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Symposium on Social Practice in the Domestic Sphere
A proposal by Megan Holly Witko
Throughout the past few decades, artistic practice has grown increasingly influenced by the political sphere and embraced elements of social change and protest. An ongoing engagement with political and social concerns, which has its roots in the 60’s and 70’s, has resulted in a diverse body of work that utilizes the means of artistic production to enact social change and foregrounds audience participation. From the revitalization of urban row houses in Houston, to the creation of community centers in Queens, this development within artistic practice has served to both reinvigorate and readdress the role of artists within contemporary society.
Aside from these large-scale projects and away from the focus on engaging as large an audience as possible, is an alternative approach that merits further consideration. A select group of artists are working in ways that align with social and political concerns, but shifting their focus from the public to the domestic sphere. Far from being a depoliticized space, the domestic sphere is oftentimes the site of profound political upheaval within the lives of individuals and families. The proposed symposium aims to examine the possibilities of enacting global changes by beginning at the most local level and to bring about social justice on a more intimate scale – house-by-house and person-by-person.
In the case of Pepón Osorio, who began his career as a social worker, the domestic space remains a touchstone for his work and practice. At times he has investigated the domestic as a place of violence and disruption, while other times he has upended traditional display expectations by bringing artwork into local communities. Osorio‘s project, Tina’s House, was first created in collaboration with a family in Philadelphia who had lost their home in a devastating fire. Following the completion, Osorio began bringing this artwork to homes initially within Philadelphia and eventually throughout the United States. Through his Home Visits, Osorio allows different people and communities the opportunity to live with an artwork for a week at a time. He thus interrogates the role of artwork in the domestic sphere and the ways it can serve to bring communities together.
A Painting for a Family Dinner, by Alina and Jeff Bliumis, exemplifies an aim similar to Osorio’s work in attempting to reconcile art with the domestic experience of people worldwide. Previously presented in Israel, Italy, the United States and China, A Painting for a Family Dinner brings the artists into homes of families from local communities through an ad placed in a newspaper, also shared via social media and word of mouth. As stated, the artists provide a painting in exchange for the invitation to dinner in each family’s home. A Painting for a Family Dinner utilizes the figure of the artist as a force for creating dialogue within the domestic sphere. There is also a focus on reciprocity that is foregrounded in the simple exchange of the title – A Painting for a Family Dinner. Repeating this intimate exchange in varied locations, Alina and Jeff Bliumis implicate varied communities in the production and mediation of their artwork.
Following the birth of her first child, Mierle Laderman Ukeles focused on the idea of maintenance and care as repeated tasks necessary for everyday life. She became fed up with the way these tasks were excluded from what constitutes art practice and developed a proposal to continue the maintenance activities of her daily life – washing, cleaning, cooking – and instead of excluding them from her artistic practice, she will do these tasks as art. In 1973, in conjunction with Lucy Lippard’s exhibition of female conceptual artists, c. 7,500, Ukeles performed four such actions at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford, Connecticut - most famously, washing the stairs to main entrance of the museum.
1. Alina and Jeff Bliumis, A Painting For A Family Dinner / Bronx, NY, 2012
Photo by Anton Trofymov, Courtesy of the artists
2. Alina and Jeff Bliumis, A Painting For A Family Dinner / Lecce, Italy, 2013
Photo by Alessia Rollo, Courtesy of the artists
3. Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Hartford Wash: Washing, Tracks, Maintenance (Outside), 1973
Part of Maintenance Art performance series, 1973-1974
Performance at Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT
Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
4. Pepón Osorio, Home Visits (side view), 2000
Traveling installation of wood, photos, resin, foam, lights, paint, figurines, miniature furniture and objects, artificial miniature trees, plastic, acetate, electrical cord
Collection of Esther Weissman
Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York
About the Curator
Megan Holly Witko is the manager of exhibitions at Dia Art Foundation. She recently organized presentations of works by Marian Zazeela at Dia:Beacon, as well as Keith Sonnier and Jacqueline Humphries at the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, NY. She was assistant curator of François Morellet at Dia:Chelsea in New York (2017–18), as well as Robert Ryman (2015-16), and La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela and Jung Hee Choi’s Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House (2015). She joined Dia Art Foundation in 2012.