Thursday, October 9, 2008


Artist Sarah Pierce and curator Annie Fletcher hosted a paraeducation workshop at the National Sculpture Factory, Cork on June 21st this year. A disparate group assembled to talk, to share, to provoke and to stimulate debate.

This is an extract from Organising and Art Practice, which outlines what motivated Pierce & Fletcher.

'When artists strategically apply modes of practice or methodologies used by other fields such as social work, education, community organizing, etc. to their own work it is often to build certain relationships (social, economic, political) and/or to subvert others through what might be termed 'socially engaged' practice. In many ways, this transfer of technique is an unambiguous response to trends that emerge through the institutionalization of art and its marketability, as well as to established patterns of trade regarding the instrumentalization of artists under the welfare state and their subsequent disenfranchisement under neo-liberalism. The artist does not function outside of society, but under what terms the artist will/can/should function under is open to debate. What we do know is that artists often use modes of practice relevant to, or originating through other fields in their own work. At times this process might lead to misinterpretations or distortions. At others, it can lead to understanding and respect. Here, practice is an ongoing channel, a way to learn from and relate apparently disparate pursuits (art-work and social-work) in order to impart common concerns.

An important step in this process requires pausing and asking: What is the role of the artist? How can the artist act in a given situation? What is the artist's purpose? Much of the criticism surrounding art-work that models the types of interactions rooted in social-work (or community-work, or education) either faults a generic instrumentalizing of art, (which is sometimes but not always the case, especially in artist-led projects) or faults the artist through an assessment of their effect. Analysis of 'positive' effect habitually alleges that the artist is filling-in where social service providers, and thereby the state, have failed; and analysis of 'negative' effect usually lapses into a plea for artists to leave social-work 'to the professionals'. In each instance it is important to ascertain whether a particular discursive moment is looking closely at the project at hand or is speaking generally, and more importantly, whether it functions to further a dialogue between different models of social interaction or end one'.

"Organizing and Art Practice", The Paraeducation Department, eds. Sarah Pierce and Annie Fletcher, Interface:Belfast 2006. Also published in Tracer 2, Wittte de With/TENT:Rotterdam 2005.

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