Ow! I pricked my social conscience.


Hi folks, sorry for the lack of posting last week.

One of the numerous benefits of working at Cooper Union School of Art is that I have gotten to sit in on the presentations for a new faculty position they are hiring. I don’t have any influence whatsoever on the outcome, but it’s cool to see who they are interested in. There are 5 altogether and today was Michael Rakowitz. At first I thought it was going to be a lot of shtick about a gimmick he came up with in making his paraSITE project of custom-built shelters for homeless people out of plastic tubing inflated with the exhaust from buildings.

But after hearing his entire presentation, I found myself wanting to make socially conscious artwork to help homeless people too (I mean, he can’t corner the market on homeless people, can he?). Fortunately my idea for renting Johnny-on-the-Spots and placing them in parks where homeless people congregate was struck down for logistical reasons along with the one for portable, private showers. So this line of thinking seems totally derivative, but then I realized that it’s more like a small venting of a thought process that has been percolating for a while now – an interest in socially-conscious artwork. I guess that’s where The Diligent Farmhand came about. It’s a group I started to begin creating projects from a more broadly conscious perspective – taking consideration of human relationships and our environment(s).

This train of thought has been stirring around in my head for a while but hasn’t really manifested itself fully yet. The Diligent Farmhand has yet to get its first project under our belt (although it’s in the works!). It sort of spiked recently when I heard Earl Tai give a lecture at the CIVA conference on design projects for impoverished communities. Then I read The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne which I really enjoyed and made me rethink a few long-held attitudes. I think Claiborne makes some pretty good arguments for social justice and changing attitudes towards the poor even if he does come off as a tad stereotypically hippie at times (he does have dreadlocks after all). His mannerisms are easy to endure for the overwhelmingly compelling message. We really don’t love the poor, the outcast, the widow – the ones Jesus marks our response to as a good litmus test of our faith.

This was also on top of my good friend Mike’s story of his trip to Africa to help provide aid to some of the poorest and war-ravaged countries in the world. It turns out he has an aptitude for this sort of thing and has done it twice now. All this is to say that my social conscience has been pricked lately. I know it’s cool to be all I’m-with-Al-Gore and anti-global warming lately, but this is a bit different. It’s about effecting people’s lives. Which brings me back to Michael Rakowitz. I asked him after the lecture if he maintains a relationship with the homeless people he initially worked with. He said that he did. He’s been making these shelters for almost ten years now – customizing them for each individual.

I guess I see it more like wanting to make a genre piece. As if socially-conscious work is a genre and not a natural extension of a socially-conscious person. I suppose that’s what I want it to be – just the work I happen to be making because I happen to actually be concerned about these issues. I suppose I’m just working myself up to actually being concerned.

I suppose we’ll see.



1 Comment

Filed under The Art World

One response to “Ow! I pricked my social conscience.

  1. Rakowitz was one of our visiting artists at the Art Institute of Chicago last year. I appreciated his imaginative shelters particularly. I think concepts are solidifying currently on a project… finally. It deals with shelter and dwelling, though not in quite as pragmatic a way…

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