The second issue of the Social Forms of Art Journal takes the idea of perception as its guiding principal. During a visit to a fish hatchery outside of Portland, I was talking to an-other artist about perception: how fish or other animals might see the world in ways that are totally different from that of humans. I started to think about how true this is even of two different people, and in the context of Social Practice, two different collaborators. What are the lenses of perception through which we look at art?
Picture in your mind a group of people standing around a painting: the mother of the artist, an ethnographer, a curator, an educator, and a dog. They are all standing there looking at this work of art. They can all agree it exists. They can say with some consensus what colors it is, what it might depict, and its size. But as to what the work means, who it is for, or why it was made, there would be much discussion, and even disagreement. Now if we replace that painting with, for instance, an ephemeral collaborative project, all of the sudden there is nothing to look at. We are standing in an empty room. The colors of the painting have become relationships, the content becomes a conversation, the scale takes on that of a room, or a community, or a country. So we’re left to ask, what are we looking at when we look at social practice art? What is each of us actually able to see?
The second issue of SoFA spans a variety of disciplines and mediums, from social work to sculpture to parapsychology. We will learn how Carmen Montoya is inverting the first world gaze through her work in Ghana Think Tank. Hue Boey Kuek and Say Cheong Ng, parents of artist Xi Jie Ng, share their views on their daughter’s films and socially en-gaged projects. Elissa Favero writes as a participant in a large scale participatory project, Orbiting Together, where strangers reacted to prompts and scores sent from satellites orbiting overhead. Morgan Ritter forgets about the art world and humans in general, through the creation of cat houses. And we interview Matoska, a dog whose guardian is a student in the Art and Social Practice Program, with the aid of animal communicator Deborah Erickson.
Beyond these individuals, we look at institutional and disciplinary perspectives: Jenne-lyn Tumalad offers an educator’s view of social practice in the museum, challenging the assumptions and expectations that museums make through outreach and education de-partments. Allison Rowe offers an attempt at an ethnographic study of socially engaged art practices, and the many dogs that punctuate these projects. Sara Krajewski asks im-portant questions about how socially engaged work fits into the museum, through the collection and exhibition of Not MoMA by Stephanie Syjuco. Finally, Laura Burney Nis-sen speaks to the potential for artists to complement and enrich the field of social work.
The goal here is not to essentialize how any one person or system sees art and makes meaning. Rather, each contribution offers a lens, or filter, through which we can look at the world. It is not the end of one’s vision, nor the totality of it, but a starting point. The artists and projects contained here challenge our assumptions about who is seeing and who is being seen. They consider audience, make new audiences, and reject old ones. Ultimately they force us to see the limitations of any one position in understanding the world, instead advocating for complexity, nuance, and depth.
SoFA Editorial Board
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.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program