Chats About Change on Michelada Think Tank’s Race Art & Survival
In January of 2015 the first Chats About Change event was held at California State University Los Angeles and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE). The discussions were meant to be a grassroots intervention in the ways people talk about art and politics and a grassroots conversation about arts and politics. Five chats covered thematic territory including; antagonism, participation, ecology and site, art and spirit, and interdisciplinary methodologies. Chats took place over two very full days, and it was clear to all involved that we’d barely scratched the surface of a conversation on art and social change in Los Angeles. With this in mind, LACE invited Chats About Change to continue our curatorial project during the summer of 2015 in their project space. We immediately thought of inviting the Michelada Think Tank to produce an experimental residency at LACE, as an extension and evolution of the first Chats About Change event.
We’d been hearing about the Michelada Think Tank (MTT), a collective of artists including Noe Gaytan, Carol Zou, Shefali Mistry, Mario Mesquita and others formed during graduate studies at the Otis College of Art and Design’s Public Practice program. We first became aware of MTT during the 2014 Open Engagement conference, where they had set about to engage with the racial biases surrounding social practice art. Upon their return they extended this conversation into the social spaces of Los Angeles with boozey conversation about concerns of representation by artists of color here in Los Angeles. During our January Chats About Change event the conversation around participation specifically questioned the participation of underrepresented artists of color in the white dominated “artworld.” Given the national and local conversation that has been brewing around issues of race and survival (including the “De-colonizing The White Cube” conversations that have been taking place at Human Resources) we understood the urgency around these topics. We invited MTT to develop a project in LACE’s project room, which became “Race, Art, and Survival – Michelada Think Tank & Chats About Change.”
The goal of “Race, Art, and Survival – Michelada Think Tank & Chats About Chage” has been to create a People of Color (PoC) survival guide for artists. MTT acknowledged the difficulty of creating this guide in the first place, as there is not one “solution” or “guide” that a PoC artist can use to survive the “artworld,” and so MTT set about to use crowd-sourced knowledge and open-share conversations to create this guide.
More than 500 years after Columbus and 40 years after the Chicano Moratorium, Anglo-American culture shows no sign of loosening its hegemonic grip on culture. The that non-Anglo American’s bring to culture may point to relationships beyond dominion; relationships that do not place humans and their economy at the center of the world. If these outsider perspectives are meant to last through coming ecological and economic tribulations they must show a capacity to withstand the market meant to tame them. It is a tall order; and whether or not the MTT’s draft version of a survival guide for People of Color is such a blueprint or not, we shall see. However, to take on the project in the manner that they have – looking to see where the language lies in the field rather then constructing it from their own preconceptions or privileged and disciplined artists voices – this anti-hierarchical, at times unwieldy, public approach to imaging a guide is something to hold up.
“Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.”- Eduardo Galeano
-Chats About Change (Robby Herbst and Elana Mann), September, 2015