by Temisan Okpaku
Inspiration can be the matrix from which art is born, as well as the generative component for art to yield emotion, action, reaction, or the fertilization of imaginations. During a recent lecture at Miami’s Locust Projects, the president and artistic director of non-profit body Creative Time, Anne Pasternak, exemplified all of these facets of inspiration. Locust Projects was an ideal site for her lecture, as both organizations seek to provide artists the freedom to explore challenging ideas without the constraints of commodification that appear to define large sectors of the contemporary art world.
Speaking to a group of students, artist, collectors, art administrators, and local art supporters, Pasternak spoke passionately about the history, guiding principles, and projects Creative Time supports. She also spoke about her own political awakening; triggered by a Creative Time- supported AIDS awareness campaign by Gran Fury (on the sides of New York City buses) as the epidemic ravaged the city. Subverting traditional advertising strategies with posters of mixed race and same sex couples kissing beneath the words “KISSING DOESN’T KILL; GREED AND INDIFFERENCE DO," the collective thrust the growing epidemic into the light of day. This work gains its potency by confronting the public rather than, perhaps, preaching to the choir in a gallery or museum setting. Its impact does not even require it to be seen as “art”.
From projects addressing domestic abuse on milk containers (The Domestic Violence Milk Project, Peggy Diggs, 1992) to a Water Boarding Thrill Ride (Steve Power, 2008) at Coney Island, to a multi-dimensional drawing of cloud (Clouds, Vik Muniz 2001) in the skies above New York, Creative Time provides a counterbalance to prevailing trends in an art world where price and value are often seen as synonymous.
Regarding the encroachment of private/commercial interests in the public environment, Pasternak suggested a model in which artists can be “of service” and “produce change by commenting on the times in which we live through bold experiments that activate public spaces.” Pasternak and Creative Time aren’t interested in “heroes on horseback” public art. It became clear that the most successful projects are those where both artist and public are transformed by the collaboration. When discussing one of the most challenging projects she has worked on, Tribute in Light (2002) at the World Financial Center honoring the victims of 9/11, Pasternak mentioned a singularly powerful response to the project. Upon seeing the seemingly endless twin columns of lights shooting into the darkened sky, a relative of a victim responded, “It is the most painful thing I have ever seen, and I am so glad it exists.”
The art world needs more organizations willing to support challenging works of art that risk failure and, at times, offense. Perhaps critics tend to lift their noses to political or socially relevant art as it references subject matter outside their cabal, thus threatening their hegemony. But in a world where boundaries between public and private blur and our increasingly networked society ironically reinforces solipsism, the urgency for shared experience is vital in support of free and creative thinking, if not sanity.
Temisan Okpaku is a nomadic artist and writer. After undergraduate study in philosophy at Georgetown University, Harvard University, and the University of Sydney, he continued his interdisciplinary graduate studies at the New School for Social Research, in New York; the University of Southern California; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the San Francisco Art Institute.
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