Introduction

Over the past year, members of the Portland State University Art and Social Practice Program have been asking ourselves what a Social Practice Journal might look like. In a field that is already so expansive and interdisciplinary, how do we corral together a group of contributions with some coherence? What are the topics relevant to socially engaged artists? What type of writing is lacking in the field of social practice, both locally and more broadly? Beginning with these questions, various models were tried out finally ending in the publication you see today.

The Social Forms of Art Journal is a bi-annual publication focusing on creating thematic issues related to socially engaged art. Our approach is to offer a multitude of perspectives on a given theme, pulling in contributions from not only artists, but people across disciplines. Each issue serves as a sort reader, or conceptual lookbook, that draws together writing not just about socially engaged art, but relevant to socially engaged artists as a way of orienting oneself in a given theme.

Each Summer issue of the Journal is published in conjunction with Assembly, a sprawling, weekend-long conference that the Social Practice program holds at various locations in Portland, Oregon. For the 2018 iteration, we have chosen to look at civic institutions and have planned events at Portland City Hall, the Multnomah County Central Library, and Portland State University. Our inaugural issue of SoFA reflects the theme of civics as well. Essays and writings look at a diverse range of perspectives on civics and civic engagement, questioning access, voter rights, power and transparency. Contributors include artists, educators, prisoners, activists, and social workers.

In “Who’s Got the Power?,” artist Chris Cloud reflects on his day shadowing the mayor of a small city. By going to a baseball game and walking the streets, Cloud gains insight into how power is wielded, especially when the mayor’s only nominal power is to forgive parking tickets. Ben Hall, in “Erase, No Place For Us,” outlines the ways in which ex-convicts are disenfranchised within civic society, lacking the right to vote in many states. In “On Systems That Don’t Work for Us,” Lauren Moran talks with DB Amorin and Rachel Mulder about working within the field of developmental disabilities, and the many challenges it poses to people across the spectrum of ability. Their ongoing project Public Annex works not so much within this system, as proposes a new one, based on care, access, and a common interest in art.

Artist Roz Crews reflects on learning and poignant classroom moments in “Learning to Participate,” crystallizing an approach to pedagogy that encourages engagement and public participation. John Paul Young contributes two poems and a short essay about the erasure of homelessness in the United States, based on decades spent as a self described hobo. Homelessness, according to Young, is an experience of being stuck in the present, for fear of the future. Shoshana Gugenheim Kedem interviews artist Beth Grossman about her socially engaged projects related to civics, including Seats of Power, where she documented the seated butts of city council members in Brisbane, CA. History teacher Gerald Scrutchions writes in “Justice in History” about the need to re-evaluate the narratives we teach our children, based on his experience teaching middle school history. And finally, artist Lenka Clayton shares a list of questions she asks herself about her own practice as part of 20 Questions, an ongoing series where we ask artists to share a list of questions that they might ask themselves about their own creative practice.

One of the central questions permeating this issue is who is allowed to participate? This question is about not only how we engage with government and citizenry, but also about how we create (or fail to create) a sense of community and belonging. It is a question at the heart of Social Practice, as artists engage, create, subvert, and interrogate the relationships that define our social spaces.

We hope you enjoy this first issue and look forward to the next,
SoFA Editorial Board

The SoFA Journal is made possible by the dedicated efforts of the SoFA Editorial Board and through contributions by members of the PSU Art and Social Practice Program, community members, and many other willing individuals.

Editors: Spencer Byrne-Seres, Kimberly Sutherland, Eric John Olson

Graphic Design: Kimberly Sutherland

Web Design: Eric John Olson

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a bi-annual publication dedicated to supporting, documenting, and contextualizing socially engaged art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal focuses on a different theme in order to take a deep look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions, and the public. The Journal seeks to support writing and web based projects that offer documentation, critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

The SoFA Journal is published in print and PDF form twice a year, in June and December by the PSU Art & Social Practice Program. In addition to the print publication, the Journal hosts an online platform for ongoing projects.

SoFA Journal
c/o PSU Art & Social Practice
PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207
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