New Forms 2013: Readings and Resources

New Forms: Participatory Art and Social Action
  Gregory Sholette and Tom Finkelpearl

Queens College Art Dept. Mondays, 1:40 – 5:15

Klapper 174 ARTS 730 (grad code):

From tactical media and interventionism to collectivism and community based art, this class will critically survey the theory and practice of recent, politically engaged visual culture while simultaneously locating it within the recent history of mainstream contemporary art by focusing our attention on such questions as: How do we define the public sphere in an increasingly privatized society? Is culture jamming and Hacktavism the new, cutting-edge of artistic practice? Why are so many younger artists today
choose to work together in groups and collectives? Why has collective art reemerged today in the age of globalization, neo-liberalism, and the homeland security state? Another principal aim of this course is to introduce students to the realm of critical theory and how it relates to their future role as cultural producers.



Craig Owens Lower East Side

Unnatural Seculations gsholette

Stephen Wright Escapeology Text

Complicty With Dark Matter_Sholette


Its The Political Economy Stupid excerpts

Whither Tactical Media 2008


Chapter 2 Dark Matter PAD.D (Grin of the Archive)

New Spirit of Capitalism



 New Forms: Participatory Art and Social Action

ARTS 386 cross-listed with ARTS 730

 Requirements:  Attendance is very important because your level of participation figures heavily in your overall evaluation and grade.

 Note: We may adjust the syllabus from time to time and there will be one or more guest speakers and class trips added as we move along, we will, however, provide

as much advance notice of changes as is possible.

Evaluation criteria:

50%  Participation & Attention

50%  Presentation & Quality of Research

GROUP RESEARCH QUESTIONS (class will divide into groups and select topics to research)

 1.  The definition question: How does social practice differentiate itself from social service ? Is this important to resolve? What kind of questions and assumptions arise if we seek to make social practice its own distinct artistic method? And what sort of questions and assumptions arise if we do not differentiate it from art or from say, community work, environmental activism, urban reform, or social justice advocacy?

 2.  The institutionalization/academic question: Is social practice art radically opposed to mainstream art and culture? Is it rejuvenating it? Or is it being co-opted by it? How can we frame this question to get beyond simple answers and find a more engaging and useful thesis from which to work?

 3.  The context question: Who is a social practice artist and what sort of “agency” does she or he have in a world of hyper-surveillance and economic ? And who is such work made for and why? Is it global or local, white or black, academic, or populist? Does it have a specific historical framing? Is it logical to assume it will be part of future arts academic curricula and how will this alter the study of art and of art criticism, history, curating, etc..?

 4.  The “aesthetic” question: Is there a social practice art-aesthetic or form or repertoire of forms specific to this kind of work? If yes, what kind of questions do we need to ask in order to investigate what this particular aesthetic consists of? And if there is no such thing as a social practice aesthetic how will this “lack” impact the practice of social practice art if at all?

5. The organizational question: the practice of social practice art, as opposed to many other types of artistic practice, inevitably involves processes of organization, administration, and self-governance.  What precedents exist regarding this conjoining of artistic and organizational needs and goals, and does a distinctive hybrid of some type emerge from this entanglement?



  • Urbanism/Gentrification/Squatting/Spatial Politics (politics of space)
  • History/Archive/Memory/Future
  • Fantasy, Resistance, The emergence of the “Everyday”
  • Labor/Work/Collaboration/Collectivism After Modernism
  • Tactics/Avant-Garde/ Technology/Surveillance Society
  • Markets/ Totality/Ideology Structures
  • Institutions/Organizing/Governance/Alternatives
  • Critiques of Socially Engaged Art Practices



(We will try to make readings available online if possible)

  1. Week One, Sept. 9: Introductions and Overview: The instructors will go over the structure of the class and the requirements and then present an abbreviated history of post-1960s Social/Political/Community Art primarily in the United States using several focused examples and questions. For example: How did it come about that a set of buildings in Houston, Texas or a community center in Queens could be called a work of art especially considering these projects are far, far away from traditional painting and sculpture in the way they look, the way they operate, the authorship, their social function. What genealogy of art has brought about such work today, what set of criteria do we need to understand it, and how does this “Social Turn” affect the future of art and in particular, your art education?
  1. Sept. 16: Urbanism I/The intersection of social practice and urban planning.  How can art intervene in a city?  Compare the goals and accomplishments of Corona Plaza here n Queens and Project Row Houses in Houston, Texas.

 Reading: Interview with Rick Lowe and Mark Stern from Chapter 5 of “What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation.”

See also:

  1. Sept. 23: Urbanism II: Gentrification, Squatting and the “Politics of Space.” What really is gentrification? Who does it affect? Are there alternatives? How do artists and other cultural workers relate to this process? Are they victims or perpetrators or are they something in between, something more complex?

             Readings: “Unnatural Speculations: Nature as an icon of urban resistance on NYC’s Lower: Unnatural Seculations gsholette

            East Side 1979-1984.” G. Sholette, 1997 & “The Problem with Puerilism” Craig Owens, 1984: Craig Owens Lower East Side

            See also: If You Lived Here by Martha Rosler, Dia Foundation 1989:

  1. ­­Sept. 30: Immigration/Frontiers/Borders/Refugees. The class will meet at Immigrant Movement International, Corona, Queens. Compare and contrast the work of Teddy Cruz, Pedro Lasch and Tania Bruguera. All are deeply engaged with issues of art and immigration.  How doe they choose to enact their ideas?

             Reading: Chapter 9, from “What We Made,” “An interview with Pedro Lasch and Teddy Cruz.”



  1. Oct. 7: Social Practice & labor I. Focusing on artist Mierle Ukeles and “Rev-”we will compare the relationship between Rev- and Mierle Ukeles in terms of their relationship with the workers they collaborate with.  How do the community participants have a say in the artwork?

Reading: Chapter 10, from “What We Made,” interview with Ukeles and  Brett Cook.

Review Web site:

  1. Oct. 15 (** Tuesday on QC Monday Schedule**): Social Practice & labor II : Collectivism & “The Everyday.” How does labor power express itself differently in a socially collaborative context as opposed to the disciplinary routines of “work?” How is the very notion of labor changing today and has the “everyday” become a pivotal space of intervention not only for socially-engaged artists and activists, but also for the global marketplace?

            Readings:  “And Then You Disappear,” Stephen Wright: Stephen Wright Escapeology Text & “Complicity with Dark Matter,” GSholette: Complicty With Dark Matter_Sholette

  1. Oct. 21: Open Session, Discussion & Evaluation of where Research Groups are at.
  1. Oct. 28 : Tactics/Avant-Garde/ Technology/Surveillance I. What is the nature of the Internet and does it function as a new kind of public space?  How do online art projects differ from others discussed in the class that take place in the physical world?  What is gained and lost by working online?

Reading: Chapter 11, parts 1 and 2 in “What We Made” interviews Evan Roth & Jonah Peretti.”

Find an internet based artwork that uses collaboration, cooperation, crowd sourcing , or the like.  Example:

  1. Nov.  5: Tactics/Avant-Garde/ Technology/Surveillance II. Is the idea of Tactical Media still viable after Occupy, Arab Spring, and the Movement of the Squares and the recent revelations regarding the power of government surveillance? Is there a next step or a missing piece to this once optimistic set of expectations regarding the electronic public sphere?

Readings: Whither Tactical Media, introduction by Ray & Sholette; Society of Control: Whither Tactical Media 2008, & Giles Deleauze: deleuze.soc.

  1. Nov.  12: History/Archive/Memory/Future.  The accumulated practices, projects, ideas, fantasies, hopes of artists and social activists from a kind of invisible archive of possibilities that extends possibilities and limitations to current action. How is this relevant to social practice artists, or is it?

Reading: “Grin of the Archive,” Chapter 2 from Dark Matter, gsholette: Chapter 2 Dark Matter PAD.D (Grin of the Archive)

Public art: monument in Mexico City to the victims of the violence:

  1. Nov.19: Presentation by Research Groups begins.
  2. Nov.25: Presentation by Research Groups continues.
  3. Dec.  2: Presentation by Research Groups continues.
  4. Dec.  9: Presentation by Research Groups continues.

Books you may want to purchase for this course:

  • What We Made: Conversations on Art & Social Cooperation, Tom Finkelpearl, Duke U. Press, 2013.
  • Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, Gregory Sholette, Pluto Press, 2011.
  • Collectivism After Modernism, Stimson and Sholette, U. of Minnesota Press, 2006.
  • Artificial Hells, Claire Bishop, Verso Books, 2012.
  • Conversation Pieces Community and Communication in Modern Art. Grant Kester, University of California Press, 2004.
  • The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. Nato Thompson and Gregory Sholette eds., Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art/MIT Press, 2004.

Other Online Resources:



Since 2002, Tom Finkelpearl has served as the Executive Director of the Queens Museum of Art, which operates as a cultural crossroads in America’s most diverse county through art programs, community organizing, and educational outreach. Finkelpearl was previously Deputy Director at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center during its merger with the Museum of Modern Art, and has also worked as the Director of New York City’s Percent for Art Program and as the Executive Director of The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Finkelpearl’s book Dialogues in Public Art (MIT Press) was published in 2000. His new book, What We Make: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, is forthcoming from Duke University Press. Finkelpearl received a BA from Princeton University and an MFA from Hunter College, CUNY. His most recent book “What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation,” was recently published by Duke University Press.

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Gregory Sholette is a New York-based artist, writer, a founding member of Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D: 1980-1988), and REPOhistory (1989-2000). His recent books include Dark Matter: Art and Politics in an Age of Enterprise Culture, Pluto Press, 2011, and co-author of It’s The Political Economy, Stupid with Oliver Ressler, 2013. The first episode of his new graphic novel Double City will appear in Frieze Magazine this coming summer, and his most recent exhibitions include the installation Exposed Pipe/ / ماسورة موسيقية  for the American University Beirut art gallery; Torrent for Printed Matter Books in Chelsea; iDrone for; 15 Islands for Robert Moses at the Queens Museum of Art Panorama, and the Imaginary Archive: Galway, Ireland.   An Assistant Professor and MFA Chair of Sculpture at Queens College: City University of New York (CUNY), he also teaches at the Grad Center; is a member of Gulf Labor Coalition; The Institute for Wishful Thinking; and an academic adviser for the new, Home Workspace Program in Beirut, Lebanon.