sfai news

June 29, 2010

People and Places: A Symposium on Public Practices in Honor of Ann Chamberlain

June 29–30, 2010

A two-day symposium in honor of former SFAI faculty member and artist Ann Chamberlain, People and Places launches a sustained inquiry at SFAI into contemporary public practices. Pursued in conventionally artistic or increasingly hybridized, permissioned or nonpermissioned, and publicly underwritten or privately supported ways, the work of cultural producers in the public sphere is ongoing. The need to interrogate the foundations of such work is also ongoing, and that interrogation is itself inflected by increasingly nuanced and contested understandings, in a globalized world, of the signal concepts “public” and “practice.”

People and Places is structured around a series of open-ended questions relating to this vital strain of cultural activity: What does it mean for a contemporary artist to work in public settings or to solicit exchanges with the general populace? How do notions of “generosity” as a mode of social interaction, of “storytelling” as a project of collective history, and of “community” as a way of defining common ground inform creative strategies of public engagement? How are such negotiations located in particular places and enacted within particular social and political contexts?

Taken up by practitioners who work with people and places in a wide variety of forms and approaches, these questions will inform three moderated conversations: Defining Community, Practicing Generosity, and Telling Stories. These conversations will culminate in a roundtable discussion.

Participants: Andrea Bowers, Glen Helfand, Jessica Hobbs, Walter Hood, Helena Keeffe, Julie Lazar, Malcolm Margolin, Jeannene Przyblyski, Pedro Reyes, Susan Schwartzenberg, and Natasha Wheat

Defining Community—Conversation 1

From the traditional public monument to the contemporary public intervention, art has long been called upon to play a role in visualizing the ways in which personal and cultural feelings of belonging are generated, maintained, and imposed—a role in connecting people, both geographically and temporally, to places, to “imagined communities,” and, perhaps most urgently, to other peoples. How do contemporary cultural practices in the fields of art, design, and public engagement play an affirmative or redemptive role in instantiating feelings of community identity or in repairing a community damaged under social, political, or economic pressure? What happens when art instead takes a diagnostic stance and thereby perhaps brings to light, even if inadvertently, the fissures that can occur within a perceived community and the contested terrains in which communities are often defined and questioned (for example, when a public art commission leads to public art controversy). What do such breakdowns have to tell us, in their turn, about the critical operations of art as a mode of collective endeavor, of common purpose or language, and of shared work or belief in the public realm?

Practicing Generosity—Conversation 2

For several decades now, the art of giving has been much on the minds of artists and other cultural producers in the public realm. Initially crystallizing around notions of art-as-gift in response to the modern persistence of the operations of art-as-commodity, such thinking has generated diverse strategies of reciprocity and excess, shifting the ways in which cultural production as a mode of putting alternative economies into practice can be thought. How are we to understand questions of public practice as being rooted in questions of “generosity” and, thus, as questions of performance, process, and access—questions that touch as much on negotiation, conversation, and sustainability as on protocol, product, and privilege?

Telling Stories—Conversation 3

What is the role of artists as storytellers? How do they take up the grand narratives of history with a capital H—city and nation building, war and collective struggle, etc.—as those narratives are produced through and in tension with multiple and diverse stories of personal journey, trauma and triumph, or lives simply lived? How might artists contest the inevitable-seeming trajectory of official history through nonlinear, intuitive, and poetic accounts? What is the relationship of poetical and fictional (or semifictionalized) narratives to the “standing” authority of archives, documents, and other forms of textual and visual evidence? In what ways might storytelling be a means of filling in the gaps of the official record as well as a mode of countering prevailing orthodoxies of historical thinking?

People and Places is free and open to the public, and public participation in these conversations is strongly encouraged. Additionally, there will be an opportunity to engage with the invited speakers at the roundtable discussion with which the two-day symposium culminates.

People and Places is the second event supported by the Ann Chamberlain Distinguished Fellowship Program in Interdisciplinary Studies. Named in honor of artist and SFAI faculty member Ann Chamberlain and launched in 2010, the Ann Chamberlain Distinguished Fellowship Program in Interdisciplinary Studies was created as a lasting reminder of Ann Chamberlain’s contributions to SFAI and to the art world at large. The fellowship program includes public lectures and colloquia by distinguished visitors, symposia, publications, and graduate-student fellowships in support of SFAI’s MA/MFA Dual Degree program, and is meant to facilitate sustained on-campus residencies that enable discussions of process, aesthetics, cultural influences, and career paths. It is envisioned to provide SFAI’s students with direct access to artists and thinkers whose contributions to contemporary interdisciplinary practices and methodologies represent the highest level of achievement.

The Ann Chamberlain Distinguished Fellowship Program in Interdisciplinary Studies is supported by a generous bequest by artist and SFAI faculty member Ann Chamberlain made through the Harker Fund at The San Francisco Foundation.