Spencer Christian ’20 Helps Curate Revolutionary Art with Women and Their Work in Austin, TX

“The politicians are the gangsters and the gangsters are the artists and the artists are the politicians, everybody switching” –EarthGang 

the art object and its revolutionary political significance

I can’t help but notice, today being the 4th of July, that national pride is not dissimilar to many religious practices; it involves rallying around a sort of origin story, embodying a shared identity, and is, of course, saturated with highly-symbolic visual imagery. The red, white, and blue worn by outgoing patriots today is a representation of their affiliation with this identity, as “citizens” of the United States. In theory, apparently, elected officials are paid by these citizens to represent public concerns and manifest their will. In practice, I see two dominant parties making claims to the same origin story, just from opposite angles. As ecological disasters, as well as masses of displaced and oppressed peoples alike present challenges all over the world, the two most powerful parties in this nation are preoccupied with semantic arguments and selling their version of the American identity to eager consumers, in order to validate the power they’ve already acquired. As the official representatives are busy calling each other “fake”, finding spaces for real dialogue about the ways in which these existential problems can be addressed is relegated to the peripheries.

Art, itself necessarily fake, offers a unique platform for people to express their ideas outside of petty dichotomies such as democratic/republican or liberal/conservative. In this sense, then, art allows for a more accurate representation of public consciousness—one that escapes the over-determined stance that comes pre-loaded with the party (and corporate) affiliations which are so common in politics today. I like to think that I have spent my summer so far working to ensure that the people don’t lose their most powerful asset—their voice—in this troubling wave of nationalism we are experiencing. As an Exhibitions and Education intern at Women and Their Work, I find myself working with curators, directors, art-installers, and artists alike, helping to install, maintain, and interpret art objects that both question the power dynamics at play and suggest new ways of being in the world. The artists we sponsor make radical arguments about power, simultaneously dealing with the world as it is and as it should be—from gender, sexuality, the environment, to the questioning borders of countries and even the boundaries of the human body itself. Ultimately, art has the capacity to represent the (ever-growing) population who is ignored and obscured by traditional political processes; and through interpretation, this revolutionary power can be realized. Whatever the issue may be, thinking about it from the ground up with creative solutions is always more helpful than authoritarian, top-down moves in order to save face for the next election, or to satisfy big-money donors.

So, while I have indeed been learning the ins and outs of managing a public art gallery, such as daily maintenance, archivization of past shows, as well as creating interpretive materials (so that visitors can walk away with added significance), I have also been working for the cultivation of a public consciousness that is not seen through our current political framework.

Experiences like Spencer’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

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