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Written by Shreya Garg
Contemporary art is increasingly dealing with issues faced by society at large with more number of artists finding newer mediums to shape their artistic expression in most communicative and thought provoking manner. These issues mostly relevant to a community, when given shape in the form of an artwork, almost have a meditative and healing effect. In such cases, it only makes sense to involve community and have an input from the society for the project finally leading to an artwork. The outcome of the project deals with a level of uncertainty caused by public involvement and often shares a common sentiment with the people as they feel themselves to be a part of the artwork.
In the final piece on new mediums by artists we will have a look at some projects that involved public and finally culminated into artworks over a period of time.
Brazilian artist Vik Muniz photographed and documented workers at the world’s largest landfill, Jardin Gramacho, in his hometown. With the artist’s assistance, workers at the landfill created large self-portraits using the recyclable material they collected from the garbage site every day. These portraits were sold off and a percentage share from the money collected was given to the workers. Featured in the movie wasteland, Muniz and the filmmakers of the movie donated over $200,000 to the workers’ cooperative, including payment to those who posed for the portraits. This project made the community reflect on their hazardous living conditions and gave them a new perspective to their own images and inner self.
Candy Chang created interactive public art installation ‘Before I die’ by painting on the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood. Through her work she invited people to share their aspirations in a public place by writing them down on a black board which had a phrase ‘Before I Die’ printed on it. Over a period of time, board filled with scribbles by people became a public artwork. The project gained global attention and over 500 Before I Die walls have been created in over 70 countries, including Kazakhstan, Iraq, Haiti, China, Ukraine, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Argentina, and South Africa.
Creating similar works, the artist made community boards inviting public to participate and write on them to share their stories anonymously. In Post-it-notes for neighbors Candy invited neighbors to share how much they pay for their apartments, a question most residents hesitate to ask but wonder almost every time they meet a neighbor. She uses public art installations involving participation from local community to spark interactions and get fresh perspective on land use from the community.
Yoko Ono’s interactive artwork WISH TREE (1996) is an evolving artwork which has been exhibited in many countries and cultural centers where people have been invited to write their personal wishes for peace and tie them to a tree branch. Yoko collects these wishes, more than a million till now, and buries them in capsules at the base of the Imagine Peace Tower on Viðey Island in Kollafjörður Bay in Iceland. Wish trees are generally native , popular choices being Olive, Apple, Pomegranate, Ficus, Birch, and Juniper. For the installation we just need a tree, pencil and wishing tags. This work slowly spread from one tree to a mini forest as people kept coming out to write their wishes from different countries. Yoko does not read these wishes considering them to be private has been doing this project since 1981, after the death of her husband trying to realise their dream of world peace together.
Nandita Kumar’s work titled ‘eMotiVesOuNDs of the eLEctRicwRiTEr’ was displayed at Indian Art Fair 2015. It focuses on loss of writing personal letters. She invited participants from different parts of the world to write hand-written letters. These letters were mimicked by a machine and re written on a scroll of paper. The machine while printing stopped to think when fed complex information which left blots of ink on paper. These blots were translated into sounds inspired from John Cage’s ‘chance score’. This installation leaves the viewer with a positive feeling that man and machine blend together without one overpowering the other.
‘Networks & Neighbourhood’ is a long term community based art project by Sreejata Roy and Mrityunjay Chatterjee supported by Khoj International Artist’s Association, New Delhi. The artists during a residency at Khoj interacted with women in Khirkee and its neighbourhood to look into their daily activities and how they negotiate with a shared space with a sense of openness. They conducted a series of sessions to talk to women and engage in a dialogue with them on notions of public space, documenting the same and sharing their experiences. These narratives from daily life, drawing upon history are an investigation on socio cultural condition in urban context and form a part of private practice of the artists.