Thursday, September 13, 2018

My Introduction to Social Practice and a growing PoeTREE

As an artist, I've always been drawn to painting, particularly. However, in the recent years I've also been drawn towards arts organizing, working behind the scenes, connecting with groups and individuals who use art as a vehicle for Social Justice, Cultural Equity, and Civil Rights. I've had the great privilege of being in the presence of visionary activists like Dr. Marta Moreno Vega (through CCCADI), and über-creative artists like Núria Güell (through UNIDEE), and many others. I was lucky enough to be in the right place/time to help build a group, Queens Creative Solidarity, and learn first hand from community organizers and artivists, working on many different projects, behind the scenes - and so it's spiraled outwards, and onward... Recently as an artist, I've found myself exploring Social Practice. 

Before I say any more about Social Practice, I'll offer what I think is a good definition, from the Tate website: 
Socially engaged practice, also referred to as social practice or socially engaged art, can include any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction. This can often be organised as the result of an outreach or education program, but many independent artists also use it within their work. The term new genre public art, coined by Suzanne Lacy, is also a form of socially engaged practise. 
The participatory element of socially engaged practice, is key, with the artworks created often holding equal or less importance to the collaborative act of creating them.
Socially engaged practice can be associated with activism because it often deals with political issues. Artists who work within this field will often spend much time integrating into the specific community which they wish to help, educate or simply share with. 
I say all of this to say: a few years ago, I had no idea what the term "Social Practice" meant, yet somehow, I was becoming involved in it myself. I often tend to serendipitously get involved in things first, only to look back and say, "Hey! That was an amazing thing I was a part of!" I by no means want to downplay the work of socially engaged artists by saying because I stumbled upon this work it's simple - actually Social Practice is something that can be extremely powerful; it's becoming more and more prevalent in the arts and cultural landscape, some universities are also offering graduate degrees in the field. Again, I just happen to be extremely lucky in being able to learn from folks who are doing the work, in real time. 

Being involved in Queens Creative Solidarity (QCS) and considering what it means to be "in solidarity" I thought it was a great opportunity for us to support another local arts group - Southeast Queens Artist Alliance (SEQAA) - in their inaugural arts festival. The event was called the SEQAA (C)art Festival, taking place at the King Manor Museum in Jamaica, Queens on September 1st, 2018. One of my QCS friends, multi-disciplinary artist Priscilla Stadler and I collaborated on an project to be included.

All of the works included in the (C)art Festival was participatory, and some were on carts (see list of artists and projects below). So, Priscilla and I came up with a fitting project called PoeTREE - the original iteration of which we did at the QCS art residency at Queens Museum in 2016. The second iteration of PoeTREE for the (C)art Fest was a cart holding a cardboard tree sculpture, which visitors were invited to "help grow" by drawing and painting on the branches and roots, making paper leaves and writing poetry, thoughts, memories, impressions about trees, roots and the Wood Wide Web.

Doing the PoeTREE with Priscilla was a great experience. We had a lot of fun actually building the PoeTREE sculpture at her studio beforehand. On-site at the (C)art Fest, the actual art-making was not up to us, it was up to the visitors. Lucky for me, Priscilla is well-versed in socially engaged art-making and knows how to make folks feel welcome and encourage them to participate. I'm usually a little more reserved with people I don't know, but following Priscilla's lead, I did my best at inviting everyone to help construct the increasingly-colorful sculpture. We ended up with a beautiful tree! Every branch, root and leaf decorated with the designs and words imagined by the participants, young and old. It was a fun and beautiful group effort, paying homage to the majesty of trees, (our) roots, collective creativity and communication.  

Here are some photos I snapped of the PoeTREE process, from beginning to end.

Constructing the PoeTREE cart at Priscilla's art studio.

Starting to set up the PoeTREE area at the (C)art Festival at King Manor Museum in Rufus King Park.

A bare PoeTREE.

Priscilla and me with a bare PoeTREE.

A real tree helping to encourage communication.

The PoeTREE cart and some visitors. 

PoeTREE artists at work. 

Priscilla and a young poet.

A very inTREEguing moment.

PoeTREE artists at work.

PoeTREE starting to bloom.

Leaf poets.

Beautiful branch illustrations.

Me :) 

Branching out!

"I'm a tree-hugger and proud of it!"

Budding artists.

Budding artists.

A group effort, "Live & Let Live"

Family tree, with my cousin and friend.

Watering the PoeTREE.

Closeup of some branches. 

PoeTREE with a smile.

Branching out! 

Final result of our colorful PoeTREE! 

Closeup of beautiful branches. 


ART&COM (featuring collaborators Thiago Szmrecsányi, Natalia de Campos and Tracy Collins): “COLLECTIVE BARGAIN”

Natali S. Bravo-Barbee: “Green Card Cart”

Reese Francis: “Black Cherry Jam’s Story XChange”

Jacqueline Herranz and Margaret Rose Vendryes: “Consume a piece of Cuba before … / Consume un trozo de Cuba antes que …”

Rejin Leys: “PulpMobile”

Shervone Neckles: “Creative Wellness Gathering Station”

Monica O. Montgomery: “Museum of Impact”

Queens Creative Solidarity (featuring Priscilla Stadler and Lorie Caval): “PoeTREE Project”

Elizabeth Velazquez: Interactive Sculpture

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