“I saw that as being this moment of defiance — a way of making a ghost that nobody ever wanted to see appear and haunt.”

An old photograph of Michael Rakowitz’s Jewish-Iraqi family from Bahgdad
Michael Rakowitz, Enemy Kitchen (2007) Enemy Kitchen is a multipart project built around the Baghdadi recipes Rakowitz compiled with the help of his Iraqi-Jewish mother, then taught to different audiences; this is the artist’s family. Project commissioned by More Art. Photo courtesy of the artist.

How can we care for one another — our families, our neighbors, our fellow citizens — in the face of uncertainty, tragedy, and hardship, be it unprecedented or all-too-familiar? Can we recognize and re-write what artist Michael Rakowitz might call these “narratives of dispossession and dehumanization and isolation”?

For Enemy Kitchen, produced with More Art in 2007, Rakowitz, with the help of his Iraqi-Jewish mother, compiled Baghdadi recipes to teach to different public audiences; in this case, middle and high school students. Iraqi culture is virtually invisible in the US beyond the nightly news (and even there, defined by war…


Ways of coping with the past, present, and future, this month on Medium

NYsferatu (2017) — Focused on representations and perceptions of “the other,” NYsferatu is Andrea Mastrovito’s retelling of Friedrich W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu. Mastrovito used rotoscoping, an animation technique that traces over motion-picture footage frame by frame, to appropriate the film, recontextualizing the classic vampire story for twenty-first-century audiences. New backgrounds include iconic New York landmarks, as well as scenes set amid the current war in Syria, bringing images of conflict, destruction, and displacement to post-9/11 America. To create the script of the film, Mastrovito and community leaders and educators led a series of writing workshops with English-as-a-second-language learners in Corona, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The participants and their experiences are present in the film via the interstitial title cards, left in the original language of each contributor. Screenings of NYsferatu were held at eight public venues throughout New York City over the summer of 2017. Photo by Kate Levy.

This month’s featured articles, collected here as the May edition of Watch This Space, all seem to ask: what do artists know? The modes of questioning vary but the spirits of inquiry — and the strongly held belief in those outcomes — are kindred. After a year and then some of hardship, uncertainty, and unrest, and on the precipice of the oft-alluded to “return to normal”, what do we turn to artists for? Our politics, our palliation, our pleasure?

At the risk of oversimplifying (and of too…


AT THE TABLE: ART + DIALOGUE

Can humor offer a route to radical change?

One of Pablo Helguera’s many single-panel Artoons, a series started in 2009 which offers an ironic look at the contemporary art world, a prestigious and insulated sphere ruled by highly idiosyncratic systems of power and influence.

What’s so funny about the art world? Like any self-serious cultural behemoth, both plenty and much too little. Pablo Helguera has long felt that a serious sense of humor is missing from most corners of contemporary art, though particularly the hyper-institutionalized side of things.

He’s a bit of jokester — pieces and projects throughout his career include tours explicitly of areas where art is not on display, dressing up as an over-eager Q-and-A audience member, a lot of fake art fair guides, jokes, and jibes — much of which stems from a…


“Art has lost its centuries-old ideological privilege, and yet has gained in this process a front-row seat in a contentious struggle to rethink the way expressive, imaginative, and artistic value is generated, for whom, why, and to what ends.”

This is Part 3 of a selection from Greg Sholette’s essay “Can a Transformative Avant-Garde Art Survive in a World of Lolcats, Doomsday Preppers, and Xenonphobic Frog Memes? Do We Have a Choice?” from More Art in Public Eye; catch up on Part 1 and Part 2.

Last Meeting (ReWorked) in progress, 2019 — “Art prefigures,” Sholette told More Art last fall, quoting David Graeber. Repetitive toil, unseen labor, the obligatory slog of activist organizing, this piece depicts the commonplace, overlooked, invisible work of activism, Sholettes writes. It is secondarily about the preposterous, but necessary effort to radically reform contemporary art. It is not so much a portrait of specific individuals, though the meeting depicted did take place on February 19, 2016, the last meeting between the Gulf Labor Coalition and Guggenheim Museum board members. “I have spent untold hours laboring at similar meetings over 45 years. I will also confess the absurd pleasure of rendering this moment in pseudo-classical, social realist style…Let’s call this style Magic Social Realism.”

“What is social practice in a post-social world?” Scholar, artist, and activist Greg Sholette


ENGAGING ARTISTS FELLOWS

“Art is not the production of artworks; art is research. And if we view art as research, we recognize the outcomes as our knowledge, and I’m interested in the kinds of knowledge that artists have unique access to.”

The Artists’ Grief Deck, co-produced by the Artists’ Literacies Institue, exists in part to fill a gap left by the absence of traditional communal grieving rituals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a toolkit, the decks have been disbursed for free to grief workers and community organizations and can be purchased here. In addition to the printed deck, the Grief Deck project includes the free companion website, Griefdeck.com, where new artwork and prompts can be added to the repository of resources on an ongoing basis; in addition to serving as an archive of the printed deck, this project website also serves as an expanding repository for grief-inspired artwork and healing, transformative action.

“A film or artwork never exists free of context,” affirms artist, filmmaker, and educator Andrew Freiband, “and I believe that developing models for effectively contextualizing creative work, and putting the qualitative knowledge of creative practitioners to use, can amplify art’s capacity for impact, knowledge creation, and social catalysis.” Well put, but what might a belief in said model end up looking like…


ENGAGING ARTISTS FELLOWS

“Ambiguous loss has been a huge part of the pandemic. So many people have lost loved ones — they just disappeared from our lives, we haven’t been able to gather to properly mourn these losses.”

Only Remains Remain (2020) — ”It’s set up as a chorus of fifteen women,” Powell explains, “and if you think of a chorus in terms of classic Greek tragedies, they are a collective voice. So I think of each person, even though they are part of a collective, as having their own individual place that they’re speaking from and they each are given an action word to keep in mind.” Image via the artist’s website.

How do you memorialize someone you’ve never met and whose name you may never know? So the Museum of Modern Art frames artist Freya Powell’s recent work, Only Remains Remain, an immersive performance addressing the contemporary tragedy at the US-Mexico border through the characters of Sophocles’ Antigone. As Powell discusses below, the performance was set to debut in March of 2020, part of her VW…


This month on Medium, getting in touch with ourselves and each other, past and present.

Hello, it’s me (2015–17) — For this collaborative multimedia project, Hidemi Takagi worked with minority older adults living in gentrifying neighborhoods in New York City (Harlem, Crown Heights, and Bushwick). The final installations incorporated recent photographic portraits of those participants, scanned portraits from the past, a video and audio recording of the subjects speaking about their rich lives and experience. Takagi was a 2015 Engaging Artist-in-Residence with More Art and received a seed grant to continue her work with senior citizens from Chelsea’s Hudson Guild Community Center, which included working on a multimedia project with Yachiyo, photographed here, a Japanese American resident of Harlem who survived the United States’ Japanese American Internment Camps of WWII.

For the past year and change, we have been apart and yet perhaps more frequently in touch. With barriers of physical distance removed (to a certain degree) by technology, something else seems to have been erected in its place. This new kind of interface was a main topic of discussion in our recent At The Table virtual salon with Ofri Cnaani. How do we keep in touch in a contactless space, in an age of hyper-communication? Can we survive without touch, without skin? …


PUBLIC WATER

An interview with writer Camilla Calhoun, part of More Art and Mary Mattingly’s A Year of Public Water

Map and profile showing sources of, and manner of obtaining, an additional supply of water from the Catskills for the city of New York; the blue detail includes the Ashokan Reservoir. Created 1905. Source: New Yor Public Library Digital Collections.

With the consolidation of Greater New York in 1898, there were suddenly many more people relying on the City’s public water supply. In 1905, the New York State Legislature established the Board of Water Supply (BWS) and imbued the Board with significant power to dictate land use, seize land through eminent domain, and realize a massive expansion of the New York City water supply.

Attempts to expand the existing Croton System northward to Dutchess County failed when residents mobilized in opposition to this plan. But by August 1905, the BWS ordered engineers to draw up maps and develop a plan…


ENGAGING ARTISTS FELLOWS

“I really live in a constant state of trust. I ask to be surprised all the time.”

Juliana Luna’s workshops (pictured here, pre-pandemic in Rio de Janeiro) encourage participants to develop a relationship with their own bodies, through movement, meditation, and self-reflection, in order to honor the energies of lunar ancestral guidance reflected in each individual. Photo by Olivia Nachle; courtesy of the artist.

By 2024, NASA plans to have landed the first woman on the moon under the auspices of the Artemis program. Named after the Greek goddess of the moon (and of wild animals, the hunt, and chastity), who is also the twin sister of Apollo, namesake of NASA’s previous lunar expeditions, the mission will explore more of the moon’s surface than ever before and serve as a crucial jumping-off point for sending the first astronauts to Mars. One giant leap for womankind, indeed!

What does this new journey mean in a social context? The poetic undertones are apparent — a convergence…


ARTIST VOICES

“We have a moment of alienation, of asking a question, and that by itself is a jump start for deeper inquiries.”

Moon Guardians (2013) — Every night for a month, Cnaani’s videos were projected on the windows and storefronts facing the square at Gansevoort Plaza, the figures interacting with one another and with the building. “What’s important to me is that it’s in this liminal space between private space and public space,” she said. “There is no invitation to sit. Usually they are night pieces, when the other businesses, including the art institute businesses, are closed. Other things are closed, and there is no control, and also no record of who has seen it.”

New York City has long been recognized as a place where marginalized figures and outsiders are celebrated. But, as with cities across the country and globe, gentrification continually, brutally upends that dynamic —and in the process, New York has become more conservative, sanitized, and consumer-oriented. …

More Art

More Art creates thought-provoking public art projects and educational programs that inspire broad discourse around social and cultural issues.

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