Socially Engaged Art and Digital Practice

Clarinda Mac Low

Digital tools of all kinds are deeply embedded in how our society operates. Innovations in basic communication, data processing, and image manipulation and have transformed our social worlds and our artistic practice. This has become even clearer and more present during the current global pandemic, where, during times of social isolation, digital and networked tools almost fully replaced in-person social life. This course will explore how digital tools are and can be used in socially engaged art practice, where art and creative work intersect directly with people and civic life, with a new concentration on how art and social practice transform when virtual presence is paramount. This includes discussion of how digital and networked tools both increase and complicate physical, economic, and cultural accessibility. We will look at artists like Stephanie Dinkins, Meredith Lackey, and the group Forensic Architecture. Students will be asked to propose several projects as thought experiments, and fully realize one online/digital socially engaged project. We will review and discuss the different definitions of “socially engaged practice”, including discussions about “best practices” to use for working with different communities, and the politics of how we interact socially and we approach the physical as well as social space around us. We will work on how digital tools have been used in socially engaged art and how they could be used further, and experiment with how online life functions as a public space, guided by the understanding that working digitally with socially engaged concepts means both using digital tools within projects AND interrogating the inner workings of how digital practice operates socially and culturally. Depending on circumstances, we will have some meetings and activities in public spaces, field trips to organizations such as Eyebeam, and practical applications of methodology, as well as two or three guest lecturers.