Engaging Artists: The Artist as Activist

Posted on Monday, July 28th, 2014

Our final speaker session on July 17th was a great introduction to the work of socially engaged practices within the arts. We were informed of the work of artists/activists Jordan Seiler and Caroline Woolard, as well as Paula Z. Segal, who as an attorney works within the public space, often collaborating with artists.

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Jordan Seiler (founder of Public Ad Campaign) is an advocate for a more democratic use of our shared public spaces by questioning outdoor advertising, and creating new avenues for public communication.Jordan Seiler’s work re-shapes the public space by replacing illegal advertising with art. Jordan has led initiatives to remove. Jordan has now taken his work on the streets of New York and combined it with technology “NO AD” is a great urban public arts project by Jordan Seiler and the team at Re+Public. “NO AD” is an app that changes subway advertisements into a curated art exhibition when the user directs their phone’s camera over the advertisement.

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Caroline Woolard spoke about her work with the Exchange Cafe at MoMA. The Exchange Cafe presented an experiential archive of artwork that is based on the act of reciprocity and exchange by developing cooperative, alternative, and non-market economies. The Exchange Cafe featured dairy from activist organizers Milk Not Jails, tea from Feral Trade Courier, and honey from population control researchers at BeeSpace.Caroline talked about creating alternate economies and venues for the exchange of goods and services. She also gave an informative talk about labor for all artists and activists.

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Paula is an attorney and educator who lives and works in Brooklyn. She is also the founder, Executive Director and Legal Director for NYC Community Land Access Programs of 596 Acres, a non-profit organization that supports transformation of vacant public land into sustainable community institutions. Paula spoke about how 596 Acres has been mapping out vacant public space throughout the city and supporting the public’s reaction to reclaim this space for community gardens, art installations, and meeting places.

Another week, another inspiring Engaging Artists Workshop

Posted on Monday, July 21st, 2014

Each week our Engaging Artists workshops bring new perspectives and great dialog about homelessness and activism to the forefront of creative practice. On July 10th we had an inspirational evening talking with special guest artists: Heather Stoltz (Temporary Shelter Project), Kenji Nakayama (Signs for the Homeless), Hunter Reynolds (Art in the Woods), Jody Wood (Beauty in Transition) Koko Surani, and Travis Laughlin (Education Director at the Joan Mitchell Foundation).

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Heather Stoltz showed us two projects that were focused on homelessness. “See Me” was realized through the artist’s interaction with men in New York City’s faith-based shelters.  The work asks the viewer to see the individuals affected by stories that we read in the newspapers and not simple and impersonal statistics. For example, the gaze of one of the individuals, Roger, strikes the viewer in a humanizing contrast to the impersonal numbers contained in news articles about homelessness.  Temporary Shelter was developed through collaborations with shelter families and individuals. Heather asked children inside faith based shelters to create a quilt based on their feelings. She also engaged in discussions with adult residents and created a visual representation of their story. These works were woven into the shelter, which takes the form of a sukkah which is used on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The sukkah tells the stories of homeless New Yorkers ages 4 to 75. The inside panels each represent one individual staying in NYC’s faith-based shelters and the outside walls are made from fiber art created by children in New York’s family shelters.

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Next we listened to Kenji Nakayama who started Signs for the Homeless. Kenji and his collaborator Christopher Hope meet homeless individuals on streets of Boston, interview them, and offer to make them new hand-painted re-creations of the old signs. Kenji stated that the reason for doing this was to raise the public’s awareness to the larger issue of homelessness which he noticed was growing at an alarming rate. When the press took on the story, it significantly generated a response from the community and it provided a platform for these homeless individuals to be seen in a human manner. Participating in this project also has helped him become more involved in his neighborhood.

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Jody Wood is currently A Blade of Grass Fellow who has sets up a mobile beauty salon that serves the homeless at shelters around the city.  The project called Beauty in Transition, originated in Kansas, and has since traveled to Denver Colorado. This socially engaged art project provides beauty services including a hair wash, cut, color, styling services and skin care to willing participants, as well as workshops geared toward long-term hair management. Through the support from A Blade of Grass and the Brooklyn Arts Council, her city-wide art project will launch August 4 and run until October 31, 2014 and serve a great and growing number of homeless shelters. A full list of participating shelters and salons can be found at www.beautyintransition.org.

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Hunter Reynolds showed us his work as a performance artist who uses art as a way to communicate and bring awareness to social justice issues. Hunter Reynolds has been an AIDS activist for over two decades. He was an early member of ACTUP and in 1989 co-founded Art Positive, an affinity group of ACT-UP, to fight homophobia and censorship in the arts. Both of these groups were responsible for creating a huge policy change, removed stigmas, and increased advocacy of HIV/AIDS research. Hunter Reynolds is also the founder of Arts in the Woods, a summer arts camp designed to help homeless or disenfranchised LGBTQ adults to explore and express themselves as the leaders of tomorrow’s gay rights movement through art, music, dance, and theater. Two of our artists in residence are currently upstate with Hunter and the rest of the community at Arts in the Woods. We can’t wait to hear all about their experiences when they return!

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Koko Surani was one of the talented young LGBTQ artists to attend Arts in the Woods. Koko told us her heartbreaking story of how she ended up homeless in New York City. She is currently living with Hunter Reynolds who is mentoring her arts education. Koko plans to go to college and possibly major in art. She brought one of her sculptures, a hyper-realistic baby, and did one of her performances that she typically does within the public space.

Art About Homelessness: Fanny Allié

Posted on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Our Engaging Artists residents are currently volunteering each week with the local homeless population. Some of the volunteer opportunities involve creating collaborative artworks with homeless residents who are either in shelters or in affordable housing. We’d like to celebrate their hard work and compassion by taking a look at previously realized projects around the issue of homelessness. The first artist we’re featuring is Fanny Allié.

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Fanny’s The Glowing Homeless (2011)  was exhibited at a public art event organized by Bring to Light NYC (Nuit Blanche), in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The Glowing Homeless is a neon outline of a human form resting on a park bench. Representing the homeless person sound asleep amongst the park’s crowds, through a rendering of neon light, I created an alluring object for Bring to Light NYC (Nuit Blanche). She says “Through my implementation of attractive materials, I reversed the normal reaction of avoidance, and drew people towards the form on the bench.”

Art About Homelessness: Hunter Reynolds and Koko Surani

Posted on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

In the lead-up to Residents of New York, our collaboration with Andres Serrano, we featured artists who have made socially engaged work about homelessness.

Now that our Engaging Artists residents are beginning to formulate their projects, we’d like to take another look and profile some more artists that have worked with the homeless community.

On July 10th our Engaging Artists will be in conversation with artists whose practice involves or has involved working with homeless individuals or organizations. Artists we will be hearing from include Jody Wood, Heather Stoltz, Hunter Reynolds, KOKO Surani, and Kenji Nakayama.

We featured Jody, Heather, and Kenji in an earlier post. Now we’d like to share the work of Hunter Reynolds and Koko Surani.

Hunter Reynolds has exhibited his work at museums and galleries widely in the United States and abroad. As an AIDS activist, he was an early member of ACTUP and in 1989 co-founded Art Positive, an affinity group of ACT-UP, to fight homophobia and censorship in the arts. Hunter Reynolds is the founder of Arts in the Woods, a summer arts camp designed to help homeless or disenfranchised LGBTQ adults to explore and express themselves as the leaders of tomorrow’s gay rights movement through art, music, dance, and theater.

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One of the talented participants of Arts in the Woods is Koko Surani. Koko is a young African American lesbian woman who had previously been homeless in NYC for five years. She is an amazingly talented sculptor and performance artist with the hopes of attending art school. Hunter says “I met Koko last July when I was conducting art-making workshops at the LGBTQ homeless shelters in NYC, preparing for our first Arts in the Woods LGBTQ Homeless Youth summer camp at Easton Mountain. She appeared with her hyper-realistic sculpture of a baby in a carriage at New Alternatives and took part in our workshop. Homeless because of her very abusive home environment, Koko was living between shelters and abandoned buildings. She called me just before Thanksgiving and said she was desperate and could no longer sleep on the subway. I told her to come over, and she moved in with me.”

We hope to see you on Thursday July 10th, 6:30pm at Judson Memorial Church (239 Thompson Street, New York, NY)!

Art About Homelessness: Virginia de Medeiros

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

In the lead-up to Residents of New York, our collaboration with Andres Serrano, we featured artists who have made socially engaged work about homelessness.

Now that our Engaging Artists residents are beginning to formulate their projects, we’d like to take another look and profile some more artists that have worked with the homeless community.

On July 10th our Engaging Artists will be in conversation with artists whose practice involves or has involved working with homeless individuals or organizations. Artists we will be hearing from include Jody Wood, Heather Stoltz, Hunter Reynolds, KOKO Surani, and Kenji Nakayama.

We featured Jody, Heather, and Kenji in our previous post. Now we’d like to share the work of Brazilian artist Virginia de Medeiros’ Fábula do Olhar (2012/2013). Virginia is in NYC for a residency at Residency Unlimited, and will be present for our workshop on July 10th (6:30pm at Judson Memorial Church/239 Thompson Street)

Here is a description of the work provided by Galeria Nara Roesler:
“For Fábula do Olhar (Fabulations of the gaze), Virginia de Medeiros invited Mestre Júlio Santos, an artist from Ceará who took the craft of hand colour photography to a digital platform, while still preserving all the markings and textures of the traditional technique. Hand coloured painting belongs to a near extinct tradition in Northeastern Brazil. It carries a very specific characteristic: that of retouching the photo image with tint to enhance accessories — suits, jewellery, makeup, dresses, flowers, — details that aggregate a certain prestige to their respective subjects. Crossing this technique with the portraits of individuals who live on the streets, where material lack is confused with subjective and existential misery, becomes a tactic of removing given images from a predefined reading.

During one month and a half, de Medeiros installed a photo studio in two cafeterias destined for homeless people living in the streets of Fortaleza. Photographing 20 home-less individuals in black and white and collecting their personal accounts on video, the artist posed a key question that directed the outcome of the work: “How would you like to be seen by society?” This question opened up a field of subjectivity of the individuals portrayed who, fabulating their own conditions, made themselves co-authors of the work.

The moment of fabulation are thus moments when the difference between what is real and what is imagined become indiscernible; when, through this process, the individual constitutes itself as subject of the scene and not as a mere object to be observed; to create a world and in it believe and project. The artist Mestre Júlio, through the technique of hand coloured photopainting, coloured the portraits in black and white, interfering on the images in accordance with the revelations of the homeless individuals. What results is an image-fabulation that removes the identity veil that covers and neutralizes the lived presence of these individuals, who have their personal consciousness ignored and covered by identity stigmas and stereotyped images by means of which is represented.”

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Engaging Artists Week 3

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

We were left inspired by many incredible words, stories and ideas that were shared by all of our Engaging Artists residents and our speakers. It was wonderful to hear about how each resident has been flourishing in their volunteer work and their ideas for projects realized through volunteering. James Macklin (Director of Outreach at The Bowery Mission), Chris Tabellario (Common Ground Community Director,  Street to Home, Brooklyn and Queens), and Marcus Moore (Housing Campaign Leader with Picture the Homeless) spoke about the amazing work they do as advocates for the homeless residents of New York City. They were equally amazed at the incredible work our Engaging Artists residents are doing, and their compassion and commitment to helping those in need. In fact many of our residents have been volunteering at Common Ground and The Bowery Mission Women’s Centers, so it was a special moment for them to connect with leaders from those organizations.

Chris spoke about how Common Ground’s housing programs work. Their street to home program takes a two-pronged approach. The first part of the program is outreach through 24/7 street canvassing to get individuals immediate services (i.e. shelter or detox) and identifying chronically street homeless individuals to be referred to the next phase which is case management. In case management, each chronically street homeless individual is assigned a case manager who works with them towards individualized permanent housing.

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Marcus and James spoke to us candidly about their own struggles with homelessness and how they overcame living on the streets and shelters by committing to help others who are living on the streets and in shelters. The work that they do in their organizations provides hope and camaraderie for the homeless community. Marcus is involved in organizing homeless members of the community to become active in local and national politics and lobby for progressive issues dealing with housing equality, civil rights, and community land trusts. James spoke about The Bowery Mission’s diverse and extensive residential, spiritual, and well-being programing for homeless men, women, children and families.

Marcus is featured in a documentary titled “Living As Struggle: Story of a Homesteader in Ten Chapters.” Watch the trailer:

Living as Struggle: Story of a Homesteader in Ten Chapters – Trailer from ningzishun on Vimeo.

James Macklin stated: “No one wants you to solve their problems, they just want you to listen. If you listen long enough, they will solve their problems themselves.” These guiding words of wisdom resonated throughout the evening as we shared personal stories and listened to each others. The conversations and connections that began that evening will flourish far beyond the length of this residency.

Join us again on July 10th (6:30pm at Judson Memorial Church) when we will be joined by artists whose practice involves working with homeless individuals or organizations. Artists include: Jody Wood, Heather Stoltz, Hunter Reynolds, KOKO SuraniKenji Nakayama, and Travis Laughlin (director of Education at the Joan Mitchell Foundation)