Fiona Whelan & Glenn Loughran
Transaction: a communicative action or activity involving two parties1 or things that reciprocally affect or influence each other.
Taking Dublin and Chicago as two contemporary urban sites for exploration, The MA in Socially Engaged Art (Further, Adult and Community Education) at the National College of Art and Design (Dublin) have partnered with Stock- yard Institute (Chicago) to explore the physical, geographic and social fabric of the two cities.
The MA Socially Engaged Art (Further, Adult & Community Education) started up in Autumn 2013 with a group of 14 students, embarking on the first cycle of a unique Socially Engaged programme in the city. The partnership with Stockyard Institute marks our first international collaboration, bringing together the voices of students, staff, artists, activists and lecturers from its first cycle. In the following pages, this diverse range of responses sit side by side, intending to unearth the core issues that face the two cities and the practitioners working across the sectors in both locations. As a site for experimental learning and critical debate, the MA SEA(FACE) is committed to immersing itself in a trans-disciplinary enquiry. Similar to the development of durational art projects themselves, we have spent time nurturing relationships with individuals, organisations and institutions who occupy shared conceptual and geographical territories.
This ethos is reflected in the organisation of events such as the first public screening of the annual Creative Time Summit live from New York, in Dublin (2013). Appropriately the theme for this event was ‘Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City’ opening up a rich discussion about Dublin. This broad theme was used as an opportunity for the MA to build relationships with a range of partners in the city including University College Dublin (with whom NCAD are currently involved in a merger). Two years later, as the first cycle of the MA comes to a close, we return to the theme of the city to bring together a collection of artists and colleagues from NCAD, UCD and beyond. Extending this partnership, the combined collection produced in this newspaper intends to operate as a cross-sectoral curriculum to stimulate conversations between individuals and organizations, institutions and cities.
Produced in collaboration with Stockyard Institute, this first issue of TransActions #1 signals the beginning of a long term project that will extend such engagements with a range of future partners. Traversing geographical borders this project aims to give due consideration to the thought of Socially Engaged Art as well as its practices, its strengths and its weaknesses, its learning and its unlearning. In this sense the newspaper sets out to test any easy distinction between theory and practice by developing a praxis of enquiry that allows the reader to view parallel practices through the lens of ‘an other’. As can be imagined, such cross-fertilization will produce commonalities and differences, these can be seen through the various engagements with the dominant structures of neoliberal capitalism and the forms of agency which struggle to emerge within it. In this sense, the title TransActions delineates an economic context which is further disrupted by an ethical and political intervention, where the transactions which motivate global capitalism are challenged by the TransActions against it.
The following series of essays, reflections and polemics represent a broad spectrum of characters, voices, and positions within the Irish context. As will become clear, this context is defined by positions inside and outside many of the institutions which influence the cultural and pedagogical landscape of socially engaged art. This dynamic harnesses the formalism of academic analysis alongside the vital experience of the informal, and in many ways it is this dialogue which gives the paper its thrust, its complexity, its politics.
Such political complexity is reflected in the clarity of purpose and analysis developed by Professor Kathleen Lynch. Engaging with the problem of religious dogma and its lazarus-like capacity to influence many areas of Irish life after decades of public shame, Lynch emphasizes Irish society’s incapacity to get to a proper space of scientific critique, beyond the theological frame. Highlighting the problem of economic precarity in everyday life, its emergence as a sociological discourse, and the need for evidence based analysis to politicise such concepts, the sense of academic rigour is matched by the urgency of direct experience. Such polemic is backed up by significant expressions of anger and articulation in the writings of John Bissett, and Niall O’ Baoill, both of whom give form to Antonio Gramsci’s idea of the ‘organic intellectual’. Quite recently critical theorist Razmig Keucheyan has mapped out the loss of such public intellectuals, lamenting how critical thought has found a new home in the tenured halls of academia.2 However, academia is as much an in- stitutional site of contest as any within neo-liberalism and the academic texts presented here make their own way through the muddle of confused ideologies and managerial imperatives that shackle the university. In this sense, the newspaper is served well by the work of Gary Granville & Nuala Hunt, and Alan Mee. Within this context it is important to recognise the formative contributions of students. Presented as drawings, poems and critical questions these reflections grapple with the convergent traditions and contemporary challenges that define this unfolding discourse.
Such support from the academic community is further complimented by the managerial supports from those institutions which provide technical, social and discursive frameworks. These Institutions protect the visibility, autonomy and integrity of the practice from a market led ethos which is slowly encroaching upon the arts and humanities. At the centre of each of these institutions are experienced and passionate individuals who provide topologies of our histories, practices and contexts (Ailbhe Murphy, Create). From the Fire Station Artists’ Studios Liz Burns raises one of the key tensions that we all must negotiate in this work, around the relationship between action, reflection and responsibility, and from within the cities own bureaucracies Gráinne Finn articulates a necessary responsibility that the city has towards its cultural producers.
Finally, we have significant contributions from artists in the field, and the practices they have developed. Reflecting publically on practices where self/ other relationships are deeply entwined (and private) is always a difficult task, one where we are often split between the ethics of exchange and the instrumentality of representation. Each of these texts approach such tensions through different strategies, such as; direct engagement (Fiona Whelan), collective production (Owen Boss), problem posing (Louise White), political verification (Vukašin Nedeljkovic), and theoretical affirmation (Glenn Loughran). In doing so they point to the inherent difficulties and challenges faced in socially engaged art, alongside the richness of experience that such engagements can produce.
Similar to William Pinar’s disciplinary conception of curriculum, these processes form both vertical and horizontal engagements with learning and knowledge production. In Pinar’s model the vertical conception of knowledge concerns the intellectual histories and contexts of a particular enquiry. These investigations are supported by horizontal explorations informed by circumstantial and experiential learning. The dialogue between these engagements supports a cross disciplinary experience.3 Together these disciplinary intersections define a matrix of relations between Institution, Community, and Art. As such, the various contributions read in the order chosen by the reader will converse with and make demands upon each other, reciprocate and challenge each other. Such demands will ultimately find their resolve in the reader’s capacity to link, interpret and extend such dynamics.
3 Pinar, F. William. Intellectual Advancement Through Disciplinarity: Verticality and Horizontality in Curriculum Studies. Sense Publishing. 2007.