Art critic Darren Jones on the ways artists lead the way in matters of social progress in Southwest Contemporary‘s Collectivity + Collaboration themed issue.
To collaborate is to find like minds with whom one can work toward a shared—and typically constructive—vision. In fact, “collaborate” can be anagrammatized to say “locate labor.” Conversely, collaboration can also mean to work against something—to conspire with an enemy, for example, or against public interests. Again, we can reveal hidden confirmation of a word’s meaning when we rearrange “conspirator” into “i spot rancor.”
Exhibition press releases often lazily employ moot phrases such as “in this time of great change” or “during the current political uncertainty” in attempts to connect artwork to societal issues. They are redundant terms because they refer to global constants—we are never not undergoing great change, nor do we ever live without political uncertainty. But there are exceptions to this literary misstep, and we are experiencing one now.
A set of circumstances has coalesced—some cataclysmic, others long- hoped for—to produce an unprecedented moment. The increasing effects of climate change, our continued destruction of the environment, and a pandemic have coincided with the dismantling of the white patriarchal superstructure, and political attacks on democracy fueled by depraved politicians, that have shocked the world.
We never weren’t this divided, but there is no longer any pretense to the contrary.
Today’s creative collaborators haven’t been at such visible odds with their ideological foes before, and they have seldom had as much to do to defend and expand cultural equity. Helpful tectonic movements are under-way, but from the integrity of our elections, systemic corruption, and a dangerously unbalanced Supreme Court, to gender equality, racial justice, LGBTQI+ rights, human sustainability, and the planet’s wellbeing, artists, as ever, must be in the vanguard.
By various methods, these twelve selected individuals and collectives have lifted their heads to the oncoming winds, found colleagues to share in their endeavors, and connected disparate constituencies, showing us that artists must not only meet the storm, but act as a barometer before it arrives. Their engagement with such pressing concerns is both an affirmation and a warning that art workers have a responsibility not to follow a society so often unseeing of its missteps, but to lead it.