Social Practice Art


The Bubble Brigade

Dear Students,

We have a huge range of freedom but we unconsciously choose to limit ourselves to what’s socially acceptable.  So it starts with a sense of possibility and wonder—you have to start experiencing the world like a child and ask “what if” questions.  And don’t be too quick to judge the idea or throw it out.  Some of my best ideas have been the ones I thought were silly, corny or embarrassing at the time.  Sometimes I start with a place—what does this place need to come alive, to really sing, to put a smile on people’s faces?  Or a moment or a season.  For example, what is May Day?  Sometimes a word leaps out at me in a conversation like boneknit and I make a visual pun.  I look for spaces that have been vandalized or abandoned and I see the possibility for transformation.  (benches, phone booths)  I think walking is one of the most important practices, ways to get ideas.  Oxygenate the brain.  Soothe the nervous system with repetitive action.  Experience a bouquet of sensations—sound, sight, touch, smell—and the element of chance and serendipity.  

Social practice is a way of being in the world.  Some of the finest social practice artists I know do not consider themselves artists.  There’s Joe who walks 10 miles from one end of Bellingham to the other every day, and knows this place called Bellingham intimately.  Elli, who dresses like a fairy and gives children “dragon scales.”  The three college students who passed out cupcakes to homeless people on Valentine’s Day.  The anonymous person who pruned the ivy on the Grainery into a heart for years…creating the perfect photo opp for newly married couples.  

It’s the recognition that we have the power to make an impact on others, no matter how small.  Start with the tiniest gesture.  Crack your car window open and blow some bubbles for the people stuck in traffic with you.  They will never see you again anyway.  Do a dance move while crossing the street.  Wear a mismatched pair of socks.  Strike a yoga pose on the sidewalk.  Hold a meal and tell everyone to come wearing polka dots.  Or host a potluck where all the food has to be yellow.  Wear your ugly knit chicken sweater for a day or an hour.

We are all creating Reality and Culture together.  When we have some fun doing it, it’s like adding flavor to our cultural stew, a little spice here, salt there.  Why should we settle for a boring, depressing Reality when we don’t have to?  So it all comes back to freedom, to giving ourselves permission to be free and to be agents of positive change.  Who and what you are does matter…Each of us has a ripple effect on the people around us.



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