Touchy Feely will be five days from January 25 to 29 packed full of artist-led talks, workshops, performances and presentations held at Inflight ARI, Hobart, Tasmania. Curated by Amy Spiers and Pip Stafford, it will bring together a number of interstate and Tasmanian artists – including Lara Thoms, Liz Dunn, Nancy Mauro-Flude, Sally Rees, Paula Silva, Judith Abell, Jason James and Elizabeth Woods – to discuss central issues facing socially engaged, participatory and relational artists today.
In recent years Hobart has been the base for a series of intriguing and exciting projects of a relational, socially engaged and live art nature. Recent examples include David Cross’ Iteration:Again and Paula Silva’s “artist-run” CWA branch. For this reason, it seems timely and appropriate to gather together artists in Hobart who are interested in participation and social engagement to meet and exchange ideas, express misgivings about our field and engage in hearty and passionate debate.
Why the theme?
Touchy Feely is organised around a central question: Is socially engaged and relational art too sentimental? As the instigator of this project, I raise this question because “sentimental” and “comfortable” have been pejorative terms used to challenge art I have made, as well as work by artists I like. I have begun to take these criticisms seriously.
Indeed, in recent decades there has been a “social turn” in contemporary art, here in Australia and internationally. This turn is characterised by art projects that emphasise participation, dialogue and community engagement to activate the public. It has given rise to an optimistic notion that art can be marshaled to tackle wider social issues and create emancipatory social relations. These practices take a variety of forms, some more politically overt than others, however what they all have in common is that they are artistic attempts to offer new social models of being and living together.
In an effort to re-humanise and re-connect a society atomized and alienated by capitalism, increasingly artists are adopting socially ameliorative strategies. But has this resulted in a sentimental and friendly artistic impulse, that is at the expense of complexity and criticality?
In response to these concerns Touchy Feely will seek to address the following questions:
- Should the “skill set” of art be instrumentalised to make a better world?
- Is there a role for hope, compassion and optimism in art, without having to take an evangelical or moralistic position?
- In our current situation, is it actually politically irresponsible to creatively express despair, unease and tension?
- Is contemporary art marked by a facile cynicism, heartlessness and nihilism?
- Or is relational and socially engaged art in Australia too sentimental, ethical and uncritical?
If you can’t make it to Hobart, you can still follow the discussions on our blog: touchyfeelyhobart.tumblr.com. We will regularly post updates and videos of talks during the event.
If you’d like more information or wish to contribute something remotely send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.