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C O N N E C T E D   A N D   C O N S E Q U E N T I A L  : 

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A R T I S T S   &   T H E   F U T U R E

 

 

 

Conference Report

On March 7 and 8, 2013, ninety people gathered to learn about the work that Artists in Context has been engaged in throughout the New England region since 2010. Based on the feedback of the collaborating artists with whom AIC worked, AIC created the conference to position itself as a translator between practitioners in the field and those with the leadership and financial resources to support them. Hybrid or integrative contemporary art practice can fall through the cracks of the funding and policy worlds as it crosses disciplines, fields and sectors and co-mingles bodies of knowledge and methodologies. Foundations that are accustomed to funding in compartmentalized and discrete areas are less familiar with hybrid or transdiciplinary practice.   The intent of the conference was to increase understanding of the practice, instigate inspiration, and add to the building blocks that will undergird the development of this emerging field.

 

louisa headshot from conf

 

The conference began with remarks by Co-Director Louisa McCall who articulated how the work of Artists in Context is related to social practice and creative place-making but different from both of those growing movements in contemporary art. Through its organization of conversations, management of projects, and publication of exemplary work, AIC aspires to demonstrate inventive outcomes of integrated, transdisciplinary research and practice in multiple realms – Health, Nature, Justice, Consumption, Nation, Learning, Shelter, and Belief. AIC is equally interested in projects that shift thinking in medical research and environmental advocacy as we are in projects that transform communities. The fundamental vision of Artists in Context is to re-unite scientific and artistic ways of knowing, reason and imagination, in the transmission of knowledge in society. By advancing platforms that feature a true integration of ways of knowing, Artists in Context seeks to play a role in readdressing the false bifurcation of nature and society. Link to Vimeo

r austin

Robert D. Austin, Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration at the University of New Brunswick, Canada delivered the keynote address. While Austin emphasized the critical integration of artistic thinking and cultural content into our economic future, he also underscored the need to shift our thinking and behavior to achieve great social outcomes and to meet 21st century challenges. He contends that these new ways of thinking and acting are modeled by collaborating artists and the work they produce, and that to achieve a sustainable economic and social infrastructure for the future, we must learn from artistic models and champion artistic outcomes. Re-arranging the traditional hierarchy of the business model over an arts model, analysis over intuition, singular process over an iterative process, one bottom line over multiple bottom lines, and profit over sustainability, will usher society into a period of great awkwardness, on both sides. Our challenge, then, according to Rob Austin, is to push through the period of awkwardness and emerge in a place that reunites the humanistic impulse with the increasingly impressive technical skills of contemporary society. Link to Vimeo

Conference Case Studies / Panel Presentations

Artists in Context presented four case studies of hybrid/integrative contemporary art practice drawn from the four locations where AIC has been active since 2010 – Maine, Greater Boston, Providence RI and Pioneer Valley, MA. Experiencing all four projects at once enables an understanding of common characteristics and a clearer definition of the specific type of work that AIC is focused on.

All four projects can be described as platforms that construct the creative space for participants to have an opinion, to tell a story, to connect, to experience agency over the complex issues and challenges they confront. These platforms address the crisis of agency in our society, offering people the opportunity to unpack complexity, make sense of it, and have an effect on issues that seem intractable. These platforms also reinforce the fact that we are encased in one giant feedback loop, that we are all inextricably linked to each other, to things, and to nature, and that every action we take has a consequence. These platforms entangle different bodies of knowledge and different ways of knowing a subject  and therefore offer a more holistic and contextualized understanding of an idea, issue or challenge. We are richly informed if we combine the scientific and technical side of a subject with the intuitive and narrative interpretation of the subject. These platforms represent a new architecture for change in our society. They combine the language of art (metaphor and symbol), the language of meaning (knowledge and information) and the language of power (systemic influence) within their structure.

Each of the following case study presentations demonstrates how the incorporation of artistic thinking and practice into other disciplines, fields and sectors can actually push those disciplines in new directions and lead to a more coherent and eloquent understanding of all matters of concern.  

Case Study/Panel Presentation on Art and Medicine

The Art and Science of Delirium

 delirium panel

With Nancy Andrews, artist, educator and research consultant; Michele Balas, Ph.D, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Distinguished Scientist and Lead Investigator; Mark V. Pauly, Ph.D, Program Co-Director, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Program for Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative; Samata Sharma, M.D. Fellow in Clinical Psychiatry, Brigham and Womens’ Hospital, Boston, MA and Donna McNeil, Moderator, Arts Policy and Program Director, Maine Arts Commission Link to Vimeo

One objective of this presentation was to demonstrate how Nancy Andrews’ visual representations of her experience of delirium have enhanced the understanding of delirium among medical experts engaged in delirium research. Through Andrews’ drawings and films, clinicians perceive the visceral horror of a mind in the state of “unquiet rest”, when stimuli are not linear, sensory experience is altered, and state of consciousness can’t be easily understood or contained.

Andrews’ body of work, Delirious, has been instrumental in raising awareness about an under-recognized health concern, the long-term risks of ICU delirium. What sets this project apart is not simply the representation of a medical condition but the integration of the artist and art into medical research and practice.  Dr. Gerald Winehouse, Head of Critical Care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, sees the drawings as potential diagnostic tools, to help identify delirium symptoms in patients unable to articulate their experience. Winehouse is also planning a new research study inspired by Andrews’ compelling description of her ICU experience. The study will examine how music might help to reduce stress and anxiety in ICU patients.

In November 2012, Dr. David Gitlin, Director of Medical Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s and Faulkner Hospitals, invited Nancy Andrews to join him as a panelist at the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine. This was the first time an artist has ever presented at this medical conference.

The project featured at the AIC conference, After the ICU, is a website that incorporates Andrews’ thinking and artistic skills into the design of a platform to disseminate information about quality care during and after critical illness. It is a hybrid project, combining technical information and narrative storytelling, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative. Instead of a purely textual information site, Andrews’ influence has expanded the vision for the project, turning it into a participatory platform that allows people to tell their own stories, to voice an opinion and to connect with others. The website may trigger new insights into the causes and effects of delirium. Mark Pauly, co-director of the Robert Wood Johnson INQRI initiative that focuses on long-term patient outcomes and not just in –hospital processes, indicated that there is a pressing need to fund the dissemination of research that demonstrates the valuable return of investing in experimental and interdisciplinary approaches to patient care, such as offering music in the hospital setting.

On her website, Andrews states that her mission is to help patients, family members and care givers to identify Post-ICU symptoms and get help for these when they occur— Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, cognitive problems, and the like.  She also seeks to help the nurses, doctors, occupational therapists, physical therapists and psychiatrists in the ICU, with help of patients’ loved ones, notice the patients’ delirium, take it seriously, and do what they can to alleviate it.

To accomplish her mission, Andrews needed to leave her comfort zone (of art and acdemia) and cross back into the world of science and medicine. Artists in Context facilitated this journey, which has clearly demonstrated how the language of art can expand the horizons of science and offer us a new approach that is at once objective and technical, subjective and humanistic. Nancy Andrews’ blog http://artandscienceofdelirium.wordpress.com, supported by Artists in Context as a contribution to the Artists’ Prospectus for the Nation, describes the multiple ways in which Nancy’s art has intervened in the medical world to bring about a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.

Case Study/Panel Presentation on Art, Justice and Consumption

FeFa: The Pregoneros in Cuba

fefa panel

 

With Magdalena Campos-Pons, artist and educator; Neil Leonard, artist and educator; Todd Lester, Executive Director of Global Arts Corp.; Robert Austin, Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, University of New Brunswick; and Doris Sommer, moderator, Professor of Romance Languages and Founder of Cultural Agents, Harvard University. Link to Vimeo

There were a number of vital points made in this presentation. First, Magdalena Compos-Pons, internationally renowned artist within the traditional art system of galleries and museums, said that she was seeking something “more” or “beyond” with the Fefa project. Having wrestled with her exile status from Cuba for many years, and the tragedy of the politically induced separation between families in Cuba and families abroad, Magda hoped at this point in her career to make some kind of positive change in Cuba. Over the past twenty-five years, Magda traveled to Cuba numerous times, often with her husband and collaborator, Neil Leonard. Together they observed, listened, and built relationships with people in Cuba. Together they probed the complexity of conditions under the Castro regime. They spent years developing the trust and insight necessary to instigate a change in these conditions. Neil, a composer, musician, and educator noticed how the sonic landscape of Cuba had changed over the last decades. Pregoneras, or street criers who sell products and services, had been forbidden under Castro’s regime, as they represented a blatant symbol of free enterprise and capitalism. Within the last few years, however, those voices began to re-emerge, signifying to the artists a kind of tipping point in the political landscape of Cuba. The artist collaborators questioned how they might create a platform to amplify those voices, one of the harbingers of change in Cuba.  

Art, through its use of metaphor and symbol, approaches controversial issues from oblique angles. For the 11th Havana Biennale, the artists created the character, FeFa, a hybrid actor composed of African, Spanish, and Chinese cultural origins, who performed as a street crier, exclaiming the need for freedom, and for the re-connection of families in Cuba and families abroad. Adjacent to Magda’s performance as the character FeFa, the artists created a platform for pregoneros to sing and compete for most poetic, most musical, most persuasive song. By positioning the pregoneros in the realm of musical theater, the artists engendered a new level of visibility and dignity for the street crier in Cuba. An ancient cultural practice was recaptured and the freedom to sell products openly on the street re-instated. Following the pregoneros performance with FeFa at the Havana Biennial, a nationally televised competition of pregoneros took place. Those voices that had been reduced to a whisper for the past twenty five years were now celebrated in a national competition. The FeFa platform clearly instigated this shift in perception. It is not an overstatement to say that FeFa, a character and platform that co-mingles art, politics and commerce, has contributed to the process of change in Cuba. Whether selling onions or freedom from the restrictions imposed on Cuban families with members living locally and abroad, the voices of the artist and the street crier have been validated, and the image and enactment of social justice embraced.

Case Study/Panel Presentation Art, Technology and Empathy

technologyempathy panel

 

With Kelly Dobson, Department Chair of Digital + Media at the Rhode Island School of Design; Alice Flaherty, M.D. Ph.D, Movement Disorders Fellowship, Massachusetts General Hospital, Associate Professor of Neurology, and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; Peggy Reynolds, Ph.D., Department of Comparative Studies, Ohio State University; Cynthia Cohen, moderator, Ph.D, Director, Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts, Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, Brandeis University link to vimeo

This presentation features new media artist, Kelly Dobson, who has been exploring the relationship between human experience and mechanical technology for most of her career. Trained as both an artist and engineer, Kelly embodies hybridity. In her work, she pursues the emotional connection of humans with machines. Kelly’s machine sculptures, which evoke communication, interactivity, and empathy between humans and things, exemplify the re-thinking of our relationship to all matter – our connection to nature, systems, and things.

Kelly shapes a form of communication between humans and machines that is visceral, and that evokes an emotional connection through touch, sound and movement. The machine is no longer “the other” that we seek to control, but rather a responsive organism that lives, breathes, reponds and soothes. The sculpture machines that Kelly creates behave in a way that is unexpected and different from what the machine was designed to do.

Why is this work important to society? According to philosopher and scholar Peggy Reynolds, we are undergoing a major cultural shift in which we must relinquish our desire to control everything (which has thrown the planet into crisis) and replace that impulse with one that is more empathic and collaborative. We need to work from the heart as well as the brain, and allow our knowledge to be the result of different ways of knowing – scientific and humanistic, reasonable and imaginative. The technological revolution is helping us to see beyond the linear and geometric, and is opening up ways of seeing that are more fluid and enfolded, bringing humans more into concert with the varied nature of existence.

The machine sculptures that Kelly presented are designed to connect people who are otherwise separated through a shared, intimate, physical experience. These remote-to-each-other large-scale sculptures/machines/group-prostheses react to sound and vibration nearby, recognizing patterns of breathing, heartbeats, and voices. Equipped with digital sensing, actuating elements and custom software, these group prostheses allow people to hear, feel and contribute to the continually evolving sounds and internal movements of the sculptures, which are being co-created by the each participant’s physical interaction and aesthetic engagement with the sculpture. Can a mode of aesthetic engagement that is not semantic or cognitive be a way into empathy and connection and other modes of communication perhaps previously unattainable? Through this visceral, body-centered experience can we teach emotion recognition and instill greater empathy in those who are either less capable of empathic response or desensitized to empathic impulses? These are the research questions that motivate this work.

 

Case Study / Panel Presentation Art, Food Systems and Community Engagement

springfield seed panel

 

The Springfield Seed Library

With Joseph Krupczynski, Associate Professor, Architecture and Design Program, UMass Amherst, Founding Director, Center for Design Engagement; Margot Malachowski, Outreach Librarian at Baystate Medical Center, Springfield; Doris Madsen, Reference Librarian, Springfield City Library; Lisa DePiano, Founder, Mobile Design Lab, Permaculture Designer and Educator Link to Vimeo

The power of this place-based platform is its systemic approach to food and health challenges in Springfield. The intention is not to create a new program but coalesce and amplify the many important existing programs in these areas.   An old-fashioned library card catalogue cabinet is transformed into a performative sculpture and interactive platform that offers and receives information, knowledge, and opportunities for sustainable food systems and healthier living. It is the center, or protagonist, of this case study.

The Seed Library creates a new, dynamic relationship between the City’s library system, the slow food movement, and health initiatives in the city. The artist is a facilitator, responsible for the thoughtful intertwining of different interests, goals, methodologies and languages. What links all of the different collaborators is the common desire for a healthier, more sustainable Springfield.

The Seed Library creates a space for dialogue and for sharing personal stories and tips about growing food and staying healthy. This platform demonstrates well the new architecture for change – the convergence of metaphor, meaning and power.   The artful re-design of the card catalogue cabinet, as a cabinet of ideas and projects, offering seeds for thought and action, is fueled by the bodies of knowledge of existing programs engaged in food and health issues. There is inherent power in working with two large and legitimized organizations, The Springfield City Library and Bay State Health.  From their official institutional perch, these organizations can affect how  information and knowledge are shared.

Presentation and Discussion: New Modes and Spaces of Cultural Production

 cultural production panel

With Jessica Garz, Program Officer, Surdna Foundation; Gavin Kroeber, independent cultural producer; Elizabeth MacWillie, Masters in Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design; Sara Hendren, Masters, Art and Design in the Public Domain, Harvard Graduate School of Design;  and Scott Berzofsky, artist and producer. You can listen to the audio of their conversation here.

AIC invited five recent and current graduate students from The Harvard Graduate School of Design, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and MIT Department of Art, Culture and Technology to discuss the roles they play or want to play in cultural production. All explore the limitations of the current cultural institutional system and the desire to develop alternative institutions and production practices.

These young artists/designers/architects/producers seek to transform existing practices. They want greater fluidity to go between various disciplines and the flexibility to invent new approaches to cultural production. Lizzie MacWillie describes a new form of spatial practice that is related to architecture but can more effectively address issues of inequality and injustice in the built environment. Sara Hendren talks about the sheer dominance and inaccessibility of “expert” and “official” cultures of science and technology, and the need for public amateurs – those who learn in public places from ordinary people – to embed themselves deeply in research labs. In this context, an artist can ask the difficult and ethical questions surrounding the cultural production of identities. The artist can disrupt official notions of normalcy and advocate for the idiosyncratic nature of human existence. To produce forms that reflect this idiosyncracy, artists must be given the time to collaborate deeply, to develop a robust relationship with a host organization or department that goes beyond the current ‘artist-in-residence model’.

Gavin Kroeber discussed the possibility of filling the ‘negative space’ within existing institutions with studios for social production. We increasingly see established institutions straining against their mission and their physical space to produce relevant publics. One could create an emergent space, a vessel for transdisciplinary inquiry, inside the institution to leverage the existing potential of the institution and also propel it into the vital domain of social production. Jess Garz reminded us that the ability to navigate and transform institutional practice is a privilege, an endeavor supported by family and friends, and that we must not become isolated from or exclusive of those without a similar support system.

The speakers addressed the current funding landscape and the importance of shifting from a short-term tactical approach to a longer-term strategic approach. Rather than fund individual projects within a non-profit organization, philanthropic investors ought to consider more flexible models of “pop-up” institutions, longer-term funding relationships, and provide realistic overhead support in order to produce meaningful impact. Scott Berzofsky suggested investing in land trusts so that artists can pursue social practice from a stable and healthy platform. Sara recommended funding a post-doctoral, Fulbright-type fellowship to encourage substantive collaboration and translation between inside and outside, official and amateur, in research settings. Gavin proposed investment in the creation of an institution’s negative space, in the form of a studio for inquiry.

The speakers engaged with the audience on a number of important points: insider versus outsider status; exploitation versus legitimacy; the importance (or not) of naming your practice; urban versus rural differences; and maker-spaces in institutional settings for experimentation, risk and failure.

The discussion ended with a suggestion that those involved in creative practice hold onto the label of artist to signify an unwillingness to be co-opted or instrumentalized by the constructs and principles of official culture.

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Thursday March 7th – Friday March 8th, 2013
Bartos Theater, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 20 Ames Street, Building E15, Cambridge, MA

An opportunity for policy leaders, philanthropic and social investors to engage with artists, arts producers and specialists from other fields to explore integrative, collaborative, contemporary art practices for positive and innovative social outcomes.

This conference has been specifically designed for social and philanthropic investors and cultural policy leaders and is by invitation only. A full report will be made available online following the conference.

Description

The conference is an interactive forum for philanthropic and social investors, policy leaders and other knowledge leaders to engage in presentations and discussions of New England based projects located in the hybrid realms of art and medicine; art, food systems and community transformation; art, technology and empathy; and art, consumption and justice.  There will be a panel discussion on alter-institutional cultural production and a preview of the first installment of the Artists' Prospectus for the Nation.

Why It’s Important: Some artists are choosing to work as creative collaborators to invent new platforms, systems, and models that point us toward a more just, positive and sustainable future. The times demand new ways of thinking and behaving and artists, now more than ever, are contributing their creativity to create new spaces in which people can both envision and enact a better future. This convening will be a unique opportunity for attendees to interact directly with fresh work ---work that is changing the way we think about and act upon the societal challenges we face---and those making it happen.

Schedule

Thursday March 7, 2013

11:30 am              Arrival

12 Noon               Keynote Address: Robert D. Austin

1:30 - 3:00 pm       Panel Presentation (Maine): Art & Medicine

3:30 - 5:00 pm       Panel Presentation (Boston): Art, Justice & Consumption

5:00 - 6:00 pm       Cocktail Reception

6:00 - 7:30 pm       Panel Presentation: New Modes & Spaces of Cultural Production

Friday March 8, 2013

8:00 am                Breakfast Reception

8:30 - 9:45 am       Funders Exchange: Supporting Arts and Culture for Community, Civic and Social Change

10:00 - 11:30 am    Panel Presentation (Providence): Art, Technology & Empathy

11:30 am - 1:00 pm Panel Presentation (Pioneer Valley): Art, Food Systems & Community Transformation:Springfield (MA) Seed Library

1:00 - 2:00 pm        Lunch and Informal Conversation

2:00- 4:00 pm         Presentation of the Artists' Prospectus for the Nation

 4:00 - 4:45 pm           Concluding Remarks

Registration

To register for the conference, please contact AIC Co-Director Louisa McCall, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

For directions to the theater, visit http://www.mit.edu/~cousot/MintaMartinLecture/directions.html

For places to stay, visit http://web.mit.edu/institute-events/visitor/stay.html

Support

Connected & Consequential is funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Lambent Foundation, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation and The Rhode Island Foundation. The Artists’ Prospectus for the Nation is funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous in- kind support is provided by the List Visual Arts Center, MIT. Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, is a collaborating partner.

 

Please check back frequently for updated information.