The YBCA “Arte Útil” Class – Judging Art for Social Function Rather Than Symbolism

It has been about two weeks since being accepted into the Yerba Buena Center for the Art’s Fellowship. At first, I was expecting a cluster bomb of pro-Hillary liberals. This fellowship on “dissent” would be standard art class of how it should work to spread awareness, etc. Or so I thought. I am pleasantly surprised of the actual outcome. Tania Bruguera’s class is anything but what I expected. Describing what and how the Dissent Fellowship is a little hard (there are so many unorthodoxies going on), but here we go.

In short, the Dissent Fellowship is a class on what is termed as Arte Útil. We go back to the classical question of life: what is art? For the Arte Útil ideologues, art should be less representational and symbolic and more “useful”. Useful not in the sense of “innovation” or some empty capitalist rhetoric, but useful as its role in society. What’s sometimes funny is the Bruguera dismissing Picasso and the classic art “canon”. It’s uninteresting for her, dare say, “useless”.

What’s also important to point out is that the class isn’t just the effort of Bruguera herself; true to the philosophy of Arte Útil, the best way to describe it is that a collective is teaching the class. So what we have here is about 3-4 people at one time teaching, guiding, facilitating the curriculum. Personally, I find it refreshing – what one instructor or individual lacks, another makes up for it. Their views aren’t always on the same page.

Anyway, back to the actual idea here. What the arte utilitarios reiterate is a return to art as how is was seen in ancient times prior (sorry not intending to confuse with the Western ethical school, I just don’t know what to call them). By ancient I mean the time when art wasn’t strictly under the control of the Catholic Church. Art was understood as something you do, rather than symbolizing something on a canvas. Gardening, engineering, you name it. The Great Exhibition of 1851 displayed to a large extent these views, where art and design were one and the same.

The Arte Útil archive shows tons of examples of what they mean. What’s so cool and interesting is an anarchistic attempt, sometimes successful, of transforming life through creative direct action. My favorite is the “Parasite” project. Designers, along with the homeless, design together shelters that work by being inflated from the hot air off of large buildings. The result: warm shelters for those without a roof. In short, Arte Útil is about direct creative solutions to problems.

Also, the facilitators of the class hate galleries, but they aren’t afraid of infiltrating  institutions once in a while.


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