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Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Social Change Through Art

                                                    Mel Chin, Revival Field, 1990-present, view during early July 1991, landfill, chain link fence, six  plant varieties, perennial and annual seeds and seedlings, 60 square feet, Pig's Eye landfill, St. Paul, Minnesota. © Mel Chin


Hans Ulrich Obrist, named "most powerful figure in the international art world" by ArtReview magazine in their November 2009 issue, recently moderated a symposium at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen

This symposium deliberately coincided with the larger United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15). Obrist first made headlines in 1992 when he founded the Museum Herbert Walser, a migratory museum.  The idea was to constantly shift the location of the museum, moving between cities and countries.  His innovative vision of a museum that always questioned itself - parameters and operations changing with each show - helped to establish him as a progressive director/curator who not only considers the "what" in an exhibition, but also the "why" and the "how." 

Obrist has become known as an art-world powerhouse, having worked as critic, writer, curator and co-director (Serpentine Gallery, London). Keeping in line with his tradition of creative catalyst, Obrist recently facilitated a symposium comprised of eminent art-world personalities like Shilpa Gupta, Olafur Eliasson and Peter Weibel, among others.  The focus of their conversations was sustainability in the creative sector and challenges that face the environment. 

What of us here, in South Florida?  If one cannot attend an international meeting of the minds to contemplate art and the planet, what shall an artist do?  Why, make art, of course.  Personally, I feel that artists have a moral imperative to address the mounting issues in our communities, both locally and globally.  Climate change and waste are not the only issues to address; there are those on a social level, such as the breakdown of intimate social interactions facilitated by omnipresent technology, issues of racism and sexism, and so on.

Artists are in a unique position to reach a public audience who will stop and consider what they are saying.  When someone takes time out of their day to get in their car, drive to an art gallery or museum and look at your work rather than doing any number of other things, they are yours for a time.  They have deposited themselves at your doorstep and now it is up to you how you make use of their time.  It is a chance for an artist to point to issues and resolutions that the visitor may not have otherwise considered.  Below are a few examples of artists who I think have done a superb job of tying art to pressing issues in a way that the public can understand.

Mel Chin, Revival Field

Rikrit Tiravanija, Untitled 

Hans Haacke, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971 

Fred Wilson, Mining the Museum

In the context of an international worldview, if the most powerful figure is someone that feels social responsibility rather than create items for conspicuous consumption, then I encourage all artists to take a page from Obrist's notes.   


Posted by: Kelli Bodle, Curatorial Assistant @ 11:58:13 am  Comments (1)
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