Open Field offers us an unusual opportunity?—?to throw light on, and perhaps even to resolve for a time?—?the contentious and vexing relationship between what we think of as “art” and what we call “craft,” “social practice,” “maker culture” and yes, “political activity.”
As civic actors, artists have been notoriously unsuccessful at causing social change on a macro level. While we’ve collectively helped to construct one of the most culturally exciting periods in recent history, we’ve had no success halting militarism, reversing accelerating economic inequalities, or grafting our values and ideas onto a working political framework. I believe we’ve experienced these chronic failures traumatically, and we’ve adapted by reconfiguring our senses of ourselves and our work to focus on smaller, more autonomous, and more achievable outcomes.
On a micro level, we’ve been much more successful, and our victories come in many flavors. We’ve taken performance into public spaces, invented new objects, planted vegetables, floated conceptual projects, sketched out utopias, and called attention to conditions that must change. This and more constitute the labor of twenty-first-century artists. We work, however, in a staccato manner: we conceive projects, we fund (or don’t fund) them, perform them, evaluate them, possibly hand them over to the community, and then?—?we move on. Admittedly, there are exceptions, but most often we behave like serial monogamists, living as fully as we can within a moment until the next moment arrives. Our social practice is almost always short-term. We don’t run community organizations; we don’t build permanent workshops for makers; we do propose concepts, but we generally aren’t bound by the consequences of our propositions. None of this is necessarily bad; in fact, it’s quite traditional. While we work in constantly changing environments and newly emerging media forms, our social function remains much the same. And as long as these conditions prevail, Open Field will be a playground, a temporary (and not terribly autonomous) zone, incubating crops that die in the autumn and sprout again in spring.