ART/CITY: Dawn Weleski

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “ART/CITY” on March 16, 2012. Participants have been invited to respond to the prompt “in relation to the arts and civic life, the question I am wrestling with right now is…” in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Dawn Weleski, artist and co-founder of Conflict Kitchen.

Conflict Kitchen – by Dawn Weleski and Jon Rubin
“I will not bomb Iran” is the promise with which I christened my class at the International Studies Academy in Potrero Hill. For ten weeks, Mr. Hall, the international relations teacher, has allowed an artist to take over his class and collaborate with his students on a project; but let’s not talk politics; but why not?
What is the role of the socially engaged artist in provoking confrontation within a civic framework? And what is the artist’s responsibility to create new frameworks that normative institutions, artistic and civic, fail to provide? With a responsible, responsive, and flexible framework, artists can antagonize the system; infiltrate from the inside; re-activate defunct connections; lend agency to the constituents of these institutions. This work lives and breathes with its audience and participants and, if evaluated with rigor throughout the process, has the potential to live beyond the artist’s engagement. An artist, an outsider, an amateur, a citizen has the ability to privilege first-person opinion over expert and objectified knowledge. Within the opinion is the capacity for action, and an artist can gather, highlight, and frame these subjective opinions, serving art and non- art audiences alike. Could one initiate an artist residency at World Bank, the United Nations, or UNESCO; their local school district, city council, or mayor’s office?
My students, on their first day of class with me, were asked to author commitments to non-action on behalf of the United States government, “I will not bomb Iran” being one. We discussed the responsibility of heads of state who create situations for which they could not or refuse to apologize. The students were also requested to write apologies that they wanted to hear from folks in their personal lives: “I want an apology from everyone for making fun of my shortness”; “I want an apology from my ‘grandma’ for turning her back on family and making the past year and a half of my life a living hell…Also for trying to make me someone I’m not”; “I don’t need an apology from anyone because what they do doesn’t define me, it just pushes me forward”. Poignant and humorous, hopeful and vehement, their apologies will be the bridge to a discussion of global politics and their role in these seemingly distant matters. And how will I know, as class continues, how to direct this discussion? I’ll just have to wait until the students lead me there. 

2 thoughts on “ART/CITY: Dawn Weleski

  • Christian L. Frock

    In thinking about Weleski’s query–What is the role of the socially engaged artist in provoking confrontation within a civic framework?–I am tangling with questions around community and locality. What are the best strategies for working within an unfamiliar community, as an artist/cultural producer coming from elsewhere? Since this kind of intervention is often criticized as highly problematic, when does it succeed? If the work is “evaluated with rigor throughout the process,” as Weleski posits, what evaluative terms support work that is sustainable beyond the artist’s engagement?

  • hkeeffe

    “An artist, an outsider, an amateur, a citizen has the ability to privilege first-person opinion over expert and objectified knowledge.” The above sentence jumped out at me… in part because I often get caught up in the insecurity of not being an expert at anything other than learning new skills in order to bring ideas to fruition. I want to advocate for the idea that the fresh perspectives are just as important as in-depth knowledge, yet it seems that a major stumbling block might be the public perception of artists as experts with authority. How can we create a new identity for artists that is more aligned with the citizen but not so ambiguous that it is hard to get excited about?

Comments are closed.