Way back in the day Jen Delos Reyes and I (among others), started a journal devoted to social practice. Gone, but not forgotten – the original domain is now a porn site, but you can still find the material here. I even gave it a face lift.
Facebook comment of mine:
And thus the arts are subjugated to the disastrous apparatus constructed by the Enlightenment cleaving of self/other. One of the most egregious examples of this is the forced submission of all manner of creative play to (linguistic) domination in the form of “criticality,” which is a technique of dissociation that replicates the very mistakes that its proponents seek to solve using it as a tool!
“Criticality” as fertilizer
Initial applications lead to tremendous yields while ultimately degrading the ecological substrate. Everywhere the miraculous results are lauded as revolutionary, liberating us from various “externalities.” Criticality/fertilizer is seen as a cure all – making a degraded condition seem easily rectified while masking the fact that said cure alls are the mode of degraded experience itself. Criticality/fertilizer is supplied by large centralized institutions under the auspices of empowerment, but it really means a lifetime of debt and dependency.
Addendum as manifesto: “All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus” Part II
Robert L. Thayer’s LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice should get all the credit (or blame) for this, especially his chapter “Learning” where many of the following quotes and paraphrases are lifted from.
In a a post from several years ago, I lamented the state of social practice education – a placeless, homogeneous, view from nowhere. In short, social practice education is like most so-called education in the United States an empty embrace of the values of abstraction and global capitalism.
In the ensuing years, things have continued to devolve with students mostly being trained to join not a specific community rooted in a specific bioregion, but rather to join a global capitalist network – “the art world.” Ironically, the overwhelming emphasis in graduate art education is the inculcation of a fetish for criticality. Of course, it is a highly selective form of criticality, one that does not turn its gaze on the notion of criticality itself, but more importantly, does not turn its attention to the abstracted space and values of the educational apparatus. Well, it certainly does in terms of a liberal concern for identity politics and student debt, but does not seem to connect the dots to understand how debt is as disembodied as the structure of education – a purely fungible relationship of data points where course credit equals monetary credit…
So universities, banks and art schools continue to act as centripetal forces – pulling resources into vast global flows while the animate earth on which the entire edifice is built, continues to be ignored, or is itself only considered through the lens of a global climate crisis. And despite the congratulatory backslapping of an activist class that brings all of its intellectual and critical faculties to bear on the matter, they are blind to the fact that they have been trained by institutions mired in a fundamental category mistake which they themselves emulate.
To paraphrase David Orr, there are some debilitating myths at play – that ignorance is a solvable problem rather than a fundamental feature of being human; that knowledge (and technology) are, alone, enough to solve problems; that the increase in knowledge (rather than wisdom) is an inherent good; and that the education of students is primarily concerned with knowledge (or in the arts, with learning to be critical consumers of knowledge). But maybe it would be better to quote Orr:
All education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded, students are taught they are part or apart from the natural world. To teach economics [or social practice], for example, without reference to the laws of thermodynamics or ecology is to teach a fundamentally important ecological lesson: that physics and ecology have nothing to do with the economy. It just happens to be dead wrong.
So, in the intellectual parlor games of e-flux and other smarty pants organs of the academic-art-financial nexus we don’t find the cultivation of (via Thayer) spiritual sensitivity, gentleness, caring, compassion, or generosity. Some may bristle at the suggestion of a spiritual role in the crisis we face equating it with some sort of magical thinking, but in the downward spiral of an accelerationist embrace of an intellectual homeopathy, we find a truly absurd form of wizardry. As Orr notes, the earth has been degraded on a massive scale by the educated, by the products of a system of displacement that trains even its supposed avant garde to search for solutions in the very intellectual tools that are the cause of the problem.
An education must be rooted to be radical. As Wes Jackson has said, there is only one serious major on offer at colleges – upward mobility (be it in terms of financial, social, or cultural capital). But as generations leave their homes to become citizens of a discipline rather than citizens of a watershed, or biotic community, fundamental questions are cast aside – “who am I?” and “what should I do?” often remain, but the answer to those end up being distortions in which membership in a professional class becomes the enduring identity – I am an artist. I should make art (build a vitae).
But another question, one that provides an interlocking context for the other two – “where am I?” gets cast aside. In today’s refugee crisis we see the heartbreak of an uprooted people. Academics decry this, all the while being seemingly oblivious to their own displacement, having no home (that truly deserves such a name) of their own. They are adrift in the gig economy, in the cosmopolitan nomadism of academia, replicating “monocultures of the mind” as Vandana Shiva would put it. And like technological approaches to agriculture that apply a specialized, highly trained, expert perspective to solving an urgent issue, we are left with an illusion, not only of mastery, but of plenty. Meanwhile more and more communities are being poisoned or starved. We must abandon the rootless sky, settle upon the earth and build practices of permanence, regeneration, and love – or, you can’t have social practice without soil practice.
Thee eightfold building block ov #soilpractice + #socialpractice (design qualities, methods, goals)
Toward a #soilpractice + #socialpractice manifesto: ending the art system and restoring aesthetic ecology
The art system is like industrial food production focusing on the products that are most readily brought to market. It creates monocultures, vast swaths of easily consumable, but highly infrastructure dependent crops.
Its model of research therefore requires institutional gatekeeping (museums, galleries, expert panels, curators, and especially credentialling – the MFA program, etc.) in order to maintain its economic viability. No seed sharing between neighbors, no advice from your grandmother will suffice. Folk wisdom is for anthropology, but not the arcane science of the fine arts. These institutions and their representatives act like Monsanto taking up vernacular practices, formalizing them, squeezing the living core out, and controlling their distribution and viability.
The study of art then becomes about how to increase yields of proven commodities, and how to effectively market those commodities to convince the public that there is no alternative (T.I.N.A.) to the shitty tomatoes on offer. Actually thriving aesthetic communities that exist outside the system are ignored at best, mocked and degraded at worst.
This degradation of the soil of aesthetic experience is the same folly conventional farming employs. The multi-century wisdom of soil ecology is plowed under and poisoned by the faddish inventions of centralized economic and cultural elites. “We are feeding the world!” they say. “Other methods will lead to starvation.” they say. And yet the hunger is a scarcity they invented by decimating communities and practices and also a hunger for something more substantial than the cleverness of packaging experts, or merchandising, of disconnected, consumerist art products.
So Sholette’s “dark matter,” is a metaphor from astronomy, but maybe we need one from agronomy instead. Rather than “dark matter” as the great missing mass of the art world, it is “mycorrhizae” that is more apropos. Art historians and critics completely miss the vitality and complexity upon which the monocultures they study depend, their eyes trained only to see the field of wheat rather than the diverse ecosystemic relationships on which it depends.
The art system must be destroyed before its toxic practices further degrade the potential quality of our aesthetic ecologies. We are being poisoned. To paraphrase Vandana Shiva, “NO MORE MONOCULTURES OF THE MIND.”
From notes today:
the art system has become industrial agriculture
aesthetic ecology as gardening – learn from your grandmother and your neighbor, pick up some magazines or books, watch some YouTube videos and get growing, no gatekeepers, no degrees required
the art system says the only real gardening is done by experts
seed saving (AE) vs. industrial ag research (AS) – person to person innovation (AE) vs. institutionally controlled validation (AS)
museums, galleries, and universities act much like Monsanto taking up vernacular practices, formalizing them, squeezing the living core out, and controlling their distribution and viability
aesthetic ecology favors diversity – formal, institutional practices, but also backyard gardeners, community gardeners, homesteaders, etc
Social practice in an expanded field: against art historical noodling and for Sunday morning doodling
…But I remain interested in social practice to the degree that it remains social practice, rather than social practice *art*. So when we inquire into the aesthetics of participation for instance we don’t get bogged down in all the art historical noodling that paralyzes so many critics from the old school. It is important to emphasize that all kinds of “problems” are solved by recognizing that art [frieze/e-flux/triple canopy type art], is just a highly specialized and mostly pointless parlor game played with, and within, aesthetic experience. If we remain attuned to aesthetics and aesthetic experience (especially from an embodied, phenomenological point of view) or to “the arts” or “the art of” or “the artful” rather than to Art, we increase the chances of having the “dynamic, complex and difficult dialogues” *** seeks rather than the insular professional tiffs of the Art world.
This image is an expansive understanding of social practice, more expansive even than “social poiesis” which I have previously argued for:
“social poiesis” (despite its even more obscure quality) might be a better term. If we don’t limit ourselves to art, social poiesis (nee practice) could be more dynamic and encompass not only art actions and art environments, but also – urban planning, sports leagues, communes, be-ins, residencies, raves, state fairs, theme parks, cults, encounter groups, chautauquas, even nations…and would also apply to a much broader demographic of participants rather than artists and their audiences…
SEE ALSO: The audacity of participation