Academic journal article Humanities Research

The Challenge of Uninvited Guests: Social Art at the Blue House

Academic journal article Humanities Research

The Challenge of Uninvited Guests: Social Art at the Blue House

Article excerpt

The Blue House was an ambitious and multifaceted social art project conceived and conducted by Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk from mid- 2005.1 The project involved artists and others undertaking social art research practices to investigate the then newly established, highly planned neighbourhood of IJburg in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. In this paper I examine how The Blue House illustrates the potential of sociality in art by encouraging engagement with others, and thereby ultimately fostering world-making relations through diverse intersections of art and daily life. I will argue that as art, The Blue House makes evident the relational nature of the world that scholar Sen-Ami Scharpstein locates both within the individual and across the globe at large.2 In this sense, I examine how The Blue House encouraged individual capacity for agency or making worlds in the relations and creative projects established between individuals, but also how, beyond the local, members of The Blue House also engaged social issues of global significance, such as the effects of global capitalism and significance of notions of citizenship and personal sovereignty in a progressively interconnected world. In generating temporary interventions into everyday life, I highlight how The Blue House evidences artists exploring their personal capacity for world-making, and social art practice 'becoming art of the world'; following art historian Terry Smith's definition of contemporary art.3 In becoming art of the world, I also show how the resident artists were unintentionally implicated in areas of state social policy, and creative industry imperatives. As such, this essay provides a rare opportunity to observe the local and global intersections between art, state and industry through a social art lens that is The Blue House.

Social Art

Nicholas Bourriaud's proposition of relational aesthetics in his book Esthétique relationnelle was a catalyst for renewed interest in the theory and practice of social art at the turn of the twenty-first century.4 Bourriaud located art taking the form of social relations as both the means and ends of art. He contended the sociality of audiences, interacting to form micro-communities, offered an alternative political model for the hyper-connected globalised world where economic and legal systems and the mass media have primacy over social and civic connections. Bourriaud's ideas contributed to new developments in art theory, particularly the development of critical aesthetics that analyses audience involvement in `social art' in terms of models of communality or avant-garde tactics.

`Relational art', and similar forms of `participatory art' and `social art', have become prominent in art since the 1990s. Social art appears in gallery and public spaces, and is often commissioned within larger art events. Definitions of various sub-forms of social art have arisen in response to Bourriaud's relational aesthetics. In this essay I identify the key developments in social art that provide a framework for understanding The Blue House.

In the United States, from the late 1980s, artist Suzanne Lacy's `new genre public art' explored social issues of marginalisation and discrimination in local communities. Lacy associated her practice with the performative art of her mentor Allan Kaprow, and also with the new forms of public/site specific art curated by Mary Jane Jacob.5 In contrast to the amelioration of social issues in art, in Europe the emphasis on the politics of participation has been identified in the curation of the exhibition Kontextkunst, Kunst der 9Oer Jahre by Peter Weibel.6 The burgeoning practices of social art continue to stimulate critical responses from art historians and theorists, in which the key figures, predominantly Claire Bishop, Grant Kester and Claire Doherty, have interpreted social art through theories of alternative politics and personal ethics.7

The political context of The Blue House project as social art originates with Jeanne van Heeswijk's twenty year involvement with social art in urban communities. …

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