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From indigenous self-determination to Bon Iver's album imagery, a new manifesto from Werner Herzog to artists reacting to Trump's plan to rescind DACA, here's the top content at the Walker Art Center's digital magazine in 2017.
To commemorate the year that was, we at the Walker Art Center invited an array of artists, designers, performers, and filmmakers to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2017. Ranging from the political to the poetic, the personal to the pop cultural, their selections offer a gestalt of a year that was both troubled and triumphant.
One of my favorite projects of the year, it allows us—via artists we work with and those we don't yet—to get political, and it allows us to showcase the diversity of the Walker worldview by featuring artists from different perspectives, disciplines, geographies, ability levels, genders, races, and sexual orientations.
R&B artist, St. Paul
Artist and filmmaker, New York/Somerville, MA
Artist, writer, activist, Berlin/Los Angeles
Lynn Hershman Leeson
Artist and filmmaker, San Francisco/New York
Graphic designer, New York
Graphic design studio, Brooklyn
Samuel Nyholm (aka SANY)
Illustrator and artist, Stockholm
Photographer, New York
Artist and educator, Los Angeles
Wendy Red Star
Artist, Portland, OR
Theater artist, New York
Dyani White Hawk
I'll be speaking at the College Art Association (CAA) conference in Los Angeles on February 23 as part of a panel on publishing and socially engaged art history.
Roundtable: Digital Publishing, Dissent, and Socially Engaged Art History
Friday, February 23, 2018, 4:00–5:30 PM
501C, Los Angeles Convention Center
Two currents of contemporary culture seem to be emerging simultaneously: digital publishing and an increasing understanding that the scholarly work of art history can and ought to be socially engaged. Digital publishing has been a democratizing force in the exchange of information and ideas, radically transforming authorship and readership in the twenty-first century. As information is circulated and seen by more and ever-changing populations, the call for socially engaged art and art history has never been greater. Scholars and artists have seized this opportunity in myriad ways, often subverting the traditional, hierarchical structures that have driven academe and the art market for the past two centuries. This panel brings together scholars, artists, and editors who actively pursue digital publishing as a means of scholarly, artistic, or pedagogical dissent: Gelare Khoshgozaran, an independent artist who disseminates socially critical performance and video art via digital means; Paul Schmelzer of the Walker Art Center, an institution that uses their online presence to engage new audiences and re-envision the museum-going experience; pedagogical innovators Virginia B. Spivey and Michelle Millar Fisher of Art History Pedagogy and Practice and Art History Teaching Resources, who have made didactic materials and criticism available online; and Allison McCann and Nicole F. Scalissi, former editors-in-chief of Contemporaneity, a digital journal with a commitment to dissent and a critical reassessment of the field, using a digital platform to expand the critical voice of scholars and artists.
Art History in Real Time
History will look back on this time—the era of Trump, of “alternative facts” and “fake news”; Muslim bans and transgender bathroom bills; “antifa,” and “alt-right,” populism on the left and the right, and contested borders of all kinds. And so will art history. This kind of cultural chaos is prompting many institutions and artists to reconsider their work and their relationships with their publics. In this talk, I aim to look at how institutions are using digital publishing to chronicle artistic response to these issues. The Walker’s Artist Op-Eds series, in which artists like Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Dread Scott, and Postcommodity respond through writing to urgent issues in the news (including the EU refugee crisis, the police killing of Michael Brown, and the year 2043, when whites are projected to become a minority in the US), is but one example of a museum creating a platform for artists to weigh in on not just aesthetic issues but the interface of their work and personal lives with issues in the headlines, around the world, and in their communities. How are other cultural institutions using digital technology to facilitate, document, and amplify artistic responses to seismic shifts in western culture? How can such projects shape or inform dialogue today, and how will they be instructive to artists, art historians, and the public in decades to come?
"Why is Jimmie Durham the artist—or, at least, one of very few artists—selected for a major touring retrospective? Why isn’t more art by Native Americans collected, contextualized, and presented by major institutions like the Walker, the Whitney, and MoMA? And why is there so little representation—both within the staffs of contemporary art institutions and in the critical art press that covers them—of Native American, First Nations, and indigenous peoples?"
The traveling exhibition Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World has reignited longstanding questions about the artist’s identification as Cherokee, sparking numerous critiques by Cherokee artists and curators and defenses by Native and non-native curators alike, from Ashley Holland and America Meredith to Paul Chaat Smith and Anne Ellegood, the Hammer Museum curator who organized the show. But while much has been written about the controversy itself, which is sure to intensify as the exhibition tours to New York and Saskatoon in coming months, it tends to eclipse a larger issue: the dearth of opportunities within the contemporary art field for Native American artists. Responding to this situation, I organized a Skype conversation with a range of Native artists and scholars. The discussion, co-organized with and moderated by Sicangu Lakota artist Dyani White Hawk, was published on Walker Reader today, October 12, 2017, as a text conversation plus audio interview. It features:
Kathleen Ash-Milby (Navajo Nation), an Associate Curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York.
Jeffrey Gibson (Mississippi Band of Choctaw), a New York–based mid-career multidisciplinary artist.
Luzene Hill (Eastern Band of Cherokee), a multimedia artist based in Atlanta, best known for conceptual installations addressing the issue of violence against women.
Candessa Tehee, PhD (Cherokee Nation), a Tahlequah-based artist based and ssistant professor of Cherokee and Indigenous Studies and coordinator of the Cherokee Language Program at Northeastern State University
The Walker Art Center played a pivotal role in helping realize one of Mel Chin's most important works of eco-art. In conjunction with a 1990 solo show of Chin's art at the Walker, the museum worked with the artist to create Revival Field, a phytoremediation experiment at a Superfund site near St. Paul. But aside from a short blog post I wrote about the project in 2006, Revival Field had no digital presence on the Walker website. With Chin's return to the Twin Cities this month to keynote Public Art St. Paul's 30th anniversary celebration, I set out to tell a story that we should've been told online long ago. I commissioned Peter Boswell, the former Walker curator who oversaw Chin's 1990 Viewpoints show and the Walker's lead on Revival Field, to recount the project's history and the tribulations in making it happen (it got caught up in the NEA funding battles during the early '90s Culture War), and to position the work within Chin's long and diverse career.
Revival Field was an early Chin project that was truly multidisciplinary, engaging experts in art, science, and agriculture, including Dr. Rufus Chaney, a senior research agronomist at the US Department of Agriculture Research Service, presaging later collaborative works, including other soil remediation artworks and Chin's more recent Fundred Dollar Bill Project. Writes Boswell:
Chaney told Chin that he had conducted lab research with certain plants but noted that the department lacked the funding to conduct field research to expand on the lab work. Working with Chaney, Chin developed the Revival Fieldidea as a means of using the framework of art to conduct the first field test of the process on a contaminated site. It represented an important step in the development of his art practice, in that it did not simply address social issues metaphorically or symbolically but instead sought to engage with them practically by bringing together people in different professions to collaborate toward a common goal.
Before Postcommodity showed at documenta 14 and the 2017 Venice Biennale and before they won the $75K Ford Foundation Art of Change fellowship, I invited the indigenous art collective to pen an Artist Op-Ed, the eleventh in the Walker's ongoing series. Their powerful and poetic contribution: a mix of poetry, linguistic education, and history meditating on 2043, the year the US Census predicts whites will become a minority in the United States. Following the essay's online release, we celebrated the publication of their op-ed pamphlet at a well-received March 10 artist talk, which I moderated.
Following the artist talk, Anishinaabe novelist Louise Erdrich, in the audience that night, agreed to write for Walker Reader about Postcommodity's documenta installation, which used the LRAD acoustic weaponry used on protesters at Standing Rock for more healing ends. In October 2017, the collective iterated upon their Walker op-ed in the pages of Art in America.
The project marks a Walker Art Center first: it's the first time a publishing project has led to acquisition and exhibition of an artist's work—a balloon from the collective's Repellent Fence (2015) project is on view in the 2017–2018 exhibition, I am you, you are too.
Special thanks to Todd Bockley of Bockley Gallery for his pivotal help with this project, and his long dedication to Native American artists, both in Minneapolis and across the continent.
Calling it an “amnesty-first approach,” Donald Trump announced on September 5, 2017 his plan to phase out DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program, in six months time. How are artists, especially those with close ties to the border, receiving this news? In two articles, I aimed to find out. I commissioned 10 artists—including filmmaker Natalia Almada, musician Helado Negro, land art collective Postcommodity, artist Patrick Martinez and Pedro Reyes, photographer Star Montana, and others to share their reactions. Their powerful ranged from the visceral to the poetic, from Almada's unreleased footage of children on the border, shot in 2004, to Ken Gonzalez-Day, who portended, "Ending DACA will be Donald Trump’s Trail of Tears when he forces American children who lack documentation to a country they may not remember, and more importantly it breaks up families."
For a more local angle, I commissioned an essay from Emmanuel Mauleón, a former member of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), RISD graduate, and, currently, a UCLA law student. His eloquent contribution turned a lens on the publisher: in the face of actions like Trump's, he challenged art institutions, including the Walker, to do a better job serving as a place where—as Ralph Ellison put it—“the interests of art and democracy converge.”
The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States warranted a robust response—and at Walker Reader, we offered four new original perspectives on January 20, 2017—two Artist Op-Eds, a reading list, and a short but pointed first-person reaction:
1. "Critical Administration: On Artstrike and Institutions," an Artist Op-Ed by João Enxuto and Erica Love
"What will the relationship between art museums and their publics look like following recent global events like Brexit and the US elections?" The art duo offers an examination of social change and protest, both within and targeted at art institutions.
2. "A Reading List for the New America," multiple authors
"Our country and world are clearly in the midst of seismic changes—politically, environmentally, socially, economically. How do we prepare for the uncertain future we’re facing?" Twenty-six figures in the arts—including artists Tania Bruguera and Hank Willis Thomas, curators Adrienne Edwards and Philip Bither, and arts media personalities Kimberly Drew and Chris Cloud—share share recommendations for articles and books, poems and novels that could prove instructive in the coming years.
3. "Forward Ever, Backward Never: Revisiting a ’90s Artwork in Light of 2017’s Political Realities," an Artist Op-Ed by Gary Simmons
Simmons created his artwor4k Everforward—white boxing gloves embroidered with "Everforward" and "Neverback"—in response to turmoil: the killing of Yusef Hawkins, recession, AIDS. On Inauguration Day 2017, he reconsiders the work two decades later—its echoes and its call for artists and others to fight back.
4. "'Some New Splintering': Okwui Okpokwasili on the US Presidential Election," by Okwui Okpokwasili
The Nigerian-American performance artist writes, in part: "...the only comfort that I have right now is that there is a vast community of people I know and do not know, who are also waking up every day with some new splintering. And many of them work every day to keep from normalizing racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia, xenophobia, threats to the fourth estate, a raging and unfettered capitalism, climate-change deniers and an emerging kakistocracy. It is with them that I join the ragged shards of my heart to build a bigger and more resilient heart that continues the work of building greater empathy, of seeing in each other the promise of our future, and inspiring in each other the will to work to build that future."
The October 2016 issue of Art in America is dedicated to "The Digitized Museum: Technologies of Engagement." I was one of "eight specialists [asked] to weigh in on new technology and the museum experience," along with Peter Gorgels (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Katrina Sluis (The Photographer's Gallery, London), Sree Sreenivasan (City of New York, formerly of the Metropolitan Museum of Art), Lev Manovich (City University of New York), Maxwell Anderson (New Cities Fondation), and Orit Gat (Rhizome). My text:
They call it “flyover country,” but to be less judgy, let’s just say: the Walker Art Center isn’t exactly at—or near—the center of the art world. New York is one thousand miles away, Beijing well over six thousand. Despite this geography, the Internet puts us in the thick of the discussion about culture today and what it means to make, present, and contextualize art. But the rationale behind our digital publishing isn't to increase the Walker's relevance to the art world: it’s to increase art’s relevance to people around the world.
Since its founding as an art center in 1940, the Walker has been in the publishing game. Exhibition catalogues and periodicals like Design Quarterly, helped put us, and our ideas, on the map—or at least in libraries, bookstores, and museum shops nationwide. Today, our reach is far more expansive thanks to online publishing efforts that bring original artist interviews, curatorial essays, short documentaries, and our previously printed texts to desktops, smartphones, and tablets anywhere in the wired world. Relaunched in 2011 as an ever-changing news-style publication, the Walker home page emphasizes our evolving thinking about our audience: that is, thinking that equally values virtual and actual visitors, those likely to visit us in Minneapolis and those who might like to, but due to geography or economics, can’t.
But simply being online doesn’t bridge all geographic gulfs. To matter, our stories—usually surfaced via social media and competing with that terrain’s unique kind of clutter—need to be at least one of three things: relevant, surprising, or unique. To this end, some of our content is pegged to issues in the news, and topics people are talking about online. Our ongoing Artists Op-Eds series, for instance, invites artists such as Ron Athey, Dread Scott, and Natascha Sadr-Haghighian to sound off on pressing matters like Michael Brown’s killing, the Mediterranean refugee crisis, and the “post-AIDS” body. In a 2013 blog post, published just after Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, designer Sang Mun wrote about the protest typeface, ZXX, that he developed after working as a CIA codebreaker during his conscription in the Korean army. Other stories feature the unexpected. For instance, our design director interviewed the media director of the antigay Westboro Baptist Church—a group in Topeka, Kansas, known for its hate speech—about its sign production studio. And our coverage of a Minneapolis design team’s “Refugees Welcome” storefront sticker campaign sparked interest from the White House. Some posts provide exclusive experiences: the first read of a curatorial essay from our Ordinary Pictures exhibition catalogue, say, or free online screenings of commissioned moving image works by Uri Aran, Moyra Davey, Shahryar Nashat, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, among many other artists.
So far, what we do appears to be working: our local online visitorship remains steady, while nearly 70 percent of site visitors are coming from out of state—and a third from international locales.