Wedge Projects* in Rogers Park opened in Feb. 2017. Since then Wedge has served over 30 artists through its residency/exhibition program, collaborated with other initiatives including Roman Susan, Terrain, Hyde Park Arts Center, 1018 North, among others) as well as initiating, with artists Mel Keiser and Matthew Goulish, the ongoing writers’ group, “Between the Tongue and the Taste”. From its inception Wedge has been an emphatically artist and art centric initiative.
In that time, so many candid and thoughtful conversations have confirmed the value of both our disposition and its manifested form; opportunities which encourage artists to reach into the entire range of their thinking and ambitions, and are explicitly and affirmatively dedicated to directly supporting and advantaging artists’ own autonomous, creative ambitions by:
Minimizing the weight of institutional oversight and pressure
De-privileging systemic expectations to identify with ideologically,
politically or socially engaged preoccupations and dernier cris.
Subverting the effects of interference, subordination and
instrumentalization that can otherwise inhibit an artist’s general
sense of autonomy, confidence, and clarity.
Respecting the autonomy of public persons as well, and responsively,
energizing and promoting a qualitatively distinct, more directly
relational dynamic for engagement and therefore, connected,
communicative clarity between artist (art) and audience
Recognizing autonomy as critical to creative practice in the
Acknowledging art to be an exemplary agent for free speech.
With this in mind, the following material will go more deeply into the rationale beneath both the concept and structure of what is being proposed and its relationship to the Chicago art world ecology. Here, we want to direct some attention to a couple of issues (and their implications) we have found to be, currently, particularly relevant and often de-vitalizing considerations for artists.
I) Social Practice and social engagement: The effects of consenting to prescriptive metrics.
Over the last decade, at least, institutional and organizational support for visual artists and organizations has become more narrowly conditioned. Programs and practices which conform to established standards of social engagement, even activism, have gained an almost pre-eminent level of esteem and attention. In accordance with this, those institutions and entities who provide funding and creative opportunity, tend to prioritize creative forms and public contexts that endorse social engagement as a prerequisite, albeit an often muted one, to lending their support.
While not precisely a crisis, the implications of such a systemic, tacit agreement, for many, if not the majority, of visual artists, are significant and consequential:
Artists who maintain more autonomous, less instrumentalized prerogatives for their practices, rightfully feel that the weight of support is out of balance.
The supportive preferences given to social engagement rely on a set of exclusive judgements which often sideline alternative, but not contentious, determinations and possibilities for both the artist and the public.
Conclusively, the legitimacy, importance and efficacy of the cultural contributions many artists and organizations make simply cannot be, nor should they be, determined by applying the same metrics that qualify and describe socially engaged forms and ideologies of creative production.
A significant percentage of cultural producers find themselves, ironically, disenfranchised in a world of initiatives which claim art and artists as their articulated center of gravity.
II) Pressure and Limitation: Responding to Instrumentalization
When artists look for support and opportunity, they do so with the clear knowledge that most of the supportive associations available to them will be predicated on defined philanthropic agendas and /or philosophical missions.
Artists also understand that givers will purposefully endorse only those who categorically underwrite their missions and reputations. All of this makes perfect sense from the granter or organization’s point of view. And while we’re not suggesting anything unethical, or inherently harmful in this, for artists, it takes effect as yet another stumbling block to contend with along an already complicated path. Invariably, along this path, artists discover their precarious position within a hierarchy of systemic expectations which, de facto, pressure them to subordinate not only their own creative imperatives, but even the terms they employ to express them. Under-represented and “emerging” artists in particular are our concern, and they, more than others, are obliged to such systemic relationships which, by now, have their own general orthodoxy of conventions. Unfortunately, and perhaps unavoidably, the resulting system depends on evaluative metrics which, functionally, require artists to accept an expedient, deferential position as if it were simply, “the cost of doing business”. In the extreme, then, artists and art making, however else they might be credited, begin to correlate with something akin to exploitable raw material. This is because, the aforementioned metrics determine the artists’ worth and relevance, to be at least partly predicated on how agreeably they cooperate as instrumentalized assets in service to those they are looking to for support. Many artists, even the most clever, willing and adaptable, cannot help but feel pressure to conform, evaluate, compromise and even limit their practices (at least to some extent), in terms of extra-personal criteria. As subordinates, their access to resources and support can depend on it.
Certainly, cases exist where the missions of a giver and the ambitions of an artist can match up. Regardless, instrumentalization can manifest in those relationships as well. It is a characteristic, and endemic disposition among organizations and benefactors (including many types of residencies) and markets that point to artists and art as their core of concern. Unsurprisingly then, there is a correlative dispositional effect: Many, if not most, artists regularly find themselves beleaguered, disaffected, and frustrated amidst softly coercive, transactional demands and the postulate interests which are inherent in this regard. Thus, the pressures are real and the limiting, conditioning effects they impose on artists, and in analogous ways, the public, linger. Effective and generous, remedial alternatives are rare and important.
Wedge Reconsidered: Concept for a New Venue
Physical Plant - A self-contained, ADA and code compliant venue of
between 4500 and 6500 square feet built to include:
Option1: Preferably 4 project spaces offering a continual rotation of residencies which adhere to the Wedge residency structure as their model. A full description of “The Residency” appears below.
Option 2: One of the four spaces devoted to curated projects, projects adjunct to other projects at other venues, special exhibitions, etc.
A substantial Social/Flex space. Description below
A well-equipped workshop/maintenance facility.
Office space for 3-5 employees and interns.
Ample dedicated storage.
Paid Staff- (minimum)
Director – Operations and Programming
Asst. Director - Communications and Programming
To be sure this is an ambitious concept in terms of both intent and feasibility. In some ways, relative to the Chicago art world ecology, that’s the point. That said, a more complete view of the potentialities of “Wedge Reconsidered” must include an understanding of how an actual physical plant could enliven the rationale beneath it. To that end, the hypothetical space plans included below serve as a visual aid in order to help in this understanding.
“The Residency” engenders important, supportive implications for makers through offering effective conditions for individual artists including a meaningful stipend.
Projects are not curated, as such, because a basic tenet of the program is that it be directed to subvert and minimize the effects of subordination and instrumentalization that can otherwise inhibit an artist’s general sense of autonomy, confidence, and clarity. Therefore, the artist decides how best they can extend and reinforce the thought and ambition inherent in their practice; the artist determines the range, direction, process and form of what they hope to emphasize and achieve during their residency. Managerial, and administrative roles, by design, become subordinate to the artists objectives.
Artists would be granted 24-hour access to the facility, allowing them to work and think as they choose. When help is needed, staff would be made available to assist with a range of technical experience, skills, and sweat equity. The nature, timing, and duration of public presentations would also to be directed by the artist and may include special programming such as performance, artist talks, etc., as part of their residencies. There would be support and allowance for some flexibility in order to accommodate various levels of spontaneous discovery when the need presents itself. Typically, a resident will occupy the facility for several weeks, developing their project, before opening to the public. In the event that logistical, practical or unforeseen conditions arise, staff may be consulted and may assist either in a managerial or collaborative role, at the behest of the artist. The venue would be responsible for organizing and paying for promotion through its website and other social media. Design and content decisions related to promotion would be made in coordination with residents. Receptions would be covered out of the venue’s funds. Artists would receive a meaningful stipend and an allowance for materials. (amounts TBD)
The proposed selection process would be a comparatively unstructured method rather than a system and would take place through recommendations and personal interaction and applied with scrupulous attention given to proactive participation, research, and outreach. The method is considered, intentional, and to be carried out with persistent and diligent dedication to diversity and inclusiveness. It is direct, transparent, and eliminates unproductive procedural formality and administrative red tape.
This uncluttered, responsive, and intelligible range of services is substantive and reinforces everyone’s personal right of unfettered free speech.
It is a heuristic view which, when put into practice, has proven the value and desirability of the benefits it offers artists as well as in what is projected for public consumption.
The Public Experience
Members of the public rarely have the option to experience art absent some significant form of extra personal intervention or instruction. Such guidance appears in a wide array of purposeful forms and contexts, from directly informative to boldly activist, from thematic oversight to institutional contextualization, and often as hovering about in the form of public relations. Making this observation should not be taken as a basis for arguing against the value of many commonly prioritized institutional practices or curatorial enterprises – particularly those that are directly educational. Such a shift of attention does point out, however, that, in the aggregate, the lack of alternatives to such supervised conditions results in an incomplete set of options for public experience.
Consistent with the body of our artist centered concerns, we support and respect thae autonomy of public persons as well. Therefore, we maintain that by lessening the presence of governing and supervisory interests, we energize an uncommon and undervalued alternative, experiential opportunity for members of the public. Though perhaps subtle, we promote qualitatively distinct and more direct conditions for engagement and therefor connection, between artist (art) and audience (public individuals).
Since its inception, Wedge Projects has always operated in a niche, inasmuch as niches can be vacant or vacated spaces. We did not create this niche but in recognizing its existence we saw something other than possessable, bounded territory. Instead we opted for trying to energize a fluid, dispositional realm where the prerogatives of creative practice could be largely disentangled from purposeful commodification or service; in other words, instrumentalization. This disposition makes it clear that constructing an alternative to the types and numbers of instrumentalized circumstances we have described, supports, in both tangible and intangible ways, the inarguable value and relevance of advocating for and articulating, in practice, the autonomous and insubordinate relationships between creative ambitions, meaningful engagements and cultural experience.
It is understood that the grounds of this proposal have implications with regards to the current prevailing emphasis, among givers and institutions, to support and promote programs and practices which are discernably outward facing and socially engaged. However, such a point of view, as a matter principle. does not include, taking a position on what can be viewed as basically, theoretical and/or formal issues. Hopefully then, intentions will not be misconstrued as antagonistic towards the justifiably important purposes such entities and individuals promote. We have no inclination towards disputing the sincerity and value of what contributions they may make available on behalf their respective constituencies.
Still, we do share a concern, expressed to us in various ways by many artists, which is that the preponderance of attention and funding given to socially engaged forms, actually exacerbates the problems we’ve identified. Many artists become understandably disparaged by institutionalized inferences and prerogatives which privilege certain formal strategies and activities as being somehow dispositive of the most relevant, responsible (moral) and therefore, productive kinds of creative purposes, propositions or practices.
Because our goals rely on alternative, idealistic principles rather than political or ideological ones, we are, on behalf of many artists, resistant in the presence of certain reflexive and ironically elitist leanings, particularly ones which acquiesce to somewhat limiting notions of social and cultural efficacy.
Artists who maintain a more autonomous, less instrumentalized, yet nonetheless ambitious, prerogative for their practices, rightfully feel that the weight of support is out of balance.
Could it be, we wonder, that rigorous modes of expression which are service averse, contest expediency and resist instrumentalization proffer a more radical construct in this moment of late capitalism than the other way around?
The design and outfitting of this space would address its grounding purpose as a welcoming location for people to gather, meet and “hang out” (BYO!). Beyond that central function, the Social/Flex space would also be designed and equipped to be a versatile, multi-use area made suitable for a range of revolving programming including: performances, readings, film and video screenings, small conferences and meetings, curated and thematic exhibits, a writers’ works exchange, and occasional more spontaneous inclusions among many possibilities.