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What motivated this project?

July 3, 2011

While planning this project, I thought about the widely-acknowledged capacity for art to evoke emotion and inspire thoughtful contemplation, while simultaneously recognizing art’s ability to motivate action as a somewhat less understood concept. Works of art with documentary tendencies, like Ed Burtynsky’s photographs of mass-scale manufacturing juxtaposed with images of environmental fragility, might make viewers evaluate their purchasing habits. Ron Benner’s outdoor garden and billboard installations that address the corporatization of life through gene patenting initiatives might prompt viewers to question the limits of public domain. The large-scale photographic dioramas produced by Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge in collaboration with trade unionists, communicate their shared concerns about water security and deforestation, which might encourage viewers to consider labour issues in relation to questions of responsible stewardship.

As a curator, I am interested in partnering with living artists who explore how society works and how we communicate with one another as citizens. Following this, it is my goal is to help artists and diverse community members connect. I am also motivated by a sense of responsibility to audiences, by embracing their ideas and experiences and ensuring they have opportunities to try and realize those ideas. I have, through my past work as a curator, grappled with the notion of curator-as-connoisseur, taste-maker, caretaker of objects, and/or gatekeeper of ideas. I believe these categorizations invalidate artists and audiences as real people with valid ideas and experiences concerning the meaning of art, the nature of civilization, and art as commentary on society. I have, therefore, worked to develop a practical position that might be described as part facilitator and part provocateur.

Though it might sound cliché, it is still worth noting Gandhi’s famous suggestion that one needs to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The notion seems easy in principle, so what dissuades people from enacting this as a basis for everyday being? First, as we all know, people lead busy lives and this is all the more challenging when the media construes politics as an impenetrable process that is too complicated for the so-called average person to understand. Some disengage from civic matters because they are tired of feeling voiceless and have given up. Others are riding a trendy wave of cynicism and have concluded that political engagement is nerdy, if not just plain boring. Let’s be honest: recent elections where the popular vote was in no way reflected by the official outcome has also contributed steadily to reduced engagement. The big question connected to this is: ‘If no one listens, what’s the point?’

The connection is neither immediate nor obvious, but if contemporary art is capable of fostering critical and creative thinking, why shouldn’t it also play a role in inspiring social change through action? Thinking in a new light can kindle new ideas, including the feeling that our voices matter… we just need to figure out how to be heard—and maybe less by the so-called ‘powers that be’ than by one another—so that we can start to become more interested, engaged and concerned with the state of our communities locally, nationally, and beyond. Finding that we have more in common than we thought sure is one way to start working together, and perhaps that’s the point from which change can truly grow.

Thus, a goal of this project is to form a context through which participants and passersby can imagine becoming more active in their community lives by finding opportunities to address important social issues in positive, inclusive, and inspiring ways. Another goal of SUSO is to contribute to reopening the public sphere to diverse voices by flattening hierarchies; in other words, to challenge the idea that only some people are adequately qualified to express their opinions on civic matters, (such as poverty, social housing, policing, environmental care, waste management, and recreation and culture), and that these same people are the only ones adequately qualified to speak out in public. Sure, experts, politicians and business leaders do this regularly—and the media generally pays attention to their perspectives, giving slim space to a few short letters to the editor, or sound bytes from eye-witnesses—but does that mean this is the only way to go about speaking out? Artists speak out all the time through their work. Whether they’re concerned with conceptual experiments, expressing emotions, or communicating opinions on real topics, artists regularly develop formats for the presentation of ideas and deliver them in public, including in art galleries, but also sometimes in outdoor spaces for anyone and everyone to see.

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