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  • Sheila Novak

Documentation and Social Practice

CoVictory Gardens Class, Week 8

This week #urbanoartists explored the necessity of documentation for social practice and community-engaged projects. Without a photograph or a video, we wouldn’t be able to share, think about, or build off of the artwork others create.


The American Lawn and Ways to Cut It, Chris Kallmyer


In the garden, artists like Chris Kallmyer have created experiences for participants and viewers, which we can begin to grasp through the photographs. “The American Lawn and Ways to Cut It” was a series of projects including an event where push-lawnmowers rigged with bells were pushed by community members and participants, who created music alongside the whir of the blades. Through these photographs, we can begin to imagine how this event was built, and how it might feel. If we walked by, we may have viewed a quirky funny exercise of chaotic mowing and jingling. Still, the best experience of this piece would be from the vantage point of a participant. Feeling the chatter of the mower handles, smelling the fresh-cut grass, hearing the bells, and passing strangers who are with you, creating this artwork. You know how to push a lawnmower, but did you ever imagine the lawnmower transformed into an instrument? How does this experience shape your experience of the lawn?


“I WENT FROM BEING AN ARTIST WHO MADE THINGS TO AN ARTIST WHO MAKES THINGS HAPPEN” - Jeremy Deller

Speak To The Earth and It Will Tell You, Jeremy Deller


Artists like Jeremy Deller and Mierle Laderman Ukeles have similarly created artworks where the participation of others is essential to creating of the work, which we know through documentation. From collecting gardening diaries (Speak to the Earth and It Will Tell You) to a simple handshake, these moments are the most impactful to those who share in them, but through documentation, we can see and imagine how our understanding of art is radically transformed through these actions, both big and small.

Touch Sanitation Performance: "Hand Shake Ritual" with workers of New York City Department of Sanitation, Mierle Laderman Ukeles


Many artists in this series over the past few weeks are artists whose work is engaged in creating aesthetic experiences and meaning within daily life, by finding art in discreet moments. From Mella Jaarsma's “I eat you eat me”, a project where participants order food for and feed each other, to Theaster Gates "Soul Food Pavillion", many artists expand upon the garden by engaging with food and finding ways to bring people together that shift our experiences of an activity we already know so well: eating.


I eat you eat me, Mella Jaarsma


When we make things happen, we also need to make videos or photographs, to expand the reach of those things, to share that happening with others, so we can all see and explore the ways our lives are filled with art. 🌑🌱


Soul Food Pavillion, Theaster Gates


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