The impulse to work beyond art’s immediately recognizable spheres and magnify its relational aspects marks a distinct and important approach within contemporary art. This symposium, taking place on Saturday April 12, will focus on key terms that have come to define social practice over the last two or more decades, in addition to more speculative terms, with a view to critically considering the assumptions upon which such works and their reception are made possible. In particular, the symposium responds to the urgent need to build on the very rich and prolific contemporary discussions about such practices by carefully examining how, to what end, and on whose terms engagement with communities outside of art takes place. With an awareness of the ease with which social engagement can read as ethical or critical simply by deploying ostensibly democratic or nonhierarchical practices, the symposium aims to question the default read of social practice as inherently good, while at the same time highlighting practices that have worked in extremely important ways.
The symposium is structured around a running list of terms that either have been or might be aligned with social practice art. Of the roughly fifty terms, nine will be taken up at the symposium by invited speakers who include artists, art historians, theorists, and curators. Addressing individual artworks, theoretical arguments, historical precedents, or manifestations of the terms in interdisciplinary contexts, speakers will speculatively complicate and even challenge given terms of social engagement in art, while positing and testing new criteria.
The symposium schedule—with speakers and their chosen terms—is as follows:
Julia Robinson on MATERIAL
Marc Herbst on CRITICALITY
Christoph Cox on ETHICS
JEQU on CAPITAL
Sally Szwed on EMPATHY
Q&A with Robinson, Herbst, Cox, and Szwed, moderated by Alicia Ritson
Alexander Dumbadze on PRIVACY
Laurel Ptak on CLASS
Chelsea Knight on PERFORMANCE
Jonas Staal on REAL
Q&A with Dumbadze, Ptak, Knight, and Staal, moderated by Johanna Burton
The remaining terms (those not being addressed by the symposium speakers) will be posted on Six Degrees on March 31, initiating an open call for other glossary “entries”; select responses will be published online in late April.
Speakers and open-call contributors will be encouraged to approach these sometimes exploratory, other times pivotal, terms in highly particular ways, and to stake out singular positions. The word list is intended to be fully idiosyncratic and to allow for the distinct, even polarized, positions of individual participants. The final collection of words and entries will likely be uneven, contradictory, and have variegated tonality via its assemblage of disparate voices.