I’ve been talking to many people about this thing social practice. On this subject, I had the privilege of speaking with someone with a unique perspective and many enlivening comments, Ariane Cherry. Ariane is Gallery Director at Design Cloud LLC.
We discussed social practice as an idea being exchanged between creatives. We touched on public design, urban philanthropy, and the risks associated with socially engaged practices – plus the potential success the endeavor could obtain. Read More below.
Ariane Cherry: I think that this is something that all of us are really suffering from right now, which is the question, “How to do we get people to participate?”
Matthew Robinson: So How do we get people to participate?
AC: My background [is] in museums; in collections management, curatorial research, and ultimately in preparation. What I saw frequently when I walked through the galleries
–– whether that was at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Smart Museum at University of Chicago, Phoebe Hirst at UC Berkeley, or, more recently, the Art Institute here in Chicago – was a lack of participation. People continue to interact with art in a very… singular, systemic way – which is that they want to overcome it. They start searching for ways to overcome in ways that are sort of antagonistic. In a lot of ways, people have gotten used to the idea of consuming art. [As a gallery director] I often hear, “How much is it?” And if that threshold is so high, there’s a motivation to reduce the esteem of the art by saying, “Oh, well, my kid could do that.” There’s a sense that if one can’t overcome the art intellectually, if one can’t comprehend or relate to the concepts and one can’t consume it, then they can deride it. So, you see a lot of people drawing back from artwork; it’s too hard or uncomfortable to understand. They don’t want to feel as though they’re just hanging with the artwork in a gallery without a support network. From the artists’ standpoint, he/she may not want to give instructions on how to engage with the art. Then that brings on creative engagement as unindividuated, un-unique, a less personal process; taking the spiritually out of the process of doing and making. You’re sort of creating in this cookie cutter process for people to understand your art so that you’re getting this nodding response from everyone in a line.
MR: So for artists the question is, “what does participation mean?”
AC: Well, at the very basic level, you want people to be able to look and have a personal and intimate moment. People aren’t doing that upon necessity anymore… It asks the question “What is art?” And I don’t want art to then be something that is only relatable on a consumable basis. For now [with] sites like Mutual Art, Sotheby’s Online, or even things like Etsy, Artsy, or Paddle 8, you start to see this proliferation of art as an accessible item that you hang in your home; that’s taken out of the public space, that’s off the walls of the gallery and is put in somebody’s living room. This is something that I’m contending with deeply both from a personal political standpoint and on a philosophical level. But, also, I’m asking, “What is the future of art if it’s only something that is to be consumed?” What are we teaching future generations, in their engagement with culture, if the only way they are coming to understand it is as something with a price tag? Culture needs to be something beyond just the purchase. So, I think something like RISK really proposes this cyclical anxiety in the arts. In that you need people to fund you… you as an artist need money…we can’t expect that artists are these sorts of Soviet vision-esque free agents and uncompensated designers.
Artists also need to live.
But how do we break that Miami Basel cycle of boom bust where money comes in and artwork leaves the space? Finding alternatives to that model of consumption of art is going to be challenging. People ultimately might not like that change.
MR: Some will say, “Yes!” And there will be the other “What?!” reaction.
AC: Some people will stand in opposition to a detachment from that model; some will not like it at all. So we’ll see, and it’ll be interesting.
MR: What is the potential for art that engages the public to promote social change?
AC: I think that there will to some degree be a self-reporting bias. People who want deeper engagement with art will believe that art has the potential for social action. They will of course gravitate towards it and feel like it’s badass. They’ll want more of it, and wonder, “How can I participate a within space, with people, within an environment that promotes ideas like this.”
Then, there’s the issue of the broader public, and this is always ‘the masses question’: [Asking], “How do you get people who are not currently interested in art, or don’t have a relationship to it, to overcome their previous anxieties and to enter into the debate about the role of art in our society?” This is a barrier that a lot of people are grappling with, and I don’t think that anyone is quite cracking the code. Especially in a sensationalist society where people are used to getting things instantaneously – [the] spectacle solicits an automatic feeling of shock, horror, elation, happiness, joy
MR: That’s perhaps the RISK involved with the idea.
AC: Right. The question we’re looking for isn’t as simple as, “Well did people go?” It’s more like, “Did this experience change your relationship with art?” Are we inspiring you to be a social activist or envision your community differently?
These are the questions I’m looking to address. This is what we’re really targeting people toward as a community of artists, curators, and thinkers …It’s not just that someone showed up, or bought a ticket, or participated in an event. It’s about whether it fundamentally changes [their] relationships to the arts.
For some, it’s as simple as, “I went to one thing and it took my breath away
–– and I never went back.” The experience made them love this forever. I think there are a lot of people though whom I’ve come into contact with in my lifetime who say, “Well…I did it.” So that’s the effect. I think for us as a community we have to remain inspired and hopeful, but there is the very real possibility that [social practice] may not have the effect that we’re looking for. And the next question in my mind is, “Is it just the merely a reiteration, the slow breakdown?” – Where we just keep reintroducing the same ideas, hoping that [art’s] not really just going to be for somebody specific now.
MR: That it will move on as sort of a trend in the art world?
AR: [Or that] then it’s going to have to be a individuated experience with art, a relationship to art… the United States is very different from say Germany and the Netherlands who have really instilled the idea of ‘public art,’ art for the populace. This hasn’t exactly taken off as well in the United States. People don’t really have the continued access [to art] that consistently breaks down that systemic barrier of art as related to social class – that there are different types of art. For instance, [I question] the designation of ‘outsider art’ or lo-fi artists in the United States. They’re somehow relegated from the art spheres in American society that are by some distinction the Beaux Arts. Which is kind of f***ed in that way…
MR: Given the uncertainty of what effect socially engaged art will have on the public’s perception of the arts, is design something that you think could have the lasting impact we’re really trying to achieve?
And, Ariane, what implications can design have for spaces? From your perspective, what is the role of social practices that seek to redesign spaces in meaningful ways?
AR: Good question – I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of the design of inequality. I think that there has to be something to it, right? We have design for beauty. I think that essentially when people speak of disliking a particular neighborhood or place, or a particular type of art that they’re really rejecting poverty. They say, “I don’t like the aesthetics of poverty -” places that seem dilapidated, that look impoverished or unkempt; [Space] that is not somehow enhanced or embellished. So I see this notion of designing inequality as something that’s very fundamental to Chicago right now… So I think that there’s obviously a space for design and for art in this discussion. I think that too frequently we get bought out by developers or institutions for our own sake and safety.
MR: And that action or inaction rather
, fundamentally changes who the design or art is for.
AC: Exactly. It’s an issue particularly here in the Midwest. I’ve noticed from growing up in Los Angeles and [having] lived in Oakland for a long time. There was this notion, certainly in California, that gentrification was not a good thing. That when you increased rent and made design as designated for only people with a particular income level – design wasn’t equitable – that design [was no longer] about betterment of a community – it was betterment for a particular population. Saying that gentrification [is somehow positive] was seen as a derogatory. You just didn’t say that and it wasn’t a thing that you advocated. When I moved to the Midwest I noticed that there was a different sort of identification that people had with the concept.
MR:That it’s good.
AC: That it’s a good thing, that it’s good economically and socially, that it creates cohesion, but that one group gets to supersede other[s] …– it’s unprogressive.
MR: There must be another methodology.
AC: Coming from the Department of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute, [I can] speak to where design fits into this narrative: I’ve noticed something that appears strange to me. A lot of architects are looking for the big pie, so to speak. They want their development downtown – their own development projects.
MR: They want their own Studio Gang?
AC: Yea, I mean let’s not f**k around. [Of course they] want to be Jeanie Gang. And that’s not bad, that’s something to aspire to – I completely understand [gravitating toward that] as an architect, or engineer, as a designer, and as a professional. You want to be the best you can be. It’s just that too frequently the best that one can be is synonymous with particular types of funding, particular placement, and a particular type of building. So the questions are, “How do we incentivize, as a community, and how do we propel government action [toward different projects]?” We need to enable ourselves to be participants in a way that redesigns the community in a lateral way as opposed to a horizontal way so that we start to spread equity across Chicago, rather than just into high rises with saunas, and gyms, and concierge services.
AC: Maybe those were some fighting words for the Midwest. Sorry Midwest.
MR: It’s all good. [laughs]. Unfortunately, we’re set in our ways here.
AC: Chicago needs to fight the fight. It can certainly look at its sister cities. I think Detroit is an omnipresent, looming specter that is a symbol of the way things can go. And I don’t think we want to move in that direction here. That [possibility] is something that should give artists and designers a lot of agency, it is empowering. The question of why we haven’t coalesced into a movement is something that certainly we here at Design Cloud are seeking to address. We’re creating a space where artists and designers can come and hangout. It’s just interesting that apparently a lot of people we are talking to don’t think we are talking to them.
We are all responsible for this. If we’re going to make it better or improve anything [with art and design] then we all need to be responsible.
MR: Now, let’s talk about Ariane Cherry. When did you become a Cloudster?
AC: I am the gallery director here now at Design Cloud. I started in December. How I got here: I was a research fellow at the Art Institute, working under Zoe Ryan. And the best way that I can put it is that I had been in museums my entire life. And I always thought that the museum would be my home. I had worked in every sort of department that one could work in pertaining to collections and research. And then about a year ago, I witnessed something in myself that I had a problem with – I saw retail and commercial venues doing art better than museums were doing art.
AC: Yea. Suddenly, I noticed. It’s a trend and certainly everybody could look at it as a statistic [at the time]. Especially during the recession, this was a huge discussion in museums of the fact that numbers were down. People weren’t coming to museums. And it really brought up the question of “What gets people into museums, what gets people engaging with art?” So, you saw – whether it is at the Met, the LACMA, or Seattle Art Museum – you started seeing a lot of really safe blockbuster shows. You’d see, you know, Monet, Picasso, German Modernists, the pre-World War II paintings that come up over and over again. I just thought that this can’t be the only way. We couldn’t just survive on blockbuster shows. People don’t have to be cajoled or reminded to go to the malls; people don’t have to be bribed or incentivized in some strange way to engage with retail. Yet, we have to sort of guilt people into going to museums once a year and then once they go once a year they’re like “Woo! Done with THAT!”…
So I thought to myself that I needed to break out a little, I needed to leave the public space and consider design firms. I needed to consider [working with] people who were into experience design and architecture, into brand management and creation, to really think about how we could improve. So I consider in some ways this to be my sabbatical. I want to consider myself a part of the debate; I want people to be able to engage productively with arts and culture. I think that we need to figure out as a group how to do that on a consistent basis beyond fairs and biennials. People obviously go to them because they’re events, and they have to do it. [There’s] the-see-and-be-seen element. But in the end it’s not something you live with every day, that’s just something that you go to a few times in a year. That is why I came to be here, to see if there was another way.
After I talked to Nick Stocking, who’s our principle, I just got the general sense that something was happening and that more needed to happen. I took it upon myself to inch my way in and continue to take over real estate [laughs]. It’s interesting from my perspective… I had always worked in museums and I had been always been much invested in the arts but my degree is actually not in Art History. I have my undergraduate degree in Chinese Studies and Economics, and my Masters, which I am completing right now, is in Philosophy. So I come at this dialogue from a slightly different perspective. One that is really interested in the socioeconomics of culture.
I feel I do bring something a little bit different, which is the say that some people probably find it bizarre that a person of my background gets to run a gallery. Why? They’d [probably] ask. And sometimes I ask myself that too. [laughs]
I use my perspective to my advantage to get different types of people who normally [wouldn’t] feel as though art [is] their home or wouldn’t feel that art galleries aren’t their home. For me, [I get] to say that this wasn’t originally my home either, but that I want to have this discussion with them. Through that we can create a place of intimacy and mutual trust where we can have these sorts of discussions and conversations. So that’s how I’m here!
MR: Can you explain the curatorial program here at Design Cloud?
AC: We operate a curatorial residency called MOUNT, which is very unique in its vision. I do not go out and look for artists. Twice annually, there’s a call for curators to have our space for three months – it’s not simply a call for artists. We change out the gallery quarterly. Each quarter a new curator or team of curators finds artists, creates a letter of intent, then, with my help, is able to execute their show. So I offer oversight, and assistance with programming, installation, and with any questions or concerns that they may have in putting up the show. If they’ve never done a show before, they have me as a resource.
It’s pretty easy to see throughout the City that other curators are perpetuating their own, independent vision. And that their visions and their aesthetics are fairly stable. Many look for a continuous thread throughout what it is they are presenting. And, you know, the other part of that is a lot of galleries in the area are for-profit. Now, we’re not a non-profit, but our primary goal isn’t the sale of art. It’s to provide the opportunity for people to have a space – which is increasingly hard to find. In the field, people are not letting go of curatorial positions at museums or in academic environments. Hiring from within in both of those environments has risen, and promoting from within is prevalent. It’s really hard for curators – especially younger people – to have a space where they can perpetuate their voice.
Here at Design Cloud we’re offering something a little bit different. They’re not selected by me; I go out into the community and choose a jury panel. I sit on the panel along with Nick.
MR: Who do you typically approach to be jury members?
AC: We find them everywhere! For example, on this jury panel we have a director of a photo community James Kelly Pepper from Filter, Robyn Paprocki who works with Comfort Station, and who is a curator in her own right, and we have Lauren and Peter who run the Chicago Urban Art Society. All of our jury members also offer mentor services to whoever is selected as the curator.
If they want to learn more about how they can further their career as a curator they suddenly have this community of other professions. A lot of us in the arts just sort of kept applying to jobs, and we didn’t have anyone who could say this is what you do and this is how to do it. MOUNT residents actually have a helping hand for three months. All of our residents still have us as a community after their close and are invited to come back to us as a home base. If they’re having troubles or have questions, or just want to hangout, we’re here for them. [They] continue to be part of the Design Cloud family. I love it this way because it makes it sort of a community enterprise where everybody is equally invested. And it’s not just my singular vision.
I have ideas, but I try not to force them on people.
MR: What types of artists typically get selected? Do you have anyone coming internationally?
AC: …In regards to curators/artists, it’s pretty diverse. Our previous exhibition was organized by a curatorial team of two – Cameron DuBois and Sarah Nodelman – under the title Casa Duno, and they selected a very broad range of artists. [Of whom] a couple will end up being in the Whitney in two months. There’s a pretty broad range of artists here – and this is dependent on who the curators seek to represent and their intent for the space. There are people that I’m hoping to work with in the future and who I hope to show for the first time in the United States. They are predominantly from Israel and Germany. Hopefully, that will happen! But, again, it’s all who the jury selects, so all I can do is motivate people to apply!
I can’t make it happen alone. This is fun too. It’s good because I get to have my own sort of biases checked.
It’s funny because I used to volunteer for a place called Creative Growth, a program for outsider artists who struggle with mental disability. So my friends when they visit my house say my place looks like the asylum. So, if I were given the sole choice I would probably make this place look like an asylum too. In the future, I’ll try not to. [laughs]. We’ve all got our thing.
This interview was recorded on January 29th, 2014 and transcribed between February 11th and 18th. Slight edits have been applied due to length and other constraints (2/18/14).
Special Thanks to Ariane Cherry, and the Cloudsters.
I’ve been talking to many people about this thing social practice. On this subject, I had the privilege of speaking with someone with a unique perspective and many enlivening comments, …