Semiotics of the Kitchen
Join Martha Rosler and Damon Rich in a conversation about making art while thinking about politics and trying to be useful, organized in conjunction with the exhibition:
Red Lines, Death Vows, Foreclosures, Risk Structures
at MIT's Compton Gallery.
In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, artists like Michael Asher, Hans Haacke, and Adrian Piper began to thematize the criticism of the structures of the art world, making sometimes controversial work about museum trustees, corporate sponsorships, and cultural prestige. This emphasis on the interplay between aesthetics and power became known as Institutional Critique.
Some artists took special interest in how art spaces reinforced specific codes of behavior. Working to render power dynamics visible, most iconically by removing the wall that separates gallery office from exhibition space, these projects intervened directly in the audience’s experience and understanding of the built environment. The artists demonstrated how social relations are embedded in built environments, and how space naturalized these fundamentally dynamic relationships.
Other artists looked at issues of power and politics in environments beyond the exhibition space, expanding their references to include the political economy of rental housing, urban planning, and community organizing. In 1989, Martha Rosler organized "If you lived here...," a series of exhibitions in New York City including material on homelessness, development politics, and gentrification.
The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), also known as Cities Understood by People, Create Understand Participate, and Cutting Up Posers, is one of the many groups that has consciously built upon this tradition. Founded by artist and designer Damon Rich in the late 1990s, CUP's early work attempted to build on the insights of Institutional Critique and attempting to bring its insights to the field of architecture. Intervening in the social siting of architecture requires changing people’s relationships to existing buildings as well as designing new ones.
By mapping the routes of garbage trucks, modeling the forms implicit in zoning codes, and charting the power structures of government agencies, CUP attempt to make visible the complex dynamics of development. Through high school curricula, public information campaigns, television programs, and exhibitions, CUP hopes to claim new roles for architects, and more importantly, new possibilities for social architecture.
In an unscripted conservation, Rosler and Rich will consider the limits and opportunities of the institutional critique of architecture.
In her performances, videos, text works, photographs, and installations, Martha Rosler has confronted her audiences with political subjects and the role of the media, analyzing quotidian, domestic, and urban life from a feminist viewpoint with humor since the early 1970s. Describing her work, Rosler says, “The subject is the commonplace—I am trying to use video to question the mythical explanations of everyday life. We accept the clash of public and private as natural, yet their separation is historical. The antagonism of the two spheres, which have in fact developed in tandem, is an ideological fiction—a potent one. I want to explore the relationships between individual consciousness, family life, and culture under capitalism.”
Damon Rich is an artist and designer using video, sculpture, graphics, and photography to investigate the political economy of the built environment. His work has been exhibited internationally at venues including the Storefront for Art and Architecture and SculptureCenter (New York City), the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst (Liepzig), the Venice Architecture Biennale, and Netherlands Architecture Institute (Rotterdam). In 1997, he founded the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people understand and change the places they live. In 2007, Rich was selected as a Loeb Fellow in Advanced Environmental Studies by the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization that produces creative education about places and how they change.
CUP facilitates collaborations between advocates, architects, artists, city workers, educators, policy makers, residents, and students to investigate the built environment. By examining spaces as they are, CUP imagines how they could be different and how residents can participate in shaping them. Investigations begin with questions about how communities work: Who built public housing? How are prisons designed? Where does garbage go? Why are there abandoned buildings? Project participants use a research-based, design-driven process to develop inventive tools for community participation and change. CUP projects take many forms: architectural proposals, board games, comic books, exhibitions, films and videos, maps, models, posters, walking tours and workshops. CUP distributes its work through community-based organizations, education and design institutions, public installations, television shows and free programs. CUP projects are executed by a network of participants supported by CUP’s staff, board of directors, and volunteers. Visit www.anothercupdevelopment.org to learn more.