Part of me believes the only transformative political power art has is in the making of it, in the act of becoming an artist – that is, one who willingly submits to the possibility to create something beyond the self. In working with […] the primary receptive audience of the monument, the kids, I have a great belief in this experience affecting their lives well beyond last summer. –Lex Brown
The Museum is a School: The Artist Learns to Communicate, The Public Learns to Make Connections –Luis Camnitzer
I wanted to start with Lex’s own words (from “Real Love, Real Work“) because I think they are so powerful and so true (as echoed by the words of Luis Camnitzer). Several months ago I was part of a group of “art world” people that were responding to questions about the significance of art in light of things like the Armory Show and contemporary life in general. It was a group of hardened New York art world cynics. I was one of only two people at the table (as far as I could tell) who believed in the power of art to change a life. This is where Luis Camnitzer’s words dovetail perfectly with Lex’s own. It is impossible to overestimate the impact of art, and particularly of participatory projects, at this scale. While Gramsci Monument was not a museum, it has some of the best trappings of a museum: public programs, many of which were organized by residents and featured residents; access to a library and historic objects; guides and teachers; hands-on workshops; spaces for gathering (even food); and lots of text for those who were inclined to read (“Everyone is an artist.” –Joseph Beuys; “All men are intellectuals.” –Antonio Gramsci).
I am sure that the Gramsci Monument as an experience for the daily participant marked deeply his/her experience of life in those days and for a future outlook on the purpose and possibility posed by art. I know that my mother and I spent more than an hour just pouring over some of the texts in the library and feeling awed by being the presence of some of Gramsci’s personal belongings (lent by Casa Museo di Antonio Gramsci, Sicily). As Hirschhorn has maintained in all of his monument projects, he was not working for the community, he was asking the community to work with him for art. This fact underscores, I think, the idea that everyone works together for something that is beyond the self and acknowledges the possibility of a larger gesture (or the space for possibility as Lex describes it), one in which a set of ideas can be experienced in an equally powerful way by people working together without prior knowledge of a particular subject (this is what I strive for when I teach). More importantly, the exchanges that occur—to which Lex also refers—become the rich, lasting effects of the project. In the end, the act of making something with others is part of a process of problem solving. I don’t think anyone will argue with the idea that this has both value and longevity, turning regular capital into social capital.
Author headshot by Andrew Demirjian.
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Read more from Growing Dialogue: Gramsci Monument
“You can make art with tape” by Rocio Aranda-Alvarado – January 13, 2015
Growing Dialogue is a series of moderated online debates among thought leaders in social practice.