ARTISTS MAKE SPACE
Tavares Strachan, 2020 international artist in residence at the Getty, spoke recently with Getty Research Institute Deputy Director Andrew Perchuk about his approach to art making and the role of the artist in contemporary society. Strachan stated, “artists make space.” It is no wonder that Strachan’s neon text-based sculptures, which read “I Belong Here,” “You Belong Here,” and “We Belong Here,” conjure up an abstract notion of place. When asked about this open-ended language repeated time and again in a multitude of contexts, Strachan explained that these space-claiming affirmations would not resonate if one didn’t have a charged or precarious relationship to recognition and inclusion. The work thus speaks to identity and its contexts, and expands to ecology, too. It asks, “what do we do when we no longer can take care of the planet that we inhabit?” Artists interested in conditional objects typically are preoccupied with conditions of the viewer, of locality, of context. In Strachan’s mode of thinking, querying contexts and the positions they impose transcends mere issues of site; it is a reckoning with the potentials that exist beyond familiar places, themselves inevitably and inescapably steeped in uncertainty and abstraction.
In Strachan’s world, making space can be discursive, material, and galactic, even infinite. His practice addresses gaps in history, urgencies of the present, and problems of our future, from democracy to ecology. He starts from the premise of, “how can artists engage with the world on a seismic level?” Such a belief in creative agency has never been more vital in this moment of global entropy and radical revolution.
IT'S BETTER IN THE BAHAMAS
Strachan paints a picture of his own personal narrative and perspective as a young child from Nassau, Bahamas, living on an island with a profound understanding of power, recalling looking up at a marble statue of Queen Victoria in his local town square. This monument, so far removed from reflecting his local community and reality, served as one critical, influential example of the aesthetics and power, of inequality in the realm of representation, and it catalyzed and informed his larger practice.
An awareness of exclusion and invisibility shapes the artist’s approach and language. He is interested in rewriting the history of cultural production to be more polyphonic, as he understands in no uncertain terms that “education is not innocent.” He is concerned about the experience and after-effects of looking for something that isn’t there, particularly through the lens of children and pedagogy. This has informed his ongoing Encyclopedia of Invisibility project, which has now extended into new territory—a new sculptural endeavor. This project will radically engage with the history of sculpture. It deconstructs the monument by deconstructing its fixity. The sculpture’s imagery is not static, but dynamically transforming and morphing. Perfectly post-colonial, these figures and their reshaping will debunk binaries and hierarchies of iconography embedded in our cultural imaginary.
WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER
“We Are In This Together” is a forthcoming public art work that serves as a catalyst for community, unity, and change. It arose from long-term research, travel, and dialogue with the community of Telluride, Colorado, and is a powerful sign of our times. The work was conceived five years prior to the pandemic and its impact swelled to catastrophically enormous proportions. Soon after, the discussion surrounding “Together” pivoted as the President and every company, organization, and individual turned to and bandied this word as a rhetorical banner for this particular cultural moment.
The Together Project is a platform for on-the-ground philanthropic activity in the community. Together intends to serve as a point of departure for local programming, to inform school curriculum, to inspire collaborations in the realms of poetry and performance, to generate dialogue in the form of a podcast, and to incite action and charitable giving in the realms of food, housing, immigration and education. This prophetic public sculpture is more than a work of art. It will serve as a historical marker, a temporary monument and sign of ongoing community work to mobilize and effect change in the way only art can.
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