Just turn your head an inch. Pause for a instant. Respond to what has caught your attention. Look into it a bit. Is there something there for you? A piece of information? For me, a lifetime devoted to creativity is nothing but a scavenger hunt — where each successive clue is another tiny little hit of curiosity. Pick each one up, unfold it, see where it leads you next.”
(today, we continue our interview with William Kentridge. The first part can be found here)
YA: Tell me a about the history of Johannesburg, since you’ve mentioned it, and how it’s affected your work. Apartheid and the reality of –
WK: Well, there’s a 2 billion year history of Johannesburg, which was a meteorite impact, which tilted the earth, which brought the gold to the surface, which is the reason Johannesburg existed. So it has a geological – not a geographic – X. And the hills around Johannesburg are essentially made by these piles of earth that came out of the mines, from the gold mines, those are our hills. But unlike most hills, which are fixed, and mountains, which are symbols of eternity, these are portable properties. They’re owned by the mining companies that excavated them and, as the price of gold goes up, they will get erased. So it’s a kind of a city that animates itself, it erases itself. You’ll see a hill and over the course of three months it will literally be rubbed out. It will be blasted away with high-pressure waterjets. So there’s a way in which the city is a new city. At my age, I’ve been alive for, like, 40% of the age of the city. The city’s only 130 years old.
YA: How old are you now?
WK: 56, 40% of the age of the city. So there’s that sense of it being an unfixed entity. And one that’s changed over 50 years, there’s no doubt, that I remember the city. It’s very bleached in terms of its colors, particularly in winter, it’s very harsh light, high contrast. So there’s a way in which it has an affinity with charcoal drawing, so there’s a lot of links that go across. It’s a bastardized, city of bastardy. It doesn’t have a long tradition. All its traditions are imported, recent, from all over. So I think it’s a city that proclaims both a virtue and the necessity for mixed traditions for constructing itself out of abandoned objects and thoughts. Read More…
It is a blinding bright winter morning in Johannesburg and I am sipping on honeybush rooibos tea while I wait for one of my artist heroes: Mr. William Kentridge. We are meeting again for the first time since the opening of his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to discuss his dream of being an elephant, how apartheid influenced his practice, what keeps him curious, and the exercise of embracing a multiplicity of mediums. This was my third time in South Africa, where I have been travelling annually to support an arts empowerment program at Nkosi’s Haven (an orphanage founded with the aim of looking after mothers and children directly affected by HIV/AIDS).
A lone sofa sits in a wide open space with a simple Maplewood coffee table in front of it. The proportions of the space lead me to think that it could be a double decker bus garage designed by Mies van der Rohe. Instead of tall buses, exquisite three-dimensional corpses occupy the place: musical machines that feel like oversized puppets. My memory keeps going back to one, a rolling tri-pod upholding a sewing machine with megaphones for arms. These would soon thereafter be shipped to New York for his solo show at the Marian Goodman Gallery titled Second-hand Reading. Read More…