I had the privilege of viewing Creative Time’s Living as Form, and I must say I was really impressed with the whole show, especially the reuse art. It even takes place in the reused space of the Historic Essex Street Market! As I mentioned before, the exhibition documents over 20 years of socially engaged art. It features plenty of visual artists, as well as marketers, publishers, and activists. There is a space for skill-sharing, the option of donating volunteer time for food vouchers, and a space entitled MARKET where organizations such as ABC No Rio, Lower East Side Ecology Center, Lower East Side Girls Club, Time’s Up, and others “investigate the intersection of art, labor, economics, and the production of social experiences.” One booth I visited was full of literature about the squatting populations in European cities. I spoke with a man and we discussed the squatting scene around Europe, particularly in Berlin, where I lived for a year in college.
That’s what this exhibit is about: a conversation. It’s about traditional art, yes, but it’s also about expanding the idea of what art is. Take Surasi Kusolwong’s Golden Ghost. Made of reused threads, guests are invited to sit and explore, and to search for the golden necklaces hidden among the piece. The art is in the thread and the concept, but it is just as much about the experience. To find the necklaces, Surasi says, one should just sit and feel. Surasi warns us not to attempt to look for it. I went to the exhibit over the weekend with some friends and had a completely different experience with the piece than when I went alone the first time. I did not find the necklace either time, but the experiences, while different both times, were more valuable.
There are examples of reuse art all over the exhibit. Megawords’ Outpost uses a lot of items to generate a 1970s vibe of relaxation. With a turntable, as well as an iPod jack, visitors are encouraged, again, to relax and enjoy the surroundings and the people. The show is as much about the community as it is about the art.
That’s not to say it is all relaxation, though. What kind of social change would happen if everyone was always relaxed? Take Pedro Reyes’ Palas por Pistolas. Weapons from residents of Culiacán, a Western Mexican city known for drug trafficking and a high rate of fatal gunfire, were collected and exchanged for food vouchers. With the weapons, Reyes melted them down and reused the metal to make shovels, which were then given to public schools and arts organizations to plant trees. Living as Form had a few shovels on display, and one will be used after the show to plant a tree in a neighboring park.
Another artist in Mexico, Francis Alÿs, filmed Barrenderos, a video of street sweepers collectively cleaning and pushing garbage on the streets until it can no longer move. Alÿs turns their job into a game while exploring the idea of collective action. The workers laugh, joke, and have fun while productively clean up the streets.
Trash as art is a recurring theme, as Vik Muniz’s Pictures of Garbage exemplifies. He uses literal garbage to compose gorgeous portraits of the workers of Jardim Gramacho, the largest open-air dump in South America. Muniz, as a lot of other artists showcased in the show, takes these items that others deem worthless and creates something beautiful and meaningful. He paid the workers for their time and contributions, and later auctioned off the pieces, donating his share of the sales to the workers’ representative body. Not only did he create something with emotional value, but he created a monetary value to benefit the local people with whom he worked.
Living as Form shows what reuse art is about. These people, not all of whom consider themselves artists, take items people no longer need or want and turn them into something amazing. It’s wonderful that there are so many of these individuals that see the value in creating something out of nothing, in looking at the world a little bit differently. I encourage everyone to join the conversation, and join the community. Experience Creative Time’s latest exhibition, and experience reuse art.