Art and Social Change: The BOOK
March 27, 2009
I chanced upon a strange booth at the book fair at the College Art Association Meetings a few weeks ago in LA. Two youngish art-boy-hipsters manned the few, eclectic books on their table. But they were engaged in a lively conversation, and couldn’t be bothered by middle-aged me. I picked up your book, Art and Social Change: A Critical Reader. What a delight! I asked to buy a copy, but this one was not for sale. Hmm. The following week I ordered it on-line, from London, paying I don’t know, maybe $65 USD, and it arrived in the mail fresh from the Tate’s bookstore a few days ago.
This letter marks my attempt to communicate several things: my hearty thanks for your collection; my interest in conecting it and you to my significantly related project Media Praxis: A Radical Website Integrating Theory, Practice, and Politics; and my hopes to raise some questions with you about books, and radical social practice.
So, your book is a huge and heavy, a weighty proof and compelling compendium of “an international selection of artists’ proposals, manifestoes, theoretical texts and public declarations” that draw out the “relationship between art, politics, and activism” across four “sections, which are centered around particular moments of conflict or upheaval: 1971, the year of the Paris Commune; 1917, the year of the Russian revolutions; 1968, a year of political turbulence on several continents; and 1989, the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire.”
My “Media Praxis” began as just such a book: a collection of writings (about revolutionary media) organized around 10 periods where a theorized practice of mediamaking was linked to a project of world changing. But, mine never became a book. It sat at two lofty American academic presses for many, many years. Both were interested enough to keep me waiting, and both eventually decided it was at once too expensive (to get the re-print rights) and too narrow in its goals to justify such costs.
Which raises my first question: about institutions for radical publishing. Where this once, not so long ago, was the University Press, we all understand that they are not currently able to take such (economic) risks. Your big book came out from Tate Publishing, as part of an art exhibit held in Holland. How do you understand the role of art institutions in our world of increasingly decreasing radical public spheres?
With no publisher to be found, I was forced to re-think my book as a digital “publication,” easy enough, given that I’m a Full Professor and have little to gain from anyone’s stamp of approval. My first thought (digital novice), was just to plant the words up there: text for free on the internet. As you can see, after consideration and conversation with others more versed in web-publishing, the project grew into media praxis itself: activist media invested in interactive engagements in history making, media theorizing, and media making in the name of change.
So, back to your BOOK. Our goals are similar: introducing committed artists and intellectuals to an archive of inspiring historical documents. But yours is expensive. and hard to get. It is linked to something that was in a room, but no longer available. Mine, meanwhile, sits on the internet, used and seen primarily by my under-graduate students. What thoughts does this raise for you about radical social/art practices? Given that I will be continuing to grown the “publishing” of my current writings about YouTube on-line this summer, I am particularly interested to think about questions of access, use, method, interactivity, and ephemerality in relation to radical culture (on and off line).
I look forward to your response!