Workshop: The Art of Connecting Worlds: Cultural Technologies and Sustainability
Azra Akšamija, Artist, Architectural Historian and Assistant Professor, MIT Art, Culture and Technology Program www.azraaksamija.net
Janeil Engelstad, Artist, Curator, Educator and Founding Director, MAP – Make Art with Purposewww.makeartwithpurpose.net
Catherine D’Ignazio, Research Associate, MIT Media Lab Center for Civic Engagement
Diachisin, Museum Education Supervisor, Tsongas Industrial History Center
Maja and Reuben Fowkes, Artists, Curators and Founders, the Translocal Institute for Contemporary Art
Oto Hudec, Multimedia Artist and Associate Director, MAP – Make Art with Purpose
Katt Lissard, Artistic Director, Winter/Summer Institute (Lesotho and New York)
Matthew Mazzotta, Conceptual Artist
Caroline Jones, Art Historian, Professor and Director, MIT History, Theory, and Criticism of Art and Architecture Program
Leila Whitley Kinney, Executive Director of Arts Initiatives, MIT Office of the Provost
What follows is co-organizer Janeil Engelstad’s written summary of the workshop:
‘The Art of Connecting Worlds’ brought together a range of international cultural practitioners – artists, curators, cultural producers and arts administrators – to identify aesthetic and ethical parameters, methodologies and tools for an emerging transdisciplinary field that Akšamija and I identify as the “Art of Connecting Worlds.” Practitioners working in this field produce new forms and methods for contemporary art and cultural institutions in order to foster mutual understanding between cultures, empower local communities and cultivate coexistence on a global scale. They critically engage with the discourse of contemporary art, creating new opportunities for learning and knowledge-sharing and embracing interdisciplinary engagement by utilizing design and technology. Local and global concerns are addressed through critical responses and creative solutions. Our aim was to investigate how these practices hybridize art and design with science and technology to produce an impact both within and beyond the world of art.
Embracing the mode of "connecting worlds" denotes the invention of new models for creating that include collaborating across disciplines and cultures, involving communities in the production of the work, using social media and other technologies as a means for communication and production and relying upon funders with various agendas and motivations. We asked the workshop participants to position their work within the context of the “Art of Connecting Worlds” by discussing their experiences and addressing one or more of the following questions:
1. What is the agency of aesthetics in work that is often produced to advance social good?
2. Should a code of ethics be developed to address concerns of sustainability in community-engaged projects (i.e., what happens to community members when a project is completed)?
3. In what ways can a syncretic connection between the arts, culture and cutting-edge technology lay the foundations for this emerging field?
4. What is the role of institutions, such as museums and universities, in this work?
5. Is it ethical to accept funding from an entity whose actions cause social harm in another part of the world?
The workshop began with a catered lunch where the organizers, presenters and participants shared food and conversation. This was a generative start to the workshop as people got to know each other and developed an initial relationship that supported sharing and conversation later in the afternoon.
After lunch Akšamija and I introduced the workshop and laid the groundwork for the presentations. Each presenter gave a 7-to-10-minute presentation using one of more of the five key questions as a point of departure. Midway through the presentations we paused for critical reflection from Caroline Jones and Leila Wheatley Kinney. These reflections rooted the presented works/projects in a larger art historical context and also brought forth concerns connected to the mission of ‘The Art of Connecting Worlds.’ They encouraged, for example, a deeper examination of the role and ethics of an artist that works with community members and addresses social concerns in a country or place where he is not native, or with which he has little-to-no previous relationship.
The presentations were followed by robust conversations through which we landed on two primary concerns:
1. Addressing sustainability/climate change in all aspects of cultural production. This includes everything from artists and curators using resources and contributing to global warming by traveling the globe by airplane to participate in conferences, exhibitions and residencies; to creating work out of sustainable or recycled/repurposed materials; to producing projects that address climate change, environmental policy and related topics.
2. A call for a project or program that offers a deeper investigation of ethics that could evolve into a manifesto, virtual resource and/or publication that would be a resource and guide for artists and others that engage the arts and design as a tool to address environmental and social concerns.
‘The Art of Connecting Worlds’ set out to reconfigure art’s autonomy, purposefully connecting art with science, design and other specialized areas of knowledge in order to construct a creative nexus that offers a proactive space for production, engagement and critique. This workshop was a successful venture in that direction.
Presenter Matthew Mazzotta shared two of his short films, which connected with the themes of the workshop.
Open House by Matthew Mazzotta – www.matthewmazzotta.com