On Art and Possibility

A couple of the heim’s staff members expressed displeasure about the way my residency has taken shape. They imagined that I was here as a teaching artist and would be doing daily workshops with the residents. Because of their misconceptions about the residency and what my work here is, they feel as though I have done nothing.

It’s easy to dismiss perspectives like those expressed by certain members of the heim’s staff because they reveal themselves as having no understanding of contemporary art, artistic labor, or the overall aims of the residency.

Yet thinking about their complaints has taken me back to a few of the questions I asked in my second blog post.

– What is the role of the politically engaged artist?

– How can the arts support and uplift those who experience injustice?

– Why is art such an ineffective form of political action?

Those questions were not shaped in response to the residency itself, but are questions I think about in connection to nearly every project I do. When working in nègre, for example, all of the political ideals that drove the project felt meaningless during the long hours the store was empty. But when neighborhood residents came in, all of that changed. The neighbors’ excitement about what the store contained and what that represented made me realize the store was about taking up space and prominently displaying black aesthetics. more, nègre, as a store and an exhibition, functioned as a potent symbol of black possibility. 

I was fairly surprised when msk7 told me that I have been more engaged with the community more than any of the other artists in residence so far. And though consistent community engagement is not a requirement of the residency and should not be expected, my daily interactions with the heim’s residents have led me to believe that the simple act of having an artist live in the heim is/can/should be the biggest impact the residency has on the residents’ lives. The art itself is the MacGuffin. The true meaning is found in the conversations, shared experiences, and relationships that are formed. Those intangible spaces are where art moves from gesture into lived possibility. 

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