In asserting the notion of art as able to have a use, Tania Brughera is attempting to reverse the reductive notion of art as something without purpose or utility, as merely object or material and ascribed a value merely on the skill or imaginative prowess required to manipulate them. Her work is often rooted in an attempt to transform social realities in some direct, measurable way. I’ve always loved the simple effectiveness of her “Tatlin’s Whisper #5.” Presented as part of “Living Currency” at the museum, a man in a police uniform astride a horse at the Tate Modern employed crowd-control maneuvers on attendees of the exhibition. No doubt, the feeling of an immediate, physical-world effect taking place occurs when facing down the prospect of a full-grown horse about to shove you out of the way. You may also, then, openly wonder at the use of such force by police.
Daughter of a Cuban diplomat and scion of historical participatory art movements, Brughera casts her work in distinction to performance art by describing it as a kind of “behavior” (conducta). Brughera’s intentionally non-Western notions of art’s usefulness are at the heart of her decades-long study of Arte Útil, which helped form an online archive of the same name. It’s a project that shares much in common with earlier online group collaborations such as Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher’s assignment-based “Learning to Love You More,” for example. Arte Útil takes a distinctly more political approach, as does most all of Brughera’s body of work.
Continuously open to artistic collaborators, association-based, partner projects include Ahmet Öğüt’s “Day After Debt,” a project addressing the student loan crisis by utilizing artworks as “collection points for public contribution to The Debt Collective,” funds from which are then used for loan buybacks. Among the hundreds of similarly minded other-partner projects included in the archive, for local scope of reference, are initiatives such as Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Project, and Dan Peterman and Connie Spreen’s Experimental Station. Each of these, and the vast collection of other projects apply aesthetic solutions to community and social needs, ills, and so on, in their own ways, and address Arte Útil’s distinct criteria for inclusion. At the time of this writing, questions as to what the group will present as part of the Biennial had gone unanswered despite repeated requests. Whatever’s in the offing, the project provides access to a strain of socially engaged art worth knowing about.
Michael Workman is an artist, writer, dance, performance art and sociocultural critic, theorist, dramaturge, choreographer, reporter, poet, novelist, curator, manager and promoter of numerous art, literary and theatrical productions. In addition to his work at The Guardian and Newcity, Workman has also served as a reporter for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, and as Chicago correspondent for Italian art magazine Flash Art. He is currently producing exhibitions, films and recordings, dance and performance art events under his curatorial umbrella, Antidote Projects. Michael has lectured widely at universities including Northwestern University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Illinois at Chicago, and served as advisor to curators of the Whitney Biennial. His reporting, criticism and other writing has appeared in New Art Examiner, the Chicago Reader, zingmagazine, and Contemporary magazine, among others, and his projects have been written about in Artforum, The New York Times, Artnet, The Financial Times, The Huffington Post, The Times of London, The Art Newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Art In America, Time Out NY, Chicago and London, The Gawker, ARTINFO, Flavorpill, The Chicago Tribune, NYFA Current, The Frankfurter Algemeine, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Village Voice, Monopol, and numerous other news media, art publications and countless blog, podcast and small press publishing outlets throughout the years.