Strange Invitation was structured via a string of invitations. Three participants were invited by me with the understanding that they, in turn, would ask a collaborator to join them – a framework that encouraged improvisation, experimentation and exchange.
Strange Invitation (also the title to a Beck song) brought together three, collaborative teams that designed engaging installations, programming, and interactive hubs that encouraged direct audience involvement. The exhibition asked questions such as: “What happens when you invite an artist who defines him/herself as both social activist and organizer to do a project at a gallery space?” “How do projects evolve and surprise if you then ask those participants to invite a collaborator?” “What is revealed and what is obscured through collaboration itself?” “How can this exhibition yield knowledge about social practice and audience engagement that will inform Franklin Street Works’ activities moving forward?” Strange Invitation was on view at Franklin Street Works from April 6 – June 16, 2013.
With Strange Invitation, we blurred the boundaries between participation and creation through collaborative projects. Each component reflected a mix of art and activism, addressing themes informed by the participants’ in-depth work with local communities. Those who were invited by Franklin Street Works to participate were: Andrew Beccone, founder of the Reanimation Library in Brooklyn, NY; artist, activist, community organizer, and founding director of Smack Mellon, Andrea Reynosa, Narrowsburg, NY; and, based in Brooklyn, New York, Stephen Zacks, an urban writer/critic and artistic director of the Flint Public Art Project. Each one of these collaborators has invited artists, curators, and/or civic activists to join them. For the Franklin Street Works branch of the Reanimation Library, Beccone asked Pradeep Dalal to make new works using books from the Library’s main branch. Andrea Reynosa is organizing the Franklin Street Works Heritage Garden and Farmstand and invited ecoartpsace curator Amy Lipton to create a gallery exhibition that expands on themes surrounding the natural environment and sustainability in the show’s “Digging Deeper” component. Highlighting artists he’s worked closely with in Flint, Michigan, Zacks invited the artist collective “Flower Tour” to create installations and projections that highlight the group’s past performances.
Through its structure and range of participants, Strange Invitation brought multiple and variously informed viewpoints to the exhibition — all steeped in an understanding of how contemporary art can interface with grass roots, community-oriented projects. In addition to their knowledge of contemporary art, Franklin Street Works’ collaborators informed the show via their knowledge of urban planning, library science, and environmental activism, making this exhibition one that connects contemporary art with themes surrounding the natural, urban, and organizational environments in our daily lives.