Three projects by members of the first graduating class evince new strategies for public art.


Graduate Public Practice

Portable City:
Ending the Silence Between Us

New Strategies for Public Art
The program, under the leadership of Suzanne Lacy, the renowned artist, educator, and author of the influential Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, enriches Los Angeles’ remarkable mix of art schools and distinguished history of artistic innovation.
This past year, students developed a project in California’s San Joaquin Valley, in the small farming town of Laton. With a planning grant from the Ford Foundation, the project focused on an environment informed by ecological problems, poverty, economics of food production, school dropout rates, and the loss of farmland. In spite of this regional picture, Laton offered an opportunity for students to engage with the benefits of a small town culture—rich with mutual support, strong families, and a sense of civic responsibility. In the Public Practice Program, graduate students explore new artistic strategies based on observation, research, social commentary and activism. Students work in individual studios on a single significant project in collaboration with each other, community members, interdisciplinary scholars, and an internationally known faculty. Graduating students present a variety of visual and performance arts productions in the public realm at the end of their tenure at Otis. The program is housed at the 18th Street Art Center in Santa Monica, a nonprofit residential arts institution for artists and organizations dedicated to issues of community and diversity in contemporary society. The College offers outstanding facilities in sculpture, painting, graphic arts, illustration, video, photography, computer-generated model-making and digital technology where students can explore skills specific to their project needs. An intimate class size supports mentorship, case-study learning, and production skills in installation, performance, process art, guerilla art and interdisciplinary projects. All students create a written thesis integrating theory and practice in art, urbanism, civic life, or other subjects supporting a critical discourse on their work. Participants also do field internships with professional artists, and teach as assistants in Otis’ groundbreaking undergraduate Integrated Learning curriculum. This year, Nimoy Resident Artist Rick Lowe, creator of Project Row Houses, will work with the graduate students. ●

Jules Rochelle Sievert at left; Suzanne Lacy and Program Manager Consuelo Velasco in front, with members of the class of ‘09 and visitors to p.i.e. (public interventionist education) at Santa Monica College’s Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery

After several months of field work and research in the Central Valley, students created projects on Main St. such as storefront painting, projections of images of the region’s daily life, and a new sign/gate for the town’s entry. “Laton Live!,” an event celebrating the town’s rich heritage, took place on March 21. In “The Little CA Town that Served as a Muse,” L.A. Times writer Susan Emerling wrote “The residents of Laton got to see themselves through the eyes of a dedicated group of (Otis) outsiders, and those outsiders got to see the effect of their work on their adopted town.” See more at www.youtube.com/otiscollege

“I believe that a desirable future depends on our deliberately choosing a life of action over a life of consumption, on our engendering a lifestyle which will enable us to be spontaneous, independent, yet related to each other, rather than maintaining a lifestyle which only allows to make and unmake, produce and consume—a style of life which is merely a way station on the road to the depletion and pollution of the environment. The future depends more upon our choice of institutions which support a life of action than on our developing new ideologies and technologies.” —Ivan Illich Automatic. Everyday, at hyper-speed, whether I want to or not, I am performing a gender, a race, a specific time in history, a class, and sexuality. I am performing the institution of the city, a body, the pedestrian, the transit user, or the city dweller. Unwittingly, my body, my mind and spirit have institutionalized this process, reflecting how the body and spirit embody the historical memory of all things that came before. My primary artistic concern rests with HOPE and the collective and, how we as artists, crafts people, cultural workers and creative thinkers and dialogue builders begin to collectively and collaboratively visualize a present and future based on knowledge we have regarding our history and past. Do we use broken models from the past or do we choose how to think about things deeply? In my awareness of time-space compression, I am choosing a discursive art form as a means to become more civically engaged as a mechanism for problem solving and design. “The Portable City” is about creating a social space through which to engage people in conversation and exchange, using an arts-based approach to building human connection while ending the silence that exists between us; it is a study on creating dialogue amongst those who experience urban alienation and isolation: The conversations held in real time act as a platform for the idea of connection and dialogue. The “Portable City” project asserts that the ‘I” and “thou” become meaningfully engaged through communicating about a shared experience, and thoughts about a shared relationship to the landscape, geography and public space, day-to-day life, and our sense of memory and belonging. It has been deeply inspired by the work and writings of Guy Debord and The Situationist International, the notion of the Soapbox and the Speakers Corner, Allan Kaprow, Relational Aesthetics, and my own dérives. ●






Another Day at the Office
I’m thinking of a moment from Mike Nichol’s 1967 film, The Graduate. Not when Anne Bancroft seduces Dustin Hoffman, or when Hoffman breaks off Katharine Ross’ wedding and they run out to the bus to go somewhere, wherever that may be. Not even at the party, where our protagonist receives the classic piece of one-word advice, “Plastics.” Close to that though. There’s a brief scene before his father forces Hoffman to head down to the party where Hoffman sits, his back to a lively aquarium, focused on a thought he can’t shake, “I’m just a little worried about my future.” That, right there, is me, including a fish tank (except my fish, a reincarnation of Bas Jan Ader (’65), died awhile back). My thesis project centered on what I ended up calling FREeCOLOGY, a study of individual, collective, and ecological consciousness for the ironic generation (of which I am a member in good standing). Being more or less addicted to the news, I am surrounded by an apparently infinitely-ringed circus that compounds all the usual existential woes that accompany such a moment as graduation. The only thing left to do is find a way out in the only way I know how, the FREeCOLOGICAL way, devoid of logic because if you’ve tried to pay attention to any kind of current events lately, you know that logic went out the window a long time ago. Examples of this include reincarnating a dried river by planting “water seeds” from the kitchen faucet. Then, when the river comes back, impart your parental love by sailing down that river on a boat made of an old closet door floating on several dozen water bottles. If that doesn’t work, then I don’t know. But for the love of all that is holy, don’t give up. How has my MFA work morphed my professional practice? I would say that it reinforced my resolve, and confronted me with both information and occurrences that I did not expect or just wanted to avoid. Each time, I came out smarter and stronger. Now, I hope to continue fighting fire with fire and satiating my concerns over the enormous blob-like mass of sociopolitical ridiculousness by poking productive holes in it in a similar kind of farce, as it no doubt deserves. Just another day at the office. ●

Oil Change in the Niger Delta:
The Artist as Witness
“… in the midst of putative peace, you could, like me, be unfortunate enough to stumble on a silent war. The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence.” —Arundhati Roy 03
Even as companies like Shell and Chevron rake in billions of dollars, the farmers and fishermen of the Niger Delta can barely eke out a living from their own land. Enabled by corrupt governments, these multinational corporations have continued to profit while the people remain marginalized and exploited. Oil spills and gas flaring have led to unimaginable environmental degradation. On November 10, 1995, writer/activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight members of the Ogoni tribe were hung—despite worldwide protests—for having peacefully challenged oil companies. The “Oil Change” project is a multimedia installation and practice that aims to illuminate these state-sanctioned killings and the deleterious effect of decades of oil production. Through an intimate analysis of sociopolitical issues within the Niger Delta, “Oil Change” seeks to reconcile a colonial past, and to show that systemically (moving beyond body/self to land/environment), art can be a powerful tool for awareness, activism and catharsis. As witness, I expose the rape of the Niger Delta’s ecosystems and communities. In attempts to reconcile my place in the often-confusing interstice between being Nigerian and a citizen of the United States, I recognize its story as mine. Utilizing specific repurposed materials, “Oil Change” invites the viewer to question, to reflect, to empathize, to engage and continue to bear witness. Sculptural elements include a wall-mounted Shell light box, red-stained wood gas pumps, videos, aquariums filled with oil, water and gari (a staple Nigerian flour-like meal made from cassava). The “Hanging Ogonis” installation consists of nine polished black plastic-andsteel gas nozzles suspended from the ceiling by nine black 3/4" x 10" long rubber hoses. Beneath each nozzle—atop mounds of earth—are piles of rice, feathers, black- eyed beans, cassava, cocoyams, a bowl of red palm oil, kolanuts, a pile of my shaved dreadlocks, and a pile of bones. This simultaneously symbolizes the Ogoni activists and the oil companies that have ruined the land. “Oil Change” invites viewers to become witnesses through understanding the facts, raising consciousness, writing letters, signing petitions and having discussions about this and other human rights violations. ● www.oilactivism.com



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