My City’s Still Breathing: A symposium exploring the arts, artists and the city
November 4-7th, 2010
Winnipeg, Manitoba - Cultural Capital of Canada 2010
Description of Graham van Wyk's talk:
Imagination and Transformation: Ephemeral Art in Cities
This talk aims to explore a set of questions in relation to art and action in urban settings. What is the transformative potential of creative social actions in the city? What is it that artists seek to transform? Who are the participants? Is there an audience beyond these participants? What is the desired outcome? How do we “measure” success? What, if anything, is enduring in ephemeral art actions in the city? Today, cities are spaces for the interplay of varied social forces with creative and destructive consequences. Cities can be seen as communities where people realise their need for association and cooperation; however, they are also spaces of economic and social rupture, dislocation and alienation. Modern cities are increasingly becoming ecologically unsustainable crucibles of over-consumption and wastefulness in which creative social engagement and imaginative action are severely circumscribed. The ecological and social crises we face today demand our urgent response. Joseph Beuys’ assertion that “everyone’s an artist” was both a provocation and a challenge to the art establishment of the time, but also arises from an astute and visionary insight that the real crisis we face is a crisis of the imagination, of seeing anew possibilities for humanity to shape democratic, sustainable alternatives to the ways we live in the world. Inspired by the social sculpture idea that sees the latent creative and transformative power in every human being, interdisciplinary artists who work with participatory processes – often employing thought, speech and discussion as material in their work – and, informed by an expanded conception of art, work both within and beyond the specialised sphere of art. This emphasis on the “invisible materials” in an expanded conception of art, available to us all, has been influential in framing the responses of artists to the socio-ecological crisis and to working as “agents of change,” concerned with the connections between the individual and the social. The talk will explore such action, in particular through the work of Shelley Sacks, a former student of Beuys’, whose work has been seminal in developing new methodologies of practice for social sculpture practitioners. Her work in the cities of Stoke-on-Trent, Edinburgh and Hanover, while raising many interesting questions, has also pointed to new strategies for creative social actions in cities.