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Susan Byrnes is a visual artist whose work encompasses traditional and contemporary forms and practices, including sculpture, multimedia installation, radio broadcasts, writing, and curatorial projects. As a visiting artist Susan shared with our class several of her current public art projects that include multiple models for an art whose public strategies of engagement are an important part of its aesthetic language.
The social movements of the 1960s and 70s led to the emergence of performance art and installation art, centering on process and site-specificity. Feminist artists led the practice of art based in social interaction, identified as “community,” “collaborative,” “participatory,” “dialogic,” and “public” art.
Suzanne Lacy, a leading educator, curator, writer and performance artist, has worked since the 70s with broadly conceived "collaborations" with people in various communities and occupations. In the following statement Lacy summarizes a relationship between feminism and socially engaged art practice:
Over the years, I think feminist art has disconnected from its radical roots. We came from an immersion in the body and its messiness, and identity. But some of us also took rising women's issues into the street. What did it mean, metaphorically, for the intimate body as it became a "social body"? There was a reason that feminist artists became site-specific and community-based, addressed mass media and so on. My media interventions with Leslie Labowitz were not only aesthetic strategies with an eye to our art-historical predecessors, but a concern with the real conditions of women's lives. We saw feminism as an aspect of a larger set of social justice and equity concerns. The body, its positionality and 'identity” are key projects of feminism, but so is activism.
Read the attached article "Necessary Positions" in Feminist Art: A Conversation by Andrea Bowers, Suzanne Lacy and Maria Elena Buszek. This article gives additional historical perspective and context to current practices and concerns in feminism and socially engaged art.
SELECT TWO OF SUSAN’S PUBLIC WORKS: name and describe the work; and discuss how these two works promoted an exchange of ideas, experiences and collaborations. What is the role of the artist in the artistic process? Who are her collaborators and to what extent does their participation and interaction determine the outcome of the project. Is “public” a qualifying description of place, ownership or access?
Although it is early in the semester to examine socially engaged art practice, Susan was very clear in describing her intentions for these public art projects. Her public works reflect what the art historian, Suzi Gablik, refers to as “connective aesthetics,” as opposed to the autonomous art object.
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Susan Byrnes is a visual artist whose work encompasses traditional and contemporary forms and practices, including sculpture, multimedia installation, radio broadcasts, writing, and curatorial projects.