As a young artist, I have often found myself frustrated with the state of the art world, specifically the exclusivity of this field. This is not a critique against contemporary work that specifically operates within an art vacuum, but against work that specifically sets out to address social/political issues within the context of the white cube. Often, this work is lost in esotericism, far removed from the audience it should actually be addressing. This work dies in the vacuum it was created in, losing its power as a purely symbolic gesture and left utterly facile in the face of the public sphere. In light of this, I have found myself becoming increasingly socially engaged within my artistic practice in hopes of addressing audiences in the context that benefits them specifically. From my adolescence onwards, I have always been community oriented, from volunteering to teach underprivileged kids read at the local elementary school as a high school senior to working as an intern for the Commissioner 4 (Lisa Cupid) of Cobb County (Metro Atlanta) government, the time I spent within my local communities ultimately made me more aware and knowledgeable of the inequalities present across a variety of cultural systems. I realized that significant change is, primarily, spurred locally, and that the role of an artist in a community is one that unites people/disciplines through relational processes. By using the elasticity of art as a medium of change, an artist is able to move past the white walls of irrelevancy (that is not to say museums/galleries are irrelevant, just they have the ability to be irrelevant (and often are)) and into the public sphere.
These thoughts were only further influenced by my time (3 years) spent working at the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami. At opening or lectures, I would observe the participants, the audience, etc. With these observations came rumination, the ineffectuality of some of the works in addressing a broader audience being a crucial moment in my orientation towards a more public-oriented practice. And this is not meant to decry art traditions, craft, or institutions as much as it is an attempt to denounce the traditional audiences we as artists are used to addressing. Around this time, I met Professor Xavier Cortada, a Miami-based artist, and began working in his ceramic studio, gaining an understanding of both the scale of a successful practice and the importance in the relational aesthetics of social engagement. To this end, we began collaborating, along with artist Adam Roberti (UM MPS Abess Center ’19), on research specific to the methodologies and framework of social practice.
The functionality of socially engaged work is the same as any other medium, operating as a symbolic gesture toward a variety of contemporary discourse. However, the importance of social practice is the agency it endows upon its participants regardless of quantifiable outcome.