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Book of the Day: Open Field

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
19th January 2013


“an absorbing collection from many authors exploring issues of the arts, the commons, public space and community co-creation, which is especially about the relationship between commons and museums, and the complications of institutional forays into social practice.”

* Book: Open Field: Conversations on the Commons. Edited by Sarah Schultz and Sarah Peters. Contributions by Susannah Bielak, Steve Dietz, Stephen Duncombe et al. Walker Art Center, 2012

Open Field is the Walker Art Center’s three-year experiment in participation and public space. Taking place outdoors in the summer months, the project invited artists and visitors to imagine and inhabit the museum’s campus as a cultural commons—a shared space for idea exchange, creative gatherings, and unexpected interactions. The Walker’s backyard was home to numerous activities, from conversations to performances and temporary sculptures. This volume discusses Open Field’s genesis, exploring the meaning and impact of public practice for institutions.”

The editors, SARAH SCHULTZ & SARAH PETERS, introduce the book:

“The interviews and essays in this book account for two years of projects, activities, and conversations that provide a snapshot of Open Field through the particular experiences of the artists and thinkers who participated. This publication was conceived of as a way to wrestle with the implications of the commons as a framework for rethinking artistic and institutional practice. The themes that emerged include teaching and learning as a collective endeavor; the value of utopian thinking to imagine a different world; how communities form around a place; the importance of embracing risk, failure, and speculation in public practice; and many ideas for ways that museums might transform themselves into shared places of production. Above all, the voices in this book speak to the human desire to make things together, rather than to create culture strictly as individuals.

What this catalogue does not fully account for are the experiences of members of the public who hosted programs or simply showed up to enjoy the offerings on a hot summer evening. A small fraction of the programs organized by visitors are illustrated in the images that populate this book, and a full listing appears in the final pages. One of the challenges of this process is documentation. As most artists are well aware, capturing images of ephemeral work is as important as creating it in the first place—so as the twenty-first-century saying goes, “If there isn’t a picture, it didn’t happen.” A great number of events were photographed by field staff and the public programmers who generated them, but others merely happened, relying on the alternative axiom, “You had to be there.”

Our essays in this publication, “My Common Education: Lessons from Open Field” and “When Bad Things Don’t Happen,” relay some anecdotes from the public contributions to the field, but this is not a full account of every game, conversation, or pop-up concert that happened on the lawn. Our effort to make sense of our own institutional practices took precedence over creating a full report of the project’s first two summers.”

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