Space-Made is offering artists a $250 grant to respond to our partner’s, Design Studio For Social Intervention, call for work. Read guidelines below and send proposals to HELLO@SPACE-MADE.COM with the subject like “Ferguson Grant” by Sept. 30, 2014. Emails should include a clear project description (less than 250 words), timeline, and images and/or links to at least 3 samples of your work.
Whose problem is this?
An emergency pedagogical intervention into social distance and race
As we watch the public responses to deadly police attacks in Ferguson, New York City and too many other places, we see almost no leadership coming from the white community or other communities of color. This despite the fact that time and again, the state-sponsored killers are white. We recently spoke with some white undergrads to see what they thought about the attacks. Many of the students were deeply concerned, but did not see a role for themselves in challenging the situation. They did not see it as their struggle, in part because it doesn’t happen to them, but largely because it has been framed as a “black issue”. They also stated their desire to defer to black leadership for this same reason.
While their heart and politics were in the “right place” (or close), their way of thinking about the problem is a problem. We have much more than a “black problem”. We have a government that sponsors institutions to practice violence against black and brown communities, systematically, with our tax dollars. We have leading media outlets and politicians justifying these tactics through blame journalism—finding ways to blame the unarmed victims rather than the killers or the larger systems at work. And fundamentally, we have a serious social problem that is erroneously entering our collective political consciousness as a “black problem”. “Whose problem is this?” intends to question the thinking that allows us all to think of this wave of sanctioned brutality against black bodies as a black problem.
We seek to create temporary spaces / social interventions that provide conceptual conditions for people whose thinking is keeping them from action and distorting their sentiments. This intervention can’t think “at” its publics. It has to make it possible for conceptual movement and new kinds of thinking, new gestures, new proximities, new frames, etc. It should do this without leaving those who encounter it feeling shame for ways of conceiving this situation they’ve simply inherited.
Our hunch is that we need architectural structures with diagrams, spatial arrangements and interactive elements. We are asking for artists, commissioners and art organizers to either put a call out or to make social interventions happen directly. We want to inspire and compel other socially engaged artists to do the same.
As people encounter your pedagogical object / intervention, it should draw connections that aren’t obvious under the kinds of thinking and feeling which make this situation a “black problem”. It should not interrogate the situation in Ferguson but have ways for people who encounter it while making links to other episodes of violence, other violent systems, other victims of violence, other relationships to violence, etc. It could, however, interrogate the related systems impacting the lives of black youth and communities, like the school-to-prison pipeline, and media / discursive representations of the problems. For example, it could ask us “Whose problem is it that the New York Times colluded with portraying Michael Brown as a thief?” And it could ask us “whose problem is it that the man who killed Michael Brown is not in the frame of the problem?” It should make that regularity of this pattern of relations and choreographies a problem. It should also ask us, “whose problem is it that large parts of our population don’t see this as their problem?” And it should do this kind of work without words or language.
Our hunch is that the content should include images and diagrams. It should have very little to any text outside of the question, “Whose problem is this?” And last it would be a tremendous benefit if the object could reflect back the kinds of social distancing, community and place-breaking that these incidents are creating between communities in our everyday lives. It should, if possible, “make public” what’s happening between publics as we distance from, draw closer to, or depart from the situation and the meta-situation.
Interventions should be flexible enough to install, breakdown and reinstall in other locations. They should be somewhat easy for other interventionists to riff off of or duplicate, as part of our intention is for this pedagogical scaffolding to have its own legs.
The design elements we’d like to see stay constant in the interventions are: