Hello. I would like to thank Carol Newbourg for Inviting me to speak about the project Portrait of Self. Before I get into the project itself, I would like to make some general remarks to put my thoughts and POS into context. the slides I am running are non sequential images taken over the past two year while implimenting Portrait of Self.
The importance of a suitable criterion for evaluation of community art projects is significant in a time when art is becoming inseparably attached to "good" social policy. Art funders, critics, corporations, curators, and granting agencies are searching for a benchmark by which to evaluate art projects that have a connection to community.
Since the success of the right wing attack on the National Endowment for the Arts supporters of the visual arts have succeeded in tying art making to community and social policy.
This phenomena makes the definition and the evaluation of community arts projects a crucial issue. Many grants and art agencies now demand social relevancy in funding the arts.
The evaluatory criterion is therefore not aesthetic, but asks how a project will involve community, diversity, cross disciplinary components, multipleculturalism, and outcome.
They are terms not necessarily backed by any institutional conviction for achieving social change, but are the words that come from the grant writers pens to keep the money flowing.
I do not feel adequate as a scholar or theoretical thinker to develop anything close to an encompassing criterion for the evaluation of community art on an economic or critical level. Here I present the values and ideas that guided the creation of Portrait of Self and give credit to those artists who have helped direct my concerns.
The term community art is at best vague and over laps ideas concerning public art, one percent projects, art in situ and guerrilla art actions. Community art can be separated from the general category of works that are viewed in public.
Lucy Lippard points to an art that goes beyond the heroic condescension of art for the people, or the universal language of abstraction-- to a more modest position in which art strives for local context and cultural authenticity. This idea ask for art to come from the fabric of community and be made within the context of community, time and place. It ask artists to facilitate, listen and collaborate.
Joseph Beuys, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and David Hammons point out the pragmatism, materialism, and combativeness which is the hallmark of our dominant anglo culture. They all believe that art provides a revitalizing process for individuals, communities and society.
They reject the commercial ego-based aesthetics of mainstream art production and seek to reinvent art making based on community, values and action.
Philospher John Dewey has said "the local is the only universal, upon that all arts are built." This mirrors Amalia Mesa-Bains comparison of Chicano art to the mainstream saying, "Chicano art is based on respecting the family and your community, I dont see a lot of love and passion in the work I see in the Museums"
In reflecting on the art audience David Hammons says "the art audience is the worst audience in the world. Its overly educated, its conservative, its out to criticize not to understand, and it never has any fun. Why should I spend my time playing to that audience? The street audience is much more human, and their opinion is from the heart"
Beuys reflects, "Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of our senile social system that continues to totter along the death line...I am not a teacher who tells his students only to think. I say act: do something, I ask for a result."
The results of community art actions are not aesthetic, or derived from the sentimentality of feelings but are a method for creating a new way for people to see, experience, and take action.
Gonzalez-Torres said, "I dont want people to feel...I want the public to be informed, moved to action. Feeling is too easy."
These artists have a belief in the intuitive creative potential of what Hammonds refers to as everyday people and the ability of art to fundamentally change the way these individuals perceive and act in their communities.
"There are no ordinary people," says C.S. Lewis.
These artists believe that art is simultaneously a spiritual and political action which is meant to have an active function in creating personal and social change.
I have extracted the following values or criterion in developing Portrait of Self:
POS is an evolving series of community art projects which guides a community to produce individual archives documenting their lives, as visual works of art . The archives are intense, living and beautiful visual documentsand are the resource for graphic blueprint portraits. Together the archive and portraits are exhibited as installations in museums, public spaces and community centers.
These art works are being implemented in collaboration with designer Bruce McIntosh, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art , Accessible Arts, Missouri Juvenile Justice System and through grants from the Missouri and Kansas Art state arts commissions.
POS is a set of questions, ideas and directions in an officious black three-ring notebook. The notebook has been given to inner city at risk youths, vision impaired and special needs children disabled adults and incarcerated teens. Bruce McIntosh and I then work with the participants encouraging them to keep visual archives documenting their lives and direct their efforts toward exhibition.
The notebook begins a collaborative and self-directed process of social, visual and autobiographical investigation. The participants turn the three-ring notebooks into multiple volumes of spine breaking visual and annotated data which traces their individual life experiences.
Draw your neighborhood and mark on it all the places you were bad. Questions such as these ask the person to create visual representations of their past and present living circumstances. POS asks participants to document and share their daily lives in detail.
They collect the ephemera that passes through their hands each day. Participants fill their notebooks with lists, drawing, poetry, rap, audio tapes, cigarette butts, pop top tabs, baby pictures, syringes, pieces of infant clothing, and the burned ashes sealed in envelopes of their private thoughts.
At the end of months of work they have created an archive crammed into multiple notebooks that provides them with a remarkable representation of their values, showing them how they act, who they effect and what they desire. The participants archives are intense vernacular works of art created directly from the fabric of daily life.
The process asks them to be absolutely truthful, and if their behavior is illegal, destructive or merely inappropriate they are to discover ways of documenting that behavior, while determining how and what should remain private.
They create lists of everything they buy for several months. If they are buying crack cocaine, they write it on the list then paint and scratch it out so it is indecipherable. The lists grew to eight feet in length recording all their purchases, and are often covered with numerous black scratch marks recording their hidden behavior. The lists become beautiful collages that are a visual memory of daily living.
In conjunction with the archives I create large graphic blueprint portraits of the participants, some as large as 3x32 feet. It is a significant experience for these people to see their archives and blue print portraits, exhibited in a museum and community setting. Their lives have become works art through collaboartion.
As important as the exhibition is---- it is the process of creative thinking, seeing and preceving that can inform them for a life time which is far more significant.
Values and Outcome
Archiving, collecting and exhibiting are the underlying methods that concern Portrait of Self. It is a process that connects daily living to art making.
As a method of investigation it records the subjects past and present perceptions producing a portrait that is a record of a lifetime and not a pictorial moment.
Archiving turns mundane living into a historical resource. This process of portraiture/archiving does not isolate the subject form their social context but re-inforces and amplifies that context.
POS provides a process of meaningful self expression which allows individuals to become active in representing and analyzing their lives. Archiving is active self-expression not requiring special talent, or aesthetic knowledge.
Commercial objects placed into an archive are placed in a metaphorical context investing them with personal meaning. Participants subjective intimate expression is voiced through collection, manipulation, deconstruction and organization of ephemera.
The museum exhibition of POS turns the institution over to the community celebrating their lives as high art. POS combines implementation, outreach and education into primary art making actions which do not conclude with the exhibition of the archives and murals. The archives go back to the participants lasting as living documentation in their lives.
POS is an empirical process in which all the participants perceptions are true, and self knowledge is derived from their insight. The archives is a grammar of signs which reduce the individual participant to an idiographic representation. The outcome of the process of POS is to make the participants grammar of signs into a language for insight which broadens their epistemological field.
For more, see the Portrait of Self pages.