Why do I work in the social as a medium?
The first things I ever made with serious intentionality were pieces of furniture. When I was making furniture I knew I was in charge of people's comfort and it was my goal to never forget the user but to also leave some creative residue with the structure. During my first years of art school I began making very formal, aesthetic based objects, which were meant to spark something for the viewer. Maybe I wanted to talk about cultural issues or the feeling of being in a boat, but I really had no idea what to talk about because, unlike my furniture making experience, this seemed like a one sided discussion. Making things that meant something to me but nothing to anyone else was doing an injustice to my role as an artist. So I kept thinking back to my furniture making and came to an understanding of why the dialogue between the user and myself was so important.
That summer I decided to take a job with the Grand Tetons Lodging Company, giving guided horseback tours around the National Park. I had never ridden a horse or dressed like a cowboy before, but I wanted to learn. I realize now that when I gave up acting like I knew what I was doing, people actually respected that and wanted to help me. During that summer I gave numerous tours around the park and met a bunch of really interesting families. I realized that once you level the playing field to where anyone can join in, the experiences become more unique and gratifying for everyone. When I gave my tours I would talk about our immediate surroundings and the things they were paying to hear about, but I would always ask each one in the group to tell us something about themselves and by the end of the trip it seemed like a group of friends arriving back at camp. By the end of the summer I knew my art practice would have to reflect this experience, if not become this experience.
When I got back to Kansas City and started school I immediately began working on the Tools for Adventure, which consisted of a canoe, a tent, sleeping bags, and packs. These tools were to be used on adventures I would be taking with another person. At the time I realized if I were going to be giving adventure trips, I would need to learn how to shape the experience in a way that the person with me wouldn't feel like I was the guide but just a friend, and they were actually the guide. This distinction was very important for me because I felt everyone should feel the same sense of discovery that I had felt while walking alone through the Tetons.
I use this story as an example because it helps me to realize why I do work in the social. I work in the social as a medium because I want to have real experiences with people, where I can learn from them and engage in a activity we both participate in. The people I work with help illustrate truly democratic communities and that is not something I could do on my own.
To what end? What are my goals or desired results?
My work with the community serves as a valuable asset to the understanding of collaboration and how that can work in everyday life. By showing people that they are inherently creative and have a voice I hope to emphasize their individual importance to their surroundings. I want people to realize that neutrality is not something that allows for sustainability within communities, and by voicing your creative input you are helping to strengthen your community. I hope that working in this way will help to revive creativity within our everyday lives.
Why do I position what I do in an art context?
When I look at the history of art making it is very clear that art provides groundwork for flexibility and growth within the artist and their work, and with those fluxuations comes social and political change. I feel very strongly about making the artistic process an open dialogue so everyone can participate and make those changes together. I believe Buey’s was right in saying, “Everyone is an Artist,” but I also think intentionality is important if you do claim to be an artist.
Art also serves as a great tool to frame my process, and helps for every aspect to become a metaphor, which can be related to everyday life. It is easy to step back and observe a sculpture for all it is worth, but it is much harder to separate yourself from an experience of participating in an artistic event, which might not be considered art at all.
Andrea Zittel said something like, “being an artist allows for more freedom and the ability to act more quickly than others on issues they find important.” I really like thinking about my practice in those terms.