Methodologies of Failure: Evaluation Practices for Socially Engaged Art

A set of questions:

  1. Did your artwork involve other people?
  2. Are you uncomfortable with calling your artwork an artwork?
  3. Would you rather discuss it as a project?
  4. Did you refer to the other people involved in your project as a community?
  5. Have you tried to explain at length the ways in which you are defining the terms ‘involved’ and ‘other people’ and ‘community’?
  6. Are you painfully aware that there are unavoidable power imbalances at play in your project?
  7. Did you document the results or process of your project using a digital SLR, a camera phone, or Instagram?
  8. Are there obvious formal possibilities for exhibiting this documentation?
  9. Did you wonder if it would it be inappropriate to sell this documentation?
  10. Are there power struggles immediately evident when viewing this documentation?
  11. Have you considered trying to present your project as a book, documentary, or play?
  12. How much pressure did you feel to defend the work as tackling political change?
  13. Did you assume that your project needed to continue indefinitely towards achieving some political end in order for it to be successful?
  14. Were you asked about success, measurable outcomes, attendance levels, or evidence of change?
  15. Did you expect there to be answers to those questions?
  16. Did your research for this project lead you to briefly attend a series of parallel community meetings at which you felt the need to excuse a comment or thought as coming from the perspective of an artist?
  17. Did your project dissolve after a public presentation / workshop / town hall meeting / charette / or screening?
  18. Did you have any unresolved guilt around its dissolution?
  19. Can your project be critiqued by a painter?
  20. Do you feel belittled when approached by a visual artist, theoretician, or architect?
  21. Have there been discussions of ‘radical’ theory offered from a great distance to the project?
  22. If your project were a math equation, would the sum always end up as a critique of capitalism?
  23. Is your project illegible enough to likely never be printed in Artforum or your local newspaper?
  24. Can you imagine yourself being awarded a large-scale prize some years after the launch of your project, which you didn’t necessarily define as an art project in the first place?
  25. Could your project easily be mistaken for a project found in surveys of Fluxus, Conceptual Art, or Dada?
  26. Did your project align itself to a set of political goals that have already been articulated?
  27. Is there form evident in the project that would allow it to most easily fit into an identified granting opportunity?
  28. Could your project be mistaken for a restaurant, social service, after-school program, or a guerrilla marketing campaign?
  29. Could your role in the project be defined as that of a facilitator, organizer, or teacher?
  30. Were you asked to explain the reason you think your project is art?

The End of Participation

In Nato Thompson’s essay, Participation and Spectacle: Where are We Now in Living as Form, he discussions Ranciére’s essay, “The Uses of Democracy” from 1992. He explains that “Ranciére notes that participation in what we normally refer to as democratic regimes is usually reduced to a question of filling up the spaces left empty by power.”

While Thompson further summarizes Ranciére, “Genuine participation […] is somthing different: the invention of an ‘unpredicatble subject’ who momentarily occupies the street, the factory, or the museum — rather than a fixed space of allocated participation whose count-power is dependent on the dominant order.”

Homework I & II (conferences on social practice)

With Broken City Lab, Homework: Infrastructures & Collaboration in Social Practices was a four-day residency and two-day conference featuring 19 artists in residence and keynote presentations from Gregory Sholette, Marisa Jahn, and Temporary Services. This conference was supported by the Ontario Arts Council, the University of Windsor’s School of Visual Arts, and the Art Gallery of Windsor.

Homework II: Long Forms / Short Utopias was a three-day conference aimed at unfolding the ways in which we construct, articulate, and practice ideas of micro-utopias, pop-up ideals, collaboration, and long-term social engagement in Ontario, across Canada, and abroad. Keynotes included Steve Lambert, Jeanne van Heeswijk, and Darren O’Donnell. The conference built on our previous conference, bringing together multidisciplinary artists and creative practitioners enacting and articulating the complexities of working in practices driven by curiosities about utopian collaboration, community, infrastructures, locality, and long-form social practice. This conference was made possible with support from the Ontario Arts Council and Ontario Trillium Foundation.

MITx 6.002

MITx 6.002

      – MITx will offer a portfolio of MIT courses for free to a virtual community of learners around the world. It will also enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences.

The first MITx course, 6.002x (Circuits and Electronics), will be launched in an experimental prototype form. Watch this space for further upcoming courses, which will become available in Fall 2012.

A Declaration of Principles (for artists, cultural workers, & supporters thereof)

By posting this page, we submit that we are an artist, cultural worker, or a supporter thereof and declare the following: we are no longer interested in participating in consultancies, asset maps, or activities that offer us “promotional opportunities” in absence of clear financial or strategic gain. We will not support the exploitation of artists or other cultural workers or their works for the sole purpose of further municipal or economic planning, fundraising, or marketing. We refuse to acknowledge the existence of the politically-invented term, creative economy, which lumps together practicing artists with video cassette duplication services. We can no longer participate in activities that knowingly disadvantage artists with less experience and we vow to make accessible opportunities that we have to these same artists. We hereby decide to stop playing prescribed games and to start making it up for ourselves. Henceforth, we will support one another by adhering to this declaration.

Also available as a PDF, or high-res jpeg.

The London Apartments

Below is a new demo song from The London Apartments, entitled, “Almost the New Year,” recorded between December 29, 2011 and January 1, 2012. You can stream it with flash, or download the file. This song is part of a new album I’m writing and hoping to release in the summer or fall of 2012.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Almost the New Year (mp3)

Beginning as a bedroom recording project by Justin Langlois in 2003, The London Apartments have since released numerous EPs and singles on netlabels around the world, a debut album, “Romanticism Aside” on Sound of Pop Records in 2005 and an E.P., “Logistics & Navigation” on Beggars Banquet in 2006, and an online album, “Signals & Cities Are Forever” in 2009, available for download here.

You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Helvetica Bold stencil, black acrylic paint, cold-pressed paper, red masking tape

A series of 25 hand-painted posters created to provide a starting place for complicating the ideas and concerns informing an art practice based on locality, infrastructures, and social practice. Underlines in red masking tape allow for a shift in emphasis should the occasion arise.

Toward a New School of Art: How Social Practice, Radical Locality, and Antagonism Should Shape Art Education in the 21st Century


The following is based on ideas that must certainly exist in other contexts, books, and agendas. While not necessarily referential to any of these particular sources, the following knowingly exists within a continually evolving matrix of art and studio-based pedagogy. The following also attempts to address what I believe is the only option for art schools to stay relevant in the coming decades—a time that will demand holistic and constantly shifting attempts to unfold the complexities of everyday life, founded on a commitment towards the local and the small.

Art education should be framed around the following realities and situations:
‣ place
‣ social-engagement
‣ antagonism towards existing infrastructures of all kinds

Faculty in this New School will be a mix of semi-permanent locally-committed professional artists and visiting artists from abroad; both groups of faculty will maintain the following:
‣ an artistic practice that requires mutually-beneficial collaboration from students
‣ a record of creative activity that is not exclusively tethered to art galleries or art infrastructures
‣ an active and evolving interest in pedagogy
‣ a lack of fear of the uncharted
‣ an insatiable interest in collaboration
‣ an open studio / work / office space
‣ a quarterly public presentation on their research
‣ a commitment to the local
‣ an aggressive stance on the importance of the idea of the ignorant school master
‣ an appreciation of affective vs. effective

A New School of Art will not hinge on a new art school, instead it will occupy spaces that require formal partnerships with other institutions within a given geography such as:
‣ buses
‣ bus stations
‣ storefronts
‣ libraries
‣ living rooms
‣ backyards
‣ parks
‣ bars
‣ malls
‣ rooftops
‣ interrogation rooms
‣ tree houses
‣ theatres
‣ chemistry departments
‣ office space
‣ high schools
‣ gymnasiums
‣ the occasional space previously assigned to old art schools

Students in this New School of Art will apply to enroll with the following understandings and interests:
‣ there will be no instructions
‣ writing is a foundational skill
‣ reading is necessary for understanding the world
‣ there is a never-ending supply of potential in any given place
‣ learning is constant
‣ the transference of employable skills is abundant if you pay attention, but you should not pay attention to that part
‣ using social media is not being social
‣ questions are not optional
‣ critiques can take many forms
‣ your instructor will not always have the answer
‣ you will not be asked to make anything specific
‣ everyone will need your help at some point, as will you their’s
‣ an art practice does not equate to making an art object every day
‣ collaboration is not optional

These realities and situations will appear as the following in the New School of Art:
‣ an underlying agreement to develop art practices, not art objects
‣ no medium-based classes
‣ medium-specific workshops
‣ relentless collaboration
‣ an ongoing curiosity about community and its possibilities
‣ learning opportunities organized around themes
‣ projects that occur beyond and outside of institutional schedules
‣ ignorant co-teaching
‣ classes that only take place over dinner with local food
‣ demonstrative occasions of what art can do outside of a gallery
‣ truly preparatory instances for young artists working in a world beyond the “art world”
‣ no private studios
‣ no classrooms as we might normally recognize them
‣ ongoing discussions with neighbours and explorations of neighbourhoods
‣ a rigourous and continual investigation of how place shapes you and how you shape place
‣ an embedded understanding that not every experience in life is art, but that every experience in life informs an art practice

And then the city (billboard series)

Image: …and then the city (Calgary), made possible with support from Truck ARC.

With Broken City Lab, a series of billboards creating a landing point in what seems to be the cyclical nature of cities — hope, failure, bad decisions, nostalgia, construction, sprawl, gentrification, isolation, devotion, etc. The billboards suggested the end of one part of a conversation and the beginning of another, and a way of looking at problems and solutions as a kind of continuum of ideas, rather than points from which to react. As part of Save the City in Windsor, this project was generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council.

Cross-Border Communication

With Broken City Lab, in November 2009, we projected a series of messages from Windsor that were visible across the border in Detroit, as an interventionist performance series based on the desperate need to communicate between these two cities. This project was made possible by the University of Windsor Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Research Leadership Chair and Spectrodata, and was designed with the Vincent Massey Secondary School Junior Physics Club.