Make Things (Happen) is a participatory project organized by Christine Wong Yap featuring 29 artist-created activity sheets to make things or make things happen.
Artists: Lauren F. Adams, Oliver Braid, Maurice Carlin, Kevin B. Chen, Torreya Cummings, Helen de Main, double zero, Bean Gilsdorf, Galeria Rusz, Sarrita Hunn, Maria Hupfield, Nick Lally, Justin Langlois, Justin Limoges, Jessica Longmore, Mail Order Brides/M.O.B., Meta Local Collaborative, Roy Meuwissen, Dionis Ortiz, Kristina Paabus, Piero Passacantando, Julie Perini, Risa Puno, Genevieve Quick, Pallavi Sen, Elisabeth Smolarz, Emilio Vavarella, David Gregory Wallace, Lexa Walsh.
Curated by Deb Willis and Hank Willis Thomas
March 27–October 2, 2014
Nathan Cummings Foundation
475 Tenth Avenue, 14th floor (between W. 36th & 37th Streets), New York, NY 10018
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 27, 6-8 pm
Reservations required; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mid-October to November 28, 2014
NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Photography and Imaging galleries
721 Broadway, 8th Floor (between Washington Place and Waverly Place), New York, NY 10003
Opening Reception: TBA
Make Things (Happen) is intended to multiply creative activity. I started by asking 29 artists to create activity sheets; these are downloadable here and freely available in Social in Practice: The Art of Collaboration. Anyone and everyone are invited to use them to make things or make things happen, then share their results (#mkthngs or #mkthngshppn) to encourage further participation.
ACTIVITIES. I was inspired by enjoyable, memorable, shared experiences—from showing my niece how to sew her own holiday decorations, to initiating a book club via video chat with distant peers. The invited artists branched out, enriching the project with their diverse artistic and didactic pursuits. Their contributions reflect their optimism and ambivalence towards how-to directives, and thus offer concrete objectives as well as space for open-ended interpretation. The activities range from drawing worksheets to elaborate constructions; community exchanges to gallows humor; and studio instructions to discussion prompts.
Activities fall into two categories. Make Things entails hands-on, tangible art activities. Through drawing worksheets, participants can encounter the techniques and social concepts in the work ofKevin B. Chen, Dionis Ortiz, and Lauren F. Adams, or potentially increase positive sentiment (Galleria Rusz, Pallavi Sen). Participants can also create hands-on 3-D projects, such as a shadow puppet show (David Gregory Wallace) or multi-person swing (Kristina Paabus). The projects also intersect with the virtual; one could modify the code in digital images (Emilio Vavarella), or hand draw algorithmic patterns (Nick Lally).
Make Things Happen encompasses manifold approaches. Projects from Helen de Main, Maria Hupfield, and Lexa Walsh catalyze or facilitate interpersonal exchanges. double zero has programmed a telephone menu as a public, interactive, and collaborative experience. Individuals can also improve bad days (Elisabeth Smolarz), meditate (Piero Passacantando), take a tongue-in-cheek personality quiz (Risa Puno), or explore looking as a form of time-travel (Genevieve Quick).
Other artists’ projects instantiate the expanded boundaries of contemporary art practice. The studio itself is re-thought with alternatives for creating and inhabiting spaces, both individually (Jessica Longmore) and collaboratively (Maurice Carlin). Meta Local Collaborative describes the extra-studio art practice of bicycling. Bean Gilsdorf’s kooky, illustrated handout, How to Use It, never identifies what “It” is, calling upon users’ interpretation and open-ended application.
Four artists riff on (im)possibilities, referencing feature films (Torreya Cummings, Roy Meuwissen) and texts (Oliver Braid, Justin Limoges). They alternately employ poetics, darkness, and ambivalence.
While how-to instructions typically describe concrete actions, four contributors ambitiously invite participants to engage in efforts and radical re-imaginations towards social change. Julie Perinidescribes how white people can challenge white supremacy. Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. parodies corporate handbooks to tackle gender and power. Sarrita Hunn contributes a well-researched How to… Make An Alternative Institution, and Justin Langlois’ list of provocations encourages collaborative visions for a self-determined future.
ARTISTS. I invited these particular artists, duos, and collaboratives because their practices are a mix of hands-on, participatory, and engaged with the world. They work across social practice, drawing, sculpture, video, and performance. About one-third of the artists are international—from the UK, Canada, Poland, Italy, and India; one-third are from California; and the rest are from New York or other parts of the US. A few actively create new conditions for art and engagement by founding organizations and initiatives. All excite me with how their lives and art-making are interconnected with the world at large. I am particularly interested in highlighting practices unconcerned with, despite, and agitating against the demands of the art market. Profiles and links to their sites are included so you can learn more.
BACKGROUND. About a year ago, I wrote an essay and created a diagram to explore “What Artists Make (Happen).” I wanted to think through how artists who create art objects make things in their studios, also make things happen with others beyond the studio walls—events, dialogues, possibilities. The point was that artists also involve and affect other people, and therefore manipulate social realities.
Make Things (Happen) continues to explore these ideas. In this case, making things is still defined as hands-on fabrication, while making things happen includes social, conceptual and performance actions. By participating, the public can sample activities that manipulate objects, forms, and social realities, and experientially encounter artists’ practices and thoughts. These activities are intended for participation—so it’s your move.
—Christine Wong Yap, 2014
THANKS to curators Deb Willis and Hank Willis Thomas; NYU Tisch Department of Photo and Imaging, Karl Peterson and Sonia Louise Davis; and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. My sincerest gratitude to all the artists for their time, enthusiasm, and thoughtful contributions; and to Sarrita Hunn for exploring the potential of the initial concepts. And thanks in advance to participants!
LINKS. For more participatory contemporary art projects, see Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher’s Learning to Love You More, Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Do It, and Paper Monument’s Draw It With Your Eyes Closed.