I am participating in a collective artistic praxis that re-imagines community and public art through awareness, questioning, a redistribution of power, contact and connection, engagement, efficacy, action, and production. Community is a verb, not a noun associated with land ownership. A community of being, rather than a being of community, demands insight, engagement, commitment. It suggests life and longevity.
With members of 601 Tully, I am collaboratively engaging members of the neighborhood (Boys & Girls Club, Westside Residents Coalition, Café Kubal, among others) in 6-Word-Memoirs. Youth and adults are invited to create their own brief memoirs, drawing from their own experiences and paradigms. The inclusive practice, designed by Smith Magazine, suggests an accessible form that yields rich, varied, inexhaustible artistic response. The structure of six words (no more, no less) offers a manageable space for expression, but the content—the words, the punctuation—are the writer’s. Participants make the form their own. Ultimately, the distance between artist/curator and participant collapses: judgments about expertise, worth, and validity are mostly inapplicable. A reader may be as equally moved by the memoir of an artist as she is by the words of a seven-year-old. Of course, when the memoirs are engraved into the gallery floor at 601 Tully, all memoirs will appear anonymous.
I respect Miwon Kwon’s assertion that in a collective artistic praxis, “coherent representation of [group identity] is always out of grasp,” (154). In our specific writing initiative, we “emphasize the distinctness of individual identities… over the importance of a single collective image,” (119). We strive to resist against reduction, homogenization, or an artist’s vision of unity. We initiate our project through specific inquiry:
As artists, what interpretive and interventionary services can we offer to Syracuse and 601 Tully?
a. How do we “negotiate, coordinate, compromise, research, promote, organize, interview,” (51)?
b. How do we ensure “originality, authenticity, and singularity” (52). How do we make sure the work is about our community (as defined by us)? How do we make sure the city, the block, the location, does not become a commodity?
c. If the artist is reemerging as the progenitor of meaning, even in collaborations, how can we act as authors at 601 Tully?
While I appreciate that Kwon’s model of collective artistic praxis privileges elasticity and flexibility— that it rejects hierarchy and exclusion— I believe there is incredible power in self-naming. A community that is reluctant to identify itself is unfamiliar. It is difficult to interpret, difficult to support, difficult to advocate and assert politically. At 601 Tully, we are witnessing a great deal of interest, investment, participation and excitement from locals who know that we are the new 601 Tully.
I look forward to next semester, when, I’ll continue to create and participate in a community of being with “Writing in the Community,” a course taught by poet Michael Burkard.