OE Perspectives: J. Soto & Anthony Romero

In an effort to further the conversations that occurred during the conference and share with a wider audience, we are initiating the platform OE Perspectives—first person reflections on OE 2016 provided from a select number of entrusted colleagues and friends of OE.


LATINX Dialogue: Open Engagement 2016

Anthony Romero: Perhaps we can begin by outlining some of the reasons why we have recently begun to move towards self-organizing Latinx peoples? At the time of writing this, we will be moving into the first full summer term for the Latinx Artist Visibility Award, a scholarship that we established at OxBow School of Art and that allows Latinx students to attend a summer class of their choosing, you will have just co-organized Open Forum, a sharing event that worked to network and map contemporary Latinx art making. I will be headed to Open Engagement, where I will report on some of the conversations that we have been having with your collaborators on Open Forum, including Mia Lopez, Josh Rios, Gibran Villalobos, and Brit Barton, around what a Latinx artist retreat might look like. When I think about this kind of work, and similar work that we have done in the past, I think that on the one hand it is an attempt to understand the internal diversity of groups that fall under the Latinx umbrella and on the other hand it is preoccupied with both the distribution of resources within and towards Latinx artist communities as well as how these communities are represented institutionally and organizationally. Underpinning this is the recognition that there are problems of access, visibility, and agency within these communities and that as Latinx people (first) and artists (second) we might be able to redirect resources, advocate for, or otherwise provide opportunities for our communities. For me, it is this recognition and the frustration that flowed from it that has motivated us to do the work but I want to ask you the question as well and maybe generalize it a bit more in hopes of expanding the conversation. Why do you think we moved towards self-organizing in this way?

J. Soto: Rather than move from a position of deficit, I think we found it more self-actualizing, more energizing, to move from a place of what is readily available and who is willing to listen and dream with you from a present place and present moment. This points to a sense of urgency and this is in response to the lack of access and visibility that you mention. I also think that it is tied to the electoral landscape of the last year, where some of the U.S. presidential candidates have been courting the Latinx vote and the term “hispandering” has reemerged as popular, which illuminates a discordance between white politicians and their desired Latinx constituencies. In response to this climate of misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and general lack of visibility and access to opportunities in the arts, we began to self-organize.

Personally, I also wanted to create opportunities for Latinx artists that were not so influenced by institutional tastes that the artists receiving them needed to perform their otherness for the sake of outlining themselves as marginalized. One of my primary concerns is that as we move toward more inclusion, we begin to lose the nuances of the inter-cultural, inter-class, and inter-generational dialogue that is taking place. There is no single brown, no single experience that we can all speak to if we are really trying to listen to each other and take up space together. For this to happen, for the work that we do to attempt to make space for the complexities of embodied latinidad, it seemed that we had to do it ourselves.

A.R: One of the things that I am always wrestling with is how to articulate the complexity of latinidad, as you say. When I mentioned the internal diversity of Latinx peoples earlier, I was thinking of how difficult it is to understand Latinx peoples as a unified group when what we call Latinx actually refers to people who come from many numerous countries and speak several different languages; peoples who are, as you observed the other night, products of colonial histories which have given them a sense of being in-between, of being in the middle. The reality is that many Latinx peoples share more differences than they do commonalities, with migration and colonialism being amongst the most prominent shared experiences. In some ways, I think what we are trying to do with this kind of organizing is to build that commonality in a way that celebrates and incorporates those differences. For me, it is a matter, as you’ve said, of re-educating ourselves, of coming to a better understanding of the landscape of Latinx peoples, in order to better advocate for each other when we are in a position to do so. Were you thinking of the Open Forum event you recently co-organized in this way, as an opportunity to learn about Latinx art and artists?

J.S: Yes, I was. Open Forum: A Visual Conversation on Latinx Art, as we called it, was born out of several conversations that Minneapolis-based curator Mia Lopez and I had over the last six months. We wanted to come to a better understanding of the contemporary Latinx artist landscape and welcome the complications that are brought forth by an open-ended invitation to present contemporary Latinx artists. The terms were intentionally very broad. I feel like we are always battling invisibility and silencing and this was one way to push against that. Oversimplification is another form of silencing. And because capitalism stifles inter-cultural differences that cannot be bought and sold, and because of the practice of omitting the histories of colonized peoples and their descendants, the story of how our experiences intersect or the differences that we can build relationships around often get reduced to the single-symbolic in order to be easily consumable to audiences. With Open Forum, we wanted to counter those patterns and welcome complication by hosting an event that sat adjacent to and was programmed concurrently with the Latino Art Now! conference in Chicago.

For the event, any Latinx artist or cultural producer could present on their own work or on the work of another Latinx artist. We called it a “visual conversation” because we wanted to make it possible for presenters to say as little as they wished, verbally, and to intervene on the expectations of the traditional academic conference format. Here, images carried the same weight as words and the result was a very dynamic evening of sharing and emotion. The evening served as a way to gather together informally and welcome both the commonalities and differences of being Latinxs in the present moment.  By design, the presenters had some relationship to the idea of identifying as Latinx. I am being particular about the language here because not every presenter felt comfortable identifying as Latinx. For some, the pressure to identify as Latinx was an outside one felt only after living in the U.S. For others there may have been tension around moving from the widely-accepted masculine “Latino” to the gender neutral Latinx. A hope for that evening was that as these conversations emerged, so would the personal tensions around identification and language. I think it is important to listen to and honor these sentiments around language with each other.

Since Latinx is an umbrella term that feels applicable to many, I think we can run the risk of seeing it as simply inclusive. But one identifier may operate at the exclusion of another based upon the context in which it is being applied, and how one identifies is a very personal choice. I think it is crucial that we talk about these meaningful tensions in how we can identify both collectively and apart.

Also, I am interested in open structure systems that allow for many different outcomes depending upon the group that is in the room. I place a lot of trust in collaboration and on the fact that people who gather with intention, without a single agreed upon goal, with varied questions and a willingness to ask them publicly, is a deeply valuable thing. Fortunately we were able to find a partner to work with us and trust the structure of Open Forum. We approached ACRE and from the beginning they were on board, essentially turning over their programming space in Pilsen to us and providing tech support and staffing support.

It feels important to note that while the presenters that evening had a relationship to the idea of identifying as Latinx, essentially brown folks presenting on themselves or on other brown folks, the audience as well as the hosts were a diverse crowd including white friends and collaborators. It is also important to say that within the conversations about Latinx representation in the arts that Mia and I were having, was an additional, and equally important conversation about the lack of representation and opportunities for women. Organizing around this conversation is an ongoing goal and value within these projects.

A.R: I completely agree with you. One of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about, especially after introducing the work we’ve been doing (Open Forum, panel discussions, etc.) in preparation or as a lead up to the retreat is to think about how non-Latinx folks and more specifically white folks fit into the events leading up to the retreat as well as the retreat itself. Given the grassroots nature of the event, it seems crucial the we have organizational and institutional partners that have resources that we may not have on our own as artists but the question remains: what is the place of those partners and allies within our desires for the retreat? Another question by extension would be: how do we create situations that respect the collaborations taking place between non-Latinx partners while privileging and claiming space for Latinx peoples?

J.S: I think it is a two-way street built on mutual respect. Allies and partners understand the urgency and necessity of Latinx peoples gathering and taking up space together. My best response to this thus far is to be transparent in your needs, transparent in your support systems, and clear about your boundaries. I once invited a new acquaintance to a POC gathering where we were considering separatism together and they politely said, “I am not a person of color, but I am happy to attend by taking notes for you all.” To me, this was very honest and generous, and an example of a white ally who is willing to help out and also understands sometimes the best way to help can be to provide a skill or a space. It also brings up the challenges of identification and passing; the many nuances of which are experienced across racial paradigms. As we continue to grow and gather collaborators in different parts of the country, and consider partnering with institutions, we want to prioritize open discussion around the values of each, not only envisioning ways to move forward together, but also around the varied resources which brought us into conversation with one another.


About the contributors:

AR

J. Soto is an interdisciplinary artist and poet with a focus on project-specific collaborations in writing, performance and arts organizing. Most recently, Soto co-founded the Latinx Artist Visibility Award (LAVA) for Ox-Bow School of Art. Soto received his MFA in Performance from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He currently lives in New York. Image credit: Stephanie Acosta.

Anthony Romero is an artist, writer, and organizer committed to documenting and supporting artists and communities whose narratives and practices are often excluded from art historical narratives. He currently teaches in the departments of Community Practice and Social Engagement at Moore College of Art and Design.

Anthony Romero is an artist, writer, and organizer committed to documenting and supporting artists and communities whose narratives and practices are often excluded from art historical narratives. He currently teaches in the departments of Community Practice and Social Engagement at Moore College of Art and Design. Image credit: Dana Bassett.

Open Forum was held on April 7, 2016 Organizing presenters included: Mia Lopez, Brit Barton, Gibran Villalobos, Josh Rios  and J. Soto Image credit: ACRE

Open Forum was held on April 7, 2016
Organizing presenters included: Mia Lopez, Brit Barton, Gibran Villalobos, Josh Rios
and J. Soto
Image credit: ACRE


OE Perspectives: Pedro Lasch

In an effort to further the conversations that occurred during the conference and share with a wider audience, we are initiating the platform OE Perspectives—first person reflections on OE 2016 provided from a select number of entrusted colleagues and friends of OE.


Collective Art Research and its Sharing Across Platforms

A Report by Pedro Lasch for 2016 Open Engagement: POWER

Since I had to visit the 2016 Open Engagement conference between a conference on Decolonial Thought and Aesthetics in Buenos Aires and another one on Art and Migrations for UNESCO in Mexico City, I will sadly have to focus this short report on the only panel I was able to attend. Entitled “Collaboration Across Research Platforms in Socially-Engaged Art,” this panel was organized and moderated by University of California Berkeley’s Shannon Jackson, and it happened on Sunday May 1st at the Oakland Museum of California. I was joined by A Blade of Grass’s Deborah Fisher, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Deena Chalabi, Open Engagement’s Jen Delos Reyes, Imagining America’s Jan Cohen-Cruz, and Kara Q. Smith from Daily Serving | Art Practical.

To provide context – and an ongoing invitation to anyone who may read this report – the lines prepared by Jackson for the invitation and panel announcement are worth citing here:

As artists and art organizations advance the goals and practice of socially-engaged art, many also seek to create and mobilize research platforms. Whether on blogs or in published books, through museums or universities, in journal essays or in databases, the discursive landscape around socially-engaged art is expanding. How can we make collaborative use of this proliferation? Do different kinds of organizations play different roles in this landscape? Do different agents—artists, critics, scholars, curators, policy-makers, program officers—have different professional connections to art research?

This great framework, as well as the institutional representation and weight of those gathered for the occasion certainly promised for a great exchange. The museum classroom was so full that those of us on the panel had to push back our table against the wall and literally sit on it. Who said research is boring or antisocial? When asked if linked to higher education, most people raised their hands and, as is the norm at ‘Open Engagement,’ there were as many fantastic people sitting in the audience as those sitting on stage (or the table, in this case). In attendance were the likes of artist/professor Paul Ramirez Jonas, artist/professor/journalist Gretchen Coombs, and philanthropist/producer Shelley Rubin. My contributions focused on ‘ART of the MOOC’ the recent/ongoing experiment in art and education I designed and taught for Creative Time/Duke University/Coursera (see images below). Other panelists’ remarks were similarly focused on their specific and vast experiences. With such a short panel, we were not able to chart out new paths for collaboration, instead focusing on ways in which many of us had already collaborated with each other and shared research and resources.

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The brevity of this report does not allow for in-depth analysis of specific positions but, at least for me, the following notes emerged as a starting point for further discussion and collaboration beyond the immediacy of those who attended.

We may insist on different terms to speak of socially engaged art or social practices, but that does not limit our ability to share research and resources.

Art is (or can be) a legitimate form of research (social practice or not) and is a matter of survival inside the structures of the academy. But we also need to openly discuss the use and application of the term research, rather than assume consensus or agreement.

Rather than stress their ‘newness’ or an a priori rupture with the past – trends associated with avant-garde movements – social practice artists and their research benefit from studying their (endless) precedents. This may, in turn, help them to structure their own work more like an organization than a traditional solitary studio practice. These precedents may range from so-called non-Western cultural practices premised on ritual, ceremony, or the ephemeral; to research methods belonging to other artistic and academic fields; to non-profit mechanisms, grassroots methods, or simple strategies that bring together informal groups of people.

Social practice artists have found more of a home in the academy than in the art market and its associated galleries. The communities that we often work with are equally suspicious of the university as they are of the museum. This puts an additional stress on the importance of transforming these institutions on the one hand, and developing research platforms outside of them, on the other.

We may assume that those of us engaged in this conversation are serious about the intention of sharing our research and resources, but figuring out the best ways to do so is a labor of love that also requires great attention to detail and context. Some artists and scholars, for example, want all their work circulating for free, even if the institutions they belong to object to such sharing. Others insist that artists and researchers (especially when they do not hold a regular job in the academy) can only make a living if their work is remunerated. Neither position is wrong, but we must recognize these conflicting strategies as we deepen our collaborations and develop platforms that obliterate all difference.

I personally thank Professor Jackson for initiating this highly relevant debate and inviting us all to think together about it. I am also grateful to OE and Jen Delos Reyes for years of hard work producing the context for these kinds of exchanges, and all panelists for the intellectual, aesthetic, and political integrity of their work and contributions.


About the contributor: 

Pedro Lasch (US/Mexico/Germany) is a visual artist, Duke professor, and 16 Beaver organizer. Solo exhibitions and projects include Open Routines (QMA), Black Mirror (Nasher), Abstract Nationalism (Phillips Collection) and Art of the MOOC (Creative Time); group exhibitions include MoMA PS1, MASS MoCA (USA); RCA, Hayward Gallery, Baltic (UK); Centro Nacional de las Artes, MUAC, National Palace Gallery (Mexico); Gwangju Biennial (2006), Havana Biennial (2015), Documenta 13 (ANDANDAND, 2012), 56th Venice Biennale (CTS, 2015). Author of three books, his work has appeared in October Magazine, Saber Ver, Art Forum, ARTnews, Cultural Studies, Rethinking Marxism, The New York Times, and La Jornada.

Pedro Lasch (US/Mexico/Germany) is a visual artist, Duke professor, and 16 Beaver organizer. Solo exhibitions and projects include Open Routines (QMA), Black Mirror (Nasher), Abstract Nationalism (Phillips Collection) and Art of the MOOC (Creative Time); group exhibitions include MoMA PS1, MASS MoCA (USA); RCA, Hayward Gallery, Baltic (UK); Centro Nacional de las Artes, MUAC, National Palace Gallery (Mexico); Gwangju Biennial (2006), Havana Biennial (2015), Documenta 13 (ANDANDAND, 2012), 56th Venice Biennale (CTS, 2015). Author of three books, his work has appeared in October Magazine, Saber Ver, Art Forum, ARTnews, Cultural Studies, Rethinking Marxism, The New York Times, and La Jornada.


OE Perspectives: Dana Bassett

In an effort to further the conversations that occurred during the conference and share with a wider audience, we are initiating the platform OE Perspectives—first person reflections on OE 2016 provided from a select number of entrusted colleagues and friends of OE.


It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.

– Theodore Roosevelt

Wherever we land, we have to continue to move.

Angela Davis at Open Engagement POWER 2016

If nothing else, Open Engagement 2016 was a meditation on POWER, wielded both internally and externally in relationship to the conference (and it’s situation in and outside of the Oakland Museum of California). Opinions, one demonstration of power, were (and continue to be) available in abundance. As a matter of fact, you’ll find some of them in the upcoming Bad at Sports interviews I helped to create in and around OE.

Was it Frasier who once said “everyone’s a critic”? Ok, maybe not. But it definitely was Barbra Streisand who said, “I wish I could be like [Bernard] Shaw who once read a bad review of one of his plays, called the critic and said: ‘I have your review in front of me and soon it will be behind me.’” 

So in consideration of my own power, I’d rather take the opportunity to offer some visual meditations on the mediations and permutations of POWER throughout Open Engagement. And everyday, right? Power’s not just an OE thing.

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About the contributor: Dana Bassett is an aspiring gossip queen from Miami, FL living in Logan Square. She writes a regular column Bad at Sports called “What’s the T?” and occasionally produces printed newspapers in collaboration with artists and friends.