Could you tell us about the course you taught at Sonoma State on Community Involvement?
There was an abandoned, unused courtyard near the Art Department building where nothing was growing, and trash was accumulating. I asked the students: what do you want? What do you need? They didn’t have a hangout space or place to eat, so we thought, let’s create a space. That is the thing I am most proud of. I got a grant and we put in six raised vegetable beds. The students did all the research and digging and planting. They selected all the plants and found raised beds with their own filtration system where you only have to water once a month. They covered one of the walls with a mural they made and built furniture from pallets.
I have a hard time with a lot of social practice. To me, social practice is actually making a change, making a difference by doing something physical that will benefit people. I was raised by political activists and I believe in political activism that actually does something. The students took junk and made something beautiful out of it that other people can use. They created their own community.
Community Involvement is the actual title of the class and I tried to talk to them about how social practice can actually be something real, like you can really do something. It doesn’t just have to be conceptual or theoretical, and to be honest, narcissistic. That kind of politics is always hard for me, there’s nothing there except: “I’m so smart”. I see a lot of social practice in the art world that doesn’t make any sense. I think that sometimes it becomes just too…just us. You know, just for us. That’s boring to me. But then there are artists that I love, like Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who shook the hand of every sanitation worker. To me that’s brilliant. That’s a real thing, an actual connection. That is a manifestation of something important and beautiful that can change the way people think.