My research is a practice-led, critical attempt to question the object of useful art and its role in creating an exchange between the artist/creator and the viewer/user in art projects dedicated to ‘making use’. The reciprocal readymade, a Marcel Duchamp idea of recycling art into objects of utility, as opposed to the standard readymade which recycled functional objects into art, has been re-introduced to contemporary art discourse in relation to the ‘use-value’ of art and socially engaged art projects, but not specifically to the art objects. I am going to address that by producing art objects, reciprocal readymades, and I will test their usefulness during a series of artistic events involving the participants in scenarios where the works of art are literally used as utility objects.
For art to be useful the expected outcome of artistic activity must be socially significant or useful for the audience or group within which it takes place (T. Bruguera Criteria for Arte Útil). The concept of useful art is built on a paradox - it contradicts the very definition of art as “the expression of human creativity appreciated for its aesthetic or emotional values” rather than its practical application. This research attempts to propose a new, inclusive definition of art through answers to the following questions: how art can be useful? Who defines the usefulness of art - an artist, the maker or the audience, the users? How do participants’ expectations shape the usefulness of art?
My research methodology joins theoretical, largely art historical enquiry with two activities that I am engaged in as an artist: my studio work, dedicated to exploration of contradictions between art object and functionality and collaborative, curatorial projects. The theoretical investigation examines the intersection between art and society, re-emergence of collective approaches to art making and the re-discovery of the rural. The aim of my practical studio based research is to test reciprocal readymade.
Existing literature, including S. Wright (Toward a Lexicon of Usership 2013) suggests useful art is rooted in search for new institutional environments (’post-artistic’, ‘after new institutionalism’) typical for the times of social turbulence. C. Bishop (Artificial Hells 2012) contextualise this social turn with two avant-garde movements: circa 1917 and 1968. I propose to extend that context to artist communities active in Europe in 19th century and to explore the writings of John Ruskin and the influence his ideas have on current practices of useful art.
What is more unusual, and far more interesting, is when artists don’t do art; or, at any rate, when they don’t claim that whatever it is they are doing is, in fact, art. When they recycle their artistic skills, perceptions and habitus back into the general symbolic economy of the real.
Stephen Wright The Future of the Reciprocal Readymade (The use-value of art)