When Art Becomes a Civic Gesture

April 2018

Every period of time in history has its own challenges, yet art has always been a tool of reflection and contestation that can dismantle ideologies, subvert institutions, and reformulate our position as human beings in society. The conflicts and struggles we are facing today urge us to approach the complex intersection of art and politics with a greater responsibility than before. How can we bear witness for what has happened in the past and what is happening now – whether this be war, racism, totalitarianism, or environmental disaster? This seminar, in the form of short case presentations each followed by a group discussion will bring together a group of artists, philosophers, lawyers, historians, and activists who are researching the moment at which art becomes the place we inhabit in the face of conflict and tragedy. They will present and discuss various methods to approach these questions. One strategy is to create narrative forms that merge documents and fiction in order to reflect on historical events. Another one uses direct action, often through performance, to engage the viewer in taking responsibility within a given situation. Still another method involves investigating legal cases to produce artistic content. Finally, a different approach involves activism that appropriates legal processes and actions held within the artistic institutions without claiming to pertain to any artistic form – such are the cases of civic campaigns led by cultural practitioners. We believe that artistic reflection and action can transform an observation, an imagined landscape, a memory, an aspiration, into a civic gesture.