[iDC] [Criticality] Social Ethics, Social Aesthetics, Social Beauty

Eric Steen ericmsteen at gmail.com
Sat Jan 19 00:24:58 UTC 2008

Responding to: "Failure & reflection - Is it just me or do social art
projects seem to have lots more failure involved than other art projects?"

I may have missed something but I don't think I understand exactly what
"failure" means in the context Kanarinka's post. As Sal suggests a defining
of failure is important. It seems to me there are a couple different types
of social projects. The more political ones attempt to present information
and cause "participants" to reexamine their own social or political
positions. In these the artist is often times hoping that a certain outcome
will be attained and if it doesn't this could be a failure. Other projects,
and I personally consider these the better projects, are more of a
facilitation where participants become more than just something that is
decentered (they are not objectified), instead these participants take on
the responsibility of either carrying or not carrying the load given to them
originally by the artist. In this way the artist gives up all hope of any
set outcome and allows participants to sculpt the outcome according to their
particular, or local needs or desires. In this sense failure for the artist
would consist of bad moderating and facilitation of an event. There is more
to say on this but for now that is all I will say.

> -eric


On Jan 14, 2008 5:50 PM, kanarinka <kanarinka at gmail.com> wrote:
Hello Sal and everyone -
Wow. Thanks so much for such a detailed and thoughtful synopsis of this
arena of practice. I am very curious to read responses.

A few things that are questions for me:

1) Historical, Different histories & publics - I am interested to know what
people coming from a community art practice and/or media activism practices
think about the recent surge in public, interventionist, social,
participatory art projects. Not that these positions are more ethical or
better, only that I think it is interesting that there is curatorial and
academic interest in social, participatory projects that seem to be
connected more to an avant-garde art tradition than these other histories.
Or, I guess, why is serving soup in a gallery suddenly interesting enough to
make a theory about when artists have probably served soup in many other
places over the years? Or, another way to put it, which histories matter
when we are talking about  the social-participatory-ethics-aesthetics

2) Failure & reflection - Is it just me or do social art projects seem to
have lots more failure involved than other art projects? (I am silently
counting many of my own project's failures here). I really appreciated and
agreed with this:  >>>> "Personally, one of the aesthetic qualities I most
admire in social artworks is what I think of as aliveness - when the
interactions of the participants develop beyond the situation envisioned by
the artist, when the participants take over and really make something new
happen.  This is the reason I keep doing this kind of work - if the piece is
successful, I never fail to be profoundly surprised by what actually
develops. ">>>>>

And one of the things that is endlessly surprising are the failures
(sometimes small, sometimes large) which cause you to reevaluate your
expectations, your publics and your approach and, ideally, to work in
versions/iterations. I am thinking of failure in a positive, learning way.

If an experiment fails, this is useful public knowledge. But most of the
"art" structures aren't geared towards collectively reflecting on failure. I
am thinking of artist talks, grants, and so on, where the main goal is to
impress the audience and promote the project so you can get a few bucks to
make the next version. But it seems like these projects would be much more
interesting and might accomplish more if we could begin to publicly talk
about their failures.

I could go on, but I am looking forward to other thoughts & questions,
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