International social activistists speak at Creative Time Summit

Last Friday, seven students from the College met in New York City to attend the Creative Time Summit: Living As Form. As described on its website, “the Creative Time Summit is a conference that brings together cultural producers – including artists, critics, writers and curators – to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. Their international projects bring to the table a vast array of practices and methodologies that engage with the canvas of everyday life.” This year, Nato Thompson curated the Summit in conjunction with the opening of Living As Form, an exhibit involving many of the same artists and their work. Monel Chang ’12 heard about the Summit over the summer and began organizing students and a funding proposal, which was accepted by Lehman Council and the Multi Cultural Center.

Held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, Creative Time’s third annual Summit brought together over 30 artists from all over the world to speak about how their projects are used to initiate social change. Projects presented at the Summit were certainly not your usual run-of-the-mill sculptures and paintings, unless you consider a giant phallus painted on a drawbridge in Russia usual. The artists who presented in New York this Friday are all socially motivated thinkers and activists who aren’t afraid to challenge ideals and push the public to see what it may be blind to otherwise.

The term “artist” was itself challenged in several of the presentations. Wochenklausur, a group that provides a free mobile health clinic to the homeless of Vienna, talked about how the current concept of art needs an upgrade. “A new concept of art,” that serves to motivate and mobilize the public, is ready to begin, said a member of Wochenklausur.

One of the best presenters in the first half of the day was  keynote speaker Laura Flanders, a nationally renown public news host for TV and radio specializing in politics. As a public journalist, Flanders expressed strong ideals about what art and media should be focused on, namely informing the public. She quipped about corporate journalism, saying, “This news report brought to you by the people who bring you war.” She also discussed how important it is for artists and journalists alike to put the public’s needs over financial gain.“Contingent self is what we’ve got,” Flanders said, “a self to be freed and a public to be empowered.”

After Flanders set the tone of the day, the presentations began. While many of our group agreed that the Summit would have been more engaging if it included small group discussions with the artists, it was still interesting to hear each presenter go over the basis of his project. Voina, a political activist group based in Russia, presented some of the most revolutionary projects, including the phallus-bridge painting and an endeavor in which a member of the group walked into traffic with a blue bucket covering his eyes before  jumping on a police car. This particular project was executed to raise awareness about how the police officers use their blue lights to avoid obeying traffic rules, often leading to pedestrian injury or death.

Another attention-grabbing group was Women of Waves, a Dutch abortion rights group that makes sea voyages to countries where abortions are illegal to provide information and medical assistance to women who need it. The boat that they use for travel remains in international waters so the women cannot be persecuted.

Dan S. Wang, a writer based in Chicago, used the recent Wisconsin uprising against the anti-union bill to explain how “social movements carry the unresolved conflicts of political trauma.” Wang went on to show how the social movement used artistic symbols to represent larger ideas. For example, a palm tree became a symbol for corporate media lies after a news broadcast of what was portrayed to be Wisconsin showed an image of a palm tree in the background of angry protestors who were shot in California.

After about three hours of presentations and a lunch break, the groups attending the Summit returned for the presentation of The Leanore Annenberg Prize for Arts and Social Change, which  was awarded to Jeanne van Heeswijk. One of her projects allowed children to design their own park based on the needs of the community, while another was a Norwegian hospital soap opera shot in an actual hospital to show the real life of the local doctors and patients.

Katerina Šedá spoke after the presentation of the award and was a particularly engaging speaker despite the use of an interpreter for translations. Her project, titled “There’s Nothing There,” made a game out of the monotony of small town life in the Czech Republic. By illustrating a daily regime where everyone does the same thing at the same time, she was able to depict how similar individuals’ daily lives are in certain communities, Appalshop’s work was the most emotionally charged presentation of the day. Titled “Thousand Kites,” the radio show allowed families of prisoners to come on the air and tell their stories while raising awareness about human rights within the U.S. criminal justice system.

At the end of the day, the Summit – while it was long – sparked conversations within the group of students from the College about bringing socially charged art to campus. The group will present on many of the lectures and on their own experiences at 11 a.m. on Oct. 8, in Dodd Dining Hall as the first iteration of Lehman Council’s brunch series. “Attending the Summit assured me of one thing,” said Ali Mctar ’13. “The only good art today is dangerous art, an art that can explode social reality and the continuum of history, an art that can render visible the rancid slime that leaks behind our dilapidated world.”

Megan Bantle/ Arts Editor, The Long March Group performed an interperative dance at this year’s Creative Time Summit.