The I Will Always Love You Project


The I WIll Always Love You Project

2011

UPDATE:
After significant reflection, I have decided that this project was a failure.

I believe this project exemplifies the type of “social practice” public art I have grown to detest.

With this work, my hope was to go beyond raising awareness of domestic violence and instead actually produce something that would inject some sort of change or positive contribution to bettering the current situation.

The previous call for this work was as follows:

“Pick up your phone right now and call (530) 564-0099.

Or you can use Google Voice or Skype to make a free phone call from your computer.

When prompted, please sing the song I Will Always Love You after the beep.

You can sing any version of the song you like.

If you mess up you can always call back and re-record.

You can call back and sing the song as many times as you wish.

If you want to be credited for your contribution please spell your name either before or after your recording, or you can remain anonymous.

The recordings from this project will be compiled, re-mastered, and released online and as a limited edition CD. All proceeds from the sale of this CD will go to providing free women’s self-defense classes.”

I just can’t bring myself to complete this project, not because I financially or physically can’t, but because I believe this entire project to be a politically and morally bankrupt endeavor.

I realize that all this work did was aestheticize a real problem, taking away from the issue at hand and allowing a kind of catharsis for anyone who called in. In this sad situation, i fear participants were able to call in, sing, and absolve themselves from having to do anything to either change issues and realities pertaining to domestic violence or recognize their complicity in the problem.

This work is far too similar to other works by artists who have made their internationally famous (and lucrative) careers out of aestheticizing suffering and inequality. These artists (whose team I do not want to play for), create elaborate and expensive staged public events or “collaborative artworks”, often funded by already scarce public and private grants, that do things like make conflicting and economically and/or socially unequal “communities” done color-coded uniforms to perform activities designed to produce little more than “dialog.” Some artists will outsource artistic production to economically disenfranchised communities, having them do things like make drawings of political protests, or sew a dress. These artists aesthetically package politically-difficult and real problems, from food to housing to safety, as “artworks,” to an elite and ravenously capitalist selection of institutions, funders, politicians, publications, collectors, and likeminded artists. They parachute in, make art from suffering, and evacuate out, taking them wherever their next grant leads.

I want to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with seeking public and private funding to complete a work of art. I believe the lack of public funding, the gutting of the NEA and the shrinking of sustained, institutional support for the arts, in the USA is a global embarrassment. A government and its people have an obligation to fund cultural production. But, I have a problem with artists who choose to exploit public funding by exploiting the formal accoutrements of suffering in order to make art, creating situations where inequality “looks good,” for a consuming audience and funder pool, instead of politicizing the unseen, overlooked, and politically nefarious aesthetics that make these inequalities possible.

My “I will always love you” project violates a core principle I strive to uphold in my work, a principle summarized by the sentiments of Walter Benjamin, who, writing at the ascendence of the Nazi party, observed that Fascism seeks to aestheticize politics as a way of making invisible, or consumable, ideologies of supremacy. Benjamin concludes that those in opposition to this Fascist regime, respond by politicizing aesthetics. My work aestheticized the violence that a patriarchal, homophobic, and misogynist society perpetrates against women and the “feminine.” Because of this I admit this work as a failure and see it as part of the larger problem of ill-conceived “Social Practice” artworks. “Social Practice” art has generated an entire field of institutions, patrons, monied interests, corporate sponsorship, and funding networks. These works, and the artists who create them, consistently perpetrate the problem Benjamin proposes, making hunger, elderly abuse, police brutality, economic inequality, segregation, homophobia, and any other problem into an aestheticized “project.” For example, a garden-as-art-project that pays the “artist” money to act as a collaboration manager may produce something useable and beautiful, but the resulting “artwork” cannot help but be complicit in the lack of public funding for food assistance programs. That money could have traveled through more direct channels to reach the people who need it most. The work does nothing to make visible what was previously hidden, does nothing to call out and implicate the people and institutions who profit from hunger. In the end, works like these perform as a bandage for a problem and allow public officials and their corporate funders to pat themselves on the back for “community outreach.”

I did receive $500 from North Tahoe Arts to execute this project, and all funds went to executing the work (I took no “artist fee”), and I took money from my own pocket to realize the work’s many features. My hope was to turn that $500 into more money in the future and use the surplus to create a women’s self-defense class. However, I realize I was creating a project that was destined to fail, either economically, politically, or most likely both. I am haunted by the fact that I could have just donated that $500 to a women’s self-defense class.

For this I make a public apology and acknowledge the failure of this work. I have taken down the project’s website and phone number. The money sustaining these services could go directly to an organization actually working to fight domestic violence (they were never going to remain permanent anyway). I will leave the documentation of this work up on my site as a reminder of my conclusions, in the hopes that its presence will encourage me to not repeat past mistakes, and as a call for other artists to stop making work like this.

I have decided in order to complete this project in a way that does not further perpetuate the problems I have outlined, I will donate $50 in twelve $50 increments over the course of this year to Tahoe Safe Alliance (tahoesafealliance.org). This payment is all I can afford at this time. I plan to continue supporting this organization after my initial $600 payment. I do not claim my payment to Tahoe Safe Alliance as an artwork. This artwork ended when I took down the website, phone number, and posted this text to my website.

The I Will Always Love You Project

The I Will Always Love You Project

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