Translated by: Magda Origjanska
What happens when art leaves its ‘own’ territory? When it moves into situations of collaboration in other territories? (Wright, 2013, p. 29) wonders the theoretician, critic and curator Stephen Wright who names this process as exterritorial reciprocity, trying to explain what happens with the ‘vacuum’ space that art leaves behind when migrating to another place. According to the norm of reciprocity 1:1, the abandoned space, formerly reserved for art but suddenly made available to other forms of endeavor (Wright, 2013, стр. 29), a resource for practicians from other domains where art has migrated, and which they now utilize for their own use.
What are those new places where contemporary art has headed to, the territories that it occupies? Today, by breaking the limits of the representative, the formal, the visual, the contemporary art enters the domain of social living, however, not symbolically like in the Modernism but actually engaging in its shaping, changing and creating.
Socially engaged art functions by attaching itself to subjects and problems that normally belong to other disciplines, moving them temporarily into a space of ambiguity. (Helguera, 2011, p. 5)
In his Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook (2011), the artist Pablo Helguera discusses that gap, that is, the thin line between the two disciplines, social work and socially engaged art, that neither fit in the traditional expectations of the artwork nor keep to the established methods of social working. The contemporary art stretches out and moves out from the closed circle art, imposing a wider, more open approach. The more ambitious art project succeeds to abandon the regular, expected frame and to directly work with people from the streets, individuals from marginalized groups in open public spaces that are untypical for creating and presenting art works. The participants in these projects are not only followers and performers of someone’s idea but also, creators and co-authors who can claim their contribution in the creation of an art project.
In the further text, I will present few socially engaged participative projects which skillfully intertwine the art space with many other domains from the social living, combining experiences and methods from other disciplines. These socially engaged projects are often differently named, but recently, the theoreticians, the critics, and the artists unite them under the term social practice. “Social practice” avoids evocations of both the modern role of the artist (as an illuminated visionary) and the postmodern version of the artist (as a self-conscious critical being). Instead, the term democratizes the construct, making the artist into an individual whose specialty includes working with society in a professional capacity.” (Helguera, 2011, p. 3)
The indicated examples note that this type of art projects can be diametrically opposed, some of them even discordant, but the main common element of all the artworks of the social practice, is the re-establishment of the relations with the collective, having the members of a specific social group as active participants and creators of the project, escaping production of a formal artwork as a main objective. Tom Finkelpearl, the American arts promoter and former museum director of the Queens Museum of Art in New York and the author of What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (2012), defines the social practice as art that’s socially engaged, where the social interaction is at some level the art.” (Miranda, 2014)