"The distinction between art practice and other creative human endeavors is irrelevant to us."
(from their publication: Self Reliance Library)
I had a step-brother that was in prison for about six years. My dad began dating his mom about 6 months before he got out of prison. Before I met him in person, my stepmom would correspond with him and when he would ask about his family-to-be--my label was "the artist". Before he (Stu) got to know who I was he already thought that I would judge him based off his past and be wary of ever accepting him as part of my family. I was scared of what he was capable of. I was scared of what people would think of me living with a convicted felon. I did not know what to think of him.
When he moved into my house it took time for us to gain an understanding of one another. I slowly began to realize that he was not a monster and he began to realize that I was not a highbrow artist. He would show me projects like to ones Angelo shared with Temporary Services. He showed me the flowers guys would make for their girlfriends out of toilet paper. I began to make paper flowers for my friends and school events...I still make flowers like this. He showed me how to make a pizza with a crust of ramen noodles and canned refried bean sauce. It was good! It was by him sharing the creative problem-solving from prison that we found a way to understand each other and how we found our commonalities. I began to see that despite the place we may live in, we all find ways to negotiate our environments; I found that negotiating his past environment as he had to negotiate my current environment helped me understand how to deal with someone who seemed so different than me.
I feel the project that Temporary Services did with Angelo gives others that same opportunity that I had to negotiate the "survival tactics" and limitations of prison. In the Francis Alys video we watched tonight the young man said that art is a reflection of what is happening in the world as it is today. I feel that it is easy to create a niche in the world we are comfortable in contemplating, comfortable in negotiating. By bringing Angelo's work to the gallery, Temporary Services recreates the prisoner's perspective and environment for us to negotiate. By taking direction from Angelo I feel he is able to communicate like my step-brother through his experience and way of addressing the environment he is used to. As artists we are constantly trying to get people to understand our point of view and the way we see the world based off of our unique experiences. I rather enjoy seeing the prisoner's perspective in the contemplative space of an Art context...it is a refreshing break from 60 minutes. The artist has freedom that a journalist, sociologist, or probation officer does not have to ask society to contemplate the way we relate to prisoners. Before I met Stu, my understanding of prisons came from the Shawshank Redemtion and the interrupted view of sprawling rural landscape by high fences and cold architecture on long road trips. I did not really know who or what was inside the real place. I still really don't. The project done by Temporary Services asks me to at least negotiate my relationship with these places. I cannot simply ignore them because they don't affect my daily life. As I am in class and eating in the cafeteria there are prisoners making up recipes with ramen and the nasty bologna they are given. There are also atrocities and injustices impossible to imagine that occur. It is this kind of perspective that the simple reproductions of projects offers the audience--at least me.
I agree that "the distinction between art practice and other creative human endeavors is irrelevant." It is difficult to ask people to contemplate the relevance of what an art object may be or the nature of an interaction. I believe that if we are asking ourselves the hard questions that product of these thought experiments are hard to determine. I think that Temporary Services has allowed the questioning to precede the products of their efforts. I believe it is a generous act to ask ones audience to enter into a dialogue about the questions you are asking yourself as a maker. We all do this, they're doing it directly and specifically.
I know that authorship is a very difficult thing to negotiate when collaborating and especially when working with "non-artist". As artists we exploit ourselves constantly. When working in collaboration we exploit even still. I feel that without Angelo's perspective and authorship on the work I would not have been able to contemplate his perspective and therefore my relationship to the world of prisons as well if it were solely an interpretation of his condition. His interpretation of what art is an can be is valuable. When surveying for a product--say toilet paper--we don't solely survey those who are experts at making toilet paper about the quality and usefulness of it. I feel we do not need to do this with creative acts. I think that we need to be asking ourselves these hard questions and we need to be thinking about what it is like to be confronted with an environment different than our own. We gain this perspective by engaging in a broader dialogue. Perhaps it is through the process with which we creatively respond to our environments, we find our commonality.