Artists’ Prə-‘spek-təs* for the Nation
The artists who have contributed to the Artists’ Prospectus for the Nation share a strong desire to find alternative approaches to issues and to entrenched ways of doing things that challenge contemporary human societies here and around the globe. By bringing their aesthetic modes of inquiry to real-world situations, these artists show us the value of drawing on knowledge from other fields and moving beyond conventional, often conflict-laden modes of problem-solving.
The Prospectus, the main project of Artists in Context, is a curated, multimedia collection of works through which artists, in collaboration with creative thinkers from other fields (community activists, teachers, planners, farmers, cooks, scientists, geographers, sanitation workers, shop owners, historians, doctors, clergy, plumbers, bankers, librarians etc.), propose innovative ways they and others might intervene in major debates on global, national and local/regional scales. Incorporating various visuals, texts, objects and participatory elements, the purpose of the Prospectus is to raise the visibility and influence of remarkable work being done through this cross-disciplinary and engaged type of practice. Further, it is to proclaim that art that’s useful can still be art. After all, isn’t one of art’s fundamental purposes to help us see and think differently about people, things and situations so we might develop new perspectives?
The more than 30 artists who worked on the 18 projects in this first installment of the Artists’ Prospectus for the Nation deal with a range of issues – primary are those relating to the environment, health, consumption and justice, with secondary focus on nations, learning, beliefs and shelter. In each case, their “artful” way of knowing uncovers the personal, imaginative, ethical and passionate aspects of an issue without which we cannot fully understand it, never mind work toward a healthier, more just and sustainable approach towards it.
For example, in Erase the Border, artist Catherine D’Ignazio of The Institute for Infinitely Small Things and her creative collaborator, Ofelia Rivas of the Tohono O’odham Native American tribe, take us beyond the statistical account of immigration and border-crossing into the lives of those who experience border culture every day. Importantly, they have created a way for us to act and to have a voice on this issue. One of the underlying characteristics of Prospectus projects is that they might wrestle us out of our passive and habituated lives and restore individual and collective agency.
Mel Chin, who has assembled a team of collaborators from different disciplines and fields for his project FUNDRED/PAYDIRT, reveals the many layers of consequence related to lead contamination in soils and invites us to participate creatively in the passage of a new societal protocol. Yes, we are all aware of the fact that lead in the soil is harmful, but do we know how it affects education levels and crime rates in a given place? FUNDRED/PAYDIRT connects the dots, links cause and effect and approaches the issue of lead contamination comprehensively. People from all the relevant disciplines (neuroscience, community development, urban planning, education, criminology, public health, art and design) are working together to find a better way forward on this issue. Similar to other projects in the Prospectus, this one demonstrates the importance of mixing different expertise and methods to develop alternative, meaningful and transdisciplinary approaches to complicated and urgent issues.
In her graphic work, Loupette and the Moon, artist Nancy Andrews invites us to consider what counts as illness or pathology and what the meaning of human difference is. In her portrayal of Loupette, a woman with a genetic disorder who is grappling with her identity, Andrews draws us into the very real struggle of a person who is different but longing to fit into society’s restrictive definition of health. The work brings to light contemporary medicine’s and, by extension, contemporary society’s understanding of what it means to be healthy. The notion of a “norm” or an “average” has little tolerance for idiosyncrasy or ambivalence and is in fact scientifically incorrect. Genetic mutation makes us who we are, and, in the words of the artist, “at what point might the desire for normalcy and physical perfection tempt us to eliminate differences and challenges that make us who we are and contribute to our unique visions of the world?”
Andrews has also produced a series of drawings about delirium in the intensive care unit (ICU) based on her own experience related to a catastrophic illness. Introduced into the national community of critical care medicine, these drawings have helped clinicians, healthcare providers, patients and families see the personal and interior side of delirium. They have made the invisible visible and have given us a more holistic understanding of the under-recognized issue of ICU delirium and its treatment. Andrews has presented these drawings at medical conferences and is a consultant on a delirium research study, once the exclusive domain of scientific experts.
Our goal for this first installment of the Prospectus is that it be broadly accessible and widely distributed and that it become a source for investment, innovation and policy research as well as widespread public conversations. The second installment of the Prospectus is planned for 2015; its main themes will shift to the first installment’s secondary ones – the roles of nations, beliefs, learning and shelter in our societies — but at the same time will continue to develop innovative problem-solving related to the environment, consumption, health and justice for all.
Creation of the Prospectus was generously funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support for the Environment Health Clinic, the Cross(x) Species Adventure Club, Chromatic Energy Mirror and The Process of Elimination was provided by the Barr Foundation.
*According to Merriam-Webster online, 2009, a prospectus is 1: a preliminary printed statement that describes an enterprise (as a business or publication) and that is distributed to prospective buyers, investors, or participants 2: something (as a statement or situation) that forecasts the course or nature of something.
Artists in Context (AIC) was founded in 2009 to research and analyze the ways in which New England–based and national artists are working with other creative thinkers outside the arts to change perceptions and, potentially, behaviors related to the critical issues of our time. On the AIC website, there is documentation of our research and programming from 2009 -2013, as well as information about AIC Advisors, a fee-for-service business established in 2013.