Life as an art form: Why not?

Living as Form—the platform for socially engaged arts and projects


Author: Sylvia Borissova

What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?

I came across this catch-phrase from Michel Foucault for the first time on an online platform for socially engaged arts—Living as Form. This platform is the first global project of its kind, which through action wants to redefine the idea of cultural industry and to inscribe living human life, going beyond any molds, in today’s world.

Living as Form is an unprecedented international project which has been exploring for twenty years, from 1991 to 2011, cultural works and phenomena that blur and merge art forms and everyday life. Each of these phenomena emphasizes community participation, dialogue, and engagement.

The Living as Form platform brings together a wide range of socially engaged practices in a variety of often unsuspected areas of life and culture, ranging from theater to activism and from urban planning to visual arts. The project involves 25 curators and has documented more than 100 artists’ projects in a huge exhibition in the historic building of Essex Street Market in New York. The dynamic online archive of Living as Form includes over 350 socially engaged projects.

In 2012, the book Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991—2011 was published jointly by Creative Time Books and MIT Press. It is the crown of the team’s great efforts and collects some of the most important projects from the exhibition archive, as well as essays by famous critics and theorists in the field of socially engaged arts such as Carol Becker, Claire Bishop, Teddy Cruz, Brian Holmes, Maria Lind and Shannon Jackson. In addition to key examples of what socially engaged art is, the book is valuable with a number of insights into the methodologies for its creation, with interesting stories about the various projects presented, but also with an extension of our boldest ideas of what life could mean as an art form.

Broken City Lab, Cross-Border Communication, 2009

Foucault’s concluding words in his last interview with Jamin Raskin for City Paper in 1984, in response to the question of whether there is a way “to go from the interpretation and unlocking of events and ideas to the remaking, the reconstruction of the world”, are the following:

I can suggest one thing. Search for what is good and strong and beautiful in your society and elaborate from there. Push outward. Always create from what you already have. Then you will know what to do.

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