What We Made

Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation

What We Made

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: 91 illustrations Published: January 2013

Author: Tom Finkelpearl

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Theater and Performance

In What We Made, Tom Finkelpearl examines the activist, participatory, coauthored aesthetic experiences being created in contemporary art. He suggests social cooperation as a meaningful way to think about this work and provides a framework for understanding its emergence and acceptance. In a series of fifteen conversations, artists comment on their experiences working cooperatively, joined at times by colleagues from related fields, including social policy, architecture, art history, urban planning, and new media. Issues discussed include the experiences of working in public and of working with museums and libraries, opportunities for social change, the lines between education and art, spirituality, collaborative opportunities made available by new media, and the elusive criteria for evaluating cooperative art. Finkelpearl engages the art historians Grant Kester and Claire Bishop in conversation on the challenges of writing critically about this work and the aesthetic status of the dialogical encounter. He also interviews the often overlooked co-creators of cooperative art, "expert participants" who have worked with artists. In his conclusion, Finkelpearl argues that pragmatism offers a useful critical platform for understanding the experiential nature of social cooperation, and he brings pragmatism to bear in a discussion of Houston's Project Row Houses.

Interviewees. Naomi Beckwith, Claire Bishop, Tania Bruguera, Brett Cook, Teddy Cruz, Jay Dykeman, Wendy Ewald, Sondra Farganis, Harrell Fletcher, David Henry, Gregg Horowitz, Grant Kester, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Pedro Lasch, Rick Lowe, Daniel Martinez, Lee Mingwei, Jonah Peretti, Ernesto Pujol, Evan Roth, Ethan Seltzer, and Mark Stern


“These conversations by key practitioners and thinkers are a snapshot of thinking around the emergence of social and collaborative art, which seeks to improve society and address social issues. Finkelpearl ably situates collaborative and participatory art within the chronology of American art history.” — Toro Castaño, Library Journal

"What What We Made does, perhaps better than anything I’ve read so far about this particular kind of art, is utterly refrain from arriving at singular summaries or judgments. Instead, the conversations foreground the nuanced and complex social relations tied up in any artwork, but particularly collaborative artwork that draws on communities operating largely outside of the arts marketplace. And the projects Finkelpearl has chosen to discuss and feature by and large demonstrate real possibilities for genuine exchange across networks and communities." — Alexis Clements, Hyperallergic

What We Made is a good sourcebook of art that tackles  politics through participation and collaboration. The  author’s introduction provides a useful overview of the situation in contemporary America. . . .” — Sally O’Reilly, Art Monthly

“This book gracefully dives headfirst into a seriously murky topic, using accessible language that, thankfully, doesn’t read like a textbook.” — Kirstin Wiegmann, Public Art Review

“There’s much to admire in [Finkelpearl’s] approach and his commitment—whether it’s authoring a book whose structure abides by the ideals it sets forth or that he puts his ideas into action.” — Anne K. Yoder, Public Journal

What We Made brings together the stars of the social practice world Rick Lowe, Tania Bruguera, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Harrell Fletcher, and more in conversations with urban planners, educators, and each other, to create a fluid and interdisciplinary dialogue about social practice and its complicated, beautiful and necessary implications in the world.” — Katie Bachler, The Art Book Review

“An insightful examination of artistic projects that strive to involve people in participatory practices. . . . What We Made perceptively documents work that often is misunderstood within traditional arts structures.”  — Maureen Mullinax, Visual Studies

“Finkelpearl has provided his readers with a rich description of a particular, influential movement in the art museum world. This book illustrates his own commitment to social collaboration. By presenting the conversations that make up the core of this volume, he brings this aspect of the art museum world to a larger public.” — George E. Hein, Curator

What We Made’s strength is derived from its vibrant conversations, balancing the voices of such well-known artists as Tania Bruguera, Rick Lowe, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, along with urban planners, educators, philosophers, political scientists, and participants. . . . Finkelpearl’s dialogue-based approach represents the dynamic and generative character of cooperative art.” — Sierra Rooney, Public Art Dialogue

“... [T]hose willing to situate themselves as imagined critical participants in Finkelpearl’s case studies––to envisage the creative possibility of ‘I’ giving way to ‘we’––are rewarded with an expanded appreciation of social practice art. Concluding with a rumination on the theory of progressive pragmatist John Dewey, What We Made makes a powerful bid for readers to ‘get out’ of themselves.” — Nicola Mann, Invisible Culture

“This book is extremely rich and thought provoking. It successfully challenges the reader to think differently and creatively about the ways in which art can and should be made, who might be involved, and to what purposes. It challenges us to consider possible ways in which cooperative art might influence and interact with our communities and daily lives.” — Tui Nicola Clery, Consciousness, Literature and the Arts

"What We Made is a dialogical thick description of cooperative art practices from the point of view of practitioners and many insightful interlocutors. It will be an extremely valuable resource for artists, art historians, and museum professionals." — Rebecca Zorach, author of The Passionate Triangle

"In between histories, current art practices, and theories lies the conundrum: how to describe relational and public art and the many intentions of those involved. Tom Finkelpearl gives us perspectives from artists' on-the-ground experiences and a welcome revisiting of Dewey, contextualized by a sweeping introduction that alone is worth the price of the book." — Suzanne Lacy, author of Leaving Art: Writings on Performance, Politics, and Publics, 1974–2007


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tom Finkelpearl is Executive Director of the Queens Museum of Art. He is the author of Dialogues in Public Art.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

1. Introduction

The Art of Social Cooperation: An American Framework 1

2. Cooperation Goes Public

Consequences of a Gesture and 100 Victoria/10,000 Tears 51

Interview: Daniel Joseph Martinez, artist, and Gregg M. Horowitz, philosophy professor

Chicago Urban Ecology Action Group 76

Follow-Up Interview: Naomi Beckwith, participant

3. Museum, Education, Cooperation

Memory of Surfaces 90

Interview: Ernesto Pujol, artist, and David Henry, museum educator

4. Overview

Temporary Coaltions, Mobilized Communities, and Dialogue as Art 114

Interview: Grant Kester, art historian

5. Social Vision and a Cooperative Community

Project Row Houses 132

Interview: Rick Lowe, artist, and Mark Stern, professor of social history and urban studies

6. Participation, Planning, and a Cooperative Film

Blot Out the Sun 152

Interview: Harrell Fletcher, artist, and Ethan Seltzer, professor of urban studies and planning

Ride Out the Sun 174

Follow-up Interview: Jay Dykeman, collaborator

7. Education Art

Catedra Arte del Conducta 179

Interview: Tania Bruguera, artist

Catedra de Conducta

Follow-up Interview: Claire Bishop, art historian

8. A Political Alphabet 219

Interview: Wendy Ewald, artist, and Sondra Farganis, political scientist

9. Crossing Borders

Transnational Community-Based Production, Cooperative Art, and Informal Trade Networks 240

Interview: Pedro Lasch, artist, and Teddy Cruz, architect

10. Spirituality and Cooperation

Unburning Freedom Hall and The Packer School Project 269

Interview: Brett Cook, artist, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, artist

The Seer Project 301

Interview: Lee Mingwei, artist

11. Interactive Internet Communication

White Glove Tracking 313

Interview: Evan Roth, artist

White Glove Tracking 335

Follow-up Interview: Jonah Peretti, contagious media pioneer

Conclusion: Pragmatism and Social Cooperation 343

Notes 363

Bibliography 373

Index 381
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5289-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5284-6
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