Shannon Jackson On Her New Book

22 Apr

Shannon Jackson (UCIRA Board Member, ARC Director, and UC Berkeley Professor of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies and Rhetoric), is interviewed in Art Practical by Christina Linden about her forthcoming book Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics  (Routledge, 2011) and the symposium “Curating People,” which she is coordinating for April 28 and April 29 at the Performance Art Institute and UC Berkeley. See her blog here.


CL: Do you think that the nature of the relationships to the state or other institutions is specific to the kind of experimental performance and social works we’re talking about here, or would you say this applies in a more blanket way to all artwork?

SJ: As to whether it applies to all artwork, I guess I would say that it does. Painting depends upon frames and canvases but also upon the gallery system. Theatre depends on stage managers and agents. But I do think that certain art forms are less able to deny that they need a supporting apparatus and that some have a vested interest in looking the other way. The works that I ended up selecting were all works that I think are posing questions about our relationship to interdependent systems, state based or otherwise. In some instances I’m really talking about places where a state-based mechanism did not come through. When Paul Chan began to work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, you could say that that is a situation where FEMA did not come through. It may be that the state did not come through because it had been defunded up until then, but Chan was pretty clear that there was a DIY quality to his work; the supporting systems were part of a very mixed economy that included private funding, community grants, philanthropic donations, and the gallery circuit, along with inadequate state funding.

CL: What about the way the institution of the museum is taking up these practices? Recently, the education departments are often the ones commissioning really interesting new work in this mode, and in some cases it operates as a kind of substitute for programming they used to produce more directly. Given the topic of the symposium you are organizing for April 29, I guess this must be on your mind?

SJ: You are alighting upon something that I hope we will talk about at the “Curating People” symposium in April. My hope is that we’ll have a continuous, wider Bay Area conversation about this. You spoke of the conference you attended at MoMA. Pablo Helguera, in the education department, organized that gathering. Why are education departments doing, as you call it, “substitute programming”? Education departments are interested in the experience of receivers. There can certainly be a didactic quality to that role. At the same time, artists who work in social practice and performance are also very concerned about engagement with receivers. If that it is your goal, it can be incredibly interesting to work with someone in education who thinks continuously about what it means to engage people, to address them, to challenge them. Supporting these new art forms begins to challenge the traditional divisions between the curatorial department and the education department.

I ended up deciding to focus on “curating,” specifically “curating people,” because the curators and the staff of the museums and theatre are in the trenches of all of this. We really get a complex picture of what it means to support interdisciplinary art when we think about the kind of work that curators, installers, and stage managers are doing daily. They’re living it every day and also re-skilling every day. A visual art curator might have been trained in a particular way, but then a certain kind of hybrid artist comes to town and needs you to secure a street permit or to do a casting call.

See the rest of the interview here

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