Condensations of the Social
Smack Mellon's summer group exhibition Condensations of the Social will feature artistic projects that refer to the strands of the social that contribute to the formation of culture: pedagogy, ritual/performance, political and ideological engagement, work, and ecology and sustainability as they relate to place. The exhibition raises questions about the boundaries between art and life, reality and fantasy, while attempting to prove that social practice, to a greater degree than traditional art forms, has the potential to directly change how we live. The exhibition includes projects by Pablo Helguera, Harrell Fletcher and collaborators from Portland State University's Social Practice MFA Program, Mary Mattingly, Mladen Miljanovic, Tim Rollins + K.O.S., and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Exhibition curator Sara Reisman selected artists with the intention of linking current artistic practices to two historical nodes - the work of Rollins and Ukeles - to propose that while Relational Art was officially coined as a movement by Nicolas Bourriaud in the 1990s, social practice as we know it today builds on a longer tradition that was mapped in the 70s and 80s, and promoted more overt forms of political and social engagement.
In 1969, Mierle Laderman Ukeles wrote the Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969! that is still exhibited and taught today. Since 1977, when she became the official, unsalaried artist-in-residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation—a position she still holds—Ukeles has created art that deals with the endless maintenance and service work that “keeps the city alive,” urban waste flows, recycling, ecology, urban sustainability and our power to transform degraded land and water into healthy public places. Condensations will feature materials from Ukeles' project Touch Sanitation which involved personally thanking 8500 sanitation workers for maintaining the city during the late 70s when her residency at at Sanitation began.
Mladen Miljanovic's project I Serve Art is a more personal social project that documents the artist's time in isolation following his military service in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a nine month transition from serving in the military to becoming an artist. The project explores the tensions between obligation and desire in the context of national identity and creative practice.
Having taken to the water in an experiment in sustainability with The Waterpod in 2009, Mary Mattingly is now focused on how we can respond to rising sea levels by testing the limits of living on land. Within Condensations Mattingly will present a prototype for Flock House, an airborne habitat that imagines, projects, and adds another level onto the city’s skyline. Built on scaffolding, a construction material associated with changing cities, Flock House augments city space, air space, and questions air rights and functions as an observation deck with a view of weather systems and avian migration.
Tim Rollins and his collaborators, high school students from the South Bronx, NY, typically make works based on classic literature. He discovered that his students responded to art - art taught his way, not the way it is usually taught in public schools. Some of Rollins' students became a group of regulars who participated in an after-school and weekend program called the Art of Knowledge Workshop. The students named themselves K.O.S. which stands for "Kids of Survival. "What we're doing changes people's conception about who can make art, how art is made, who can learn and what's possible, because a lot of these kids had been written off by the school system. This is our revenge." A selection of early ephemera from Rollins' work with K.O.S. will be included in Condensations.
Nine students - Katherine Ball, Constance Hockaday, Ariana Jacob, Hannah Jickling, Helen Reed, Eric Steen & Public Social University, Michelle Swinehart, Lexa Walsh, and Jason Zimmerman- from the MFA in Contemporary Art Practice with an emphasis in Art and Social Practice at Portland State University are producing an indoor and outdoor banner project called Let Knowledge Serve the City, which will be activated by a calendar of events meant to blur the gallery's function as a space of art and life. The Portland State University Social Practice MFA is a program that encourages students to develop and utilize their artistic skills to engage in society. Social practice might appear to be more like sociology, anthropology, social work, journalism, or environmentalism than art, yet it retains the intention of creating significance and appreciation for audiences in a similar way to more conventional art. Students learn about a variety of working artists and non-artists who have engaged in civic activity, and apply their knowledge and abilities to initiate, develop, and complete projects with the public—individuals, groups, and institutions. The program is led by Harrell Fletcher and Jen Delos Reyes.
For Condensations, Pablo Helguera is developing an entirely new project, a variety show and podcast called The Art World Home Companion, "for those of you who feel lonely amidst the social choreographies of the art world, whose anxieties about professional issues generate unanswered questions that they are afraid to ask, who cant detach from Facebook and are a bit nostalgic of the time when you actually got to see and talk to people in person, but feel awkward at openings, for those for whom the art world remains inscrutable, who cannot understand why it is the way it is— who feel that our social rituals are slightly absurd and contradictory, our theorizing incomprehensible, our ethical behavior suspicious, our professional acting opportunistic, and yet you still ache for being part of it —this program is your friend, your companion and your Saturday morning sunshine."