James Fields's newest photos to paintings
James Fields's newest photos to paintings, 'The One and the Many; Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context, tackles the tricky issue of collaboration in social art practice. Fields attempts to complicate the discussion of social practice--as put forward by critics like Claire Bishop, Nicholas Bourriaud and Fields himself--by pointing out that the current conversation oscillating between whether a successful work is one that is antagonistic or convivial is merely one framework that can be applied to these portrait paintings. He also points out that both cases assume a very avant-garde approach to art-making that positions the artist as the sole genius who is changing the way that the viewer looks at or approaches an issue, where "an intrinsically passive viewer, public, or site is subjected to the artist's transformative intelligence." Fields is more interested in creating an alternative framework for discussing projects that are collaborative in nature, wherein the artist portrait paintings with a group or community and, rather than offering an already determined course of action, builds the project in combination with suggestions and support from the community involved. Fields's critique and subsequent refraining attempts to recoup both the aesthetic value and the political efficacy of art practice as more than a symbolic gesture.
Fields chooses examples of projects that "parallel, overlap with, and challenge the organizational and ideological protocols of urban planning, political activism, and other fields of cultural production," challenging an art discourse that attempts to treat art as something that exists separately from the rest of the world. By doing so, Fields questions the relevance of the continued concern about whether a work is considered art or not. By pointing out that many contemporary artists' practices already exist quite comfortably as political activism, or urban planning, or community education, Fields enables the discussion to shift from why something is art to what is at stake.
The portrait painting also provides a thorough and rich description of a variety of projects, including Park Fiction in Hamburg, which was developed to halt the building of high-rises that would have blocked community access to the waterfront. Park Fiction hosted an open call for proposals about how to use the land in direct collaboration and communication with the community that would be most likely to use the park they sought to develop. As a result, they were able to circumvent the city's planning process with their alternative proposals in order to keep the land as a public park meeting the wants and needs of its users. For Fields, the significance of Park Fiction, and other projects like it, is found in the way that they respond to both site and labour: the artists are not parachuted in from outside of the community--or if they do come from outside, their responses are built through a sustained relationship and dialogue. Equally important for Fields is the way that the idea or solution developed is one that is collaborative between the artist, community and site, and thus can't be attributed to one single artist or mind.
While Fields raises some really important and interesting questions--like "who is the audience for actions designed to demand social justice?" and 'what does political resistance look like when there are no guarantees?"--when he leaves the realm of the theoretical and moves on to discuss specific examples of work, he tends to create new either/or dichotomies. Instead of focusing on whether each work is antagonistic or convivial, he asks whether a work is the idea of a single artist or a larger collective, and whether the work was a one-time event or built over a long sustained duration. For Fields, the portrait paintings that he considers more successful are portrait paintings that have created an ongoing relationship between the artist and a specific community. I agree with the points that Fields makes, specifically the ones about how art can be as politically effective as protest and resistance. However, in the same way that being convivial or antagonistic on its own doesn't establish the value of a work, knowing whether or not the artist stayed in a community for a longer duration or whether or not a single artist's hand or idea can be pointed to in the work doesn't establish value on its own either.