• Cult-C. Art as a Social Act: Mapping St. Petersburg; Making the Invisible Visible

    (Nobuho Nagasawa (Stony Brook University))

    This studio/seminar is available to all students interested in art, public spaces, quilting

    “Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.” -- Penny Balkin Bach Public Art in Philadelphia, 1992

    Public art in general has been preoccupied with the creation of art objects that are imposed upon an environment. They are often associated with large budgets, conventional materials, and well recognized subjects. Traditionally, public art was monuments which commemorated historical events. Some celebrate triumphant events and heroic accomplishments. Others commemorate lives swept away by war, natural disaster, or other horrific events. They are all redemptive, providing a way to understand the past that is meaningful in the present. Memorial obelisks, shrines, and sculpted figures illuminate societal, political, and cultural values at specific places and moments in time.

    This class will encourage students to challenge these traditional public art practices and perception by asking them to use their everyday environments (school, work place, neighborhood, home) as sources and sites for the creation of public directed projects. Though the class will review the history of public art and explore various contemporary projects, emphasis will be placed on the discussion and analysis of works students will produce in the class. Students will comprehensively examine public spaces and what they mean to the people who inhabit them. Most importantly students will view their work in relationship to their environment. To do this we will ask them to identify and understand who their audience is, how their work communicates, and what the responsibilities are of working in the public sphere.
         In this group project, entitled “Mapping St. Petersburg: Making the Invisible Visible” students will unveil the previously “invisible” people, places, and forgotten stories – both historical and contemporary, of the city of St. Petersburg that even local people might overlook. Students will be sent on an exploratory journey to “get lost” and “smell and taste” the city with their own eyes, ears, and senses, and bring back their discoveries into their own words and art – ultimately rendering the invisible, visible.
         Students will explore the role of an artist as one who creates, writes, influences, and participates in a diverse range of visual activities in the public, and who creates a work that provokes and revives a site and wakes people up to rediscover the city from different perspectives.
         This exploration will result in a collaborative quilt with stories stitched together as a large social fabric resembling a city map which will be exhibited in a public place at the end of the summer session. Embracing Joseph Beuys’ idea of social sculpture – art as a means of social intervention – we will reexamine and expand the conventional notion of “public art” into “art in the public.” I consider this project a metaphorical “treasure hunt,” defining the past and the present of the City of St. Petersburg – prospecting for invisible people, forgotten monuments, powerful stories, and unacknowledged places and events that make up the life of the City, discovered by a group of students from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life.
         As a community project, quilting in the United States has long been tied to activism, ranging from abolitionist causes in the nineteenth century to feminist reclamation of an undervalued past in the twentieth, incorporating economic, pacifist, environmental, labor, and numerous other issues. Activist quilts are found across the globe, but The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, often abbreviated to AIDS Memorial Quilt, is the most well-known quilt made as a memorial to celebrate the lives of people who have died of AIDS-related causes. Weighing an estimated 54 tons, it is the largest piece of community participatory public art in the world as of 2018. We will examine this project as a powerful social act that changed the lives of many.

    Group project

    In this group project, entitled “Mapping St. Petersburg: Making the Invisible Visible", students will unveil the previously “invisible” people, places, and forgotten stories – both historical and contemporary, of the city of St. Petersburg that even local people might overlook. Students will be sent on an exploratory journey to “get lost” and “smell and taste” the city with their own eyes, ears, and senses, and bring back their discoveries into their own words and art – ultimately rendering the invisible, visible.
         For students, sites and people and the “details of everyday life” should be the inspirations for their works. Students will be assigned to speak to the people who live, work, and pass through their daily lives in St. Petersburg as well as to pay close attention to the history, monuments of bygone eras, and the changing architecture in the national heritage sites of the historic city. Students will "map out" the locations of the indicated people, places, and things through visuals using drawing, painting, collage, and illustrative texts.
          To further expand the idea of the community participatory project, I hope to add an element that will literally make the invisible even more visible, and at the same time incorporate the other students of the St. Petersburg Institute and the local community into our quilt making process. I will bring special optical fiber cables developed by traditional weavers in Japan and invite all the people to stitch these cables into the quilt after the scheduled class time. The quilt will embody the passage of time while reflecting each participant's hand and character. The overall goal is to invite people, irrespective of age, culture, religious belief and sexual orientation, to participate in creating a communal fabric, and to be empowered through the process of creating a communal social fabric in a simple act of hand labor. Not only the traditional craft of stitching, which is often forgotten and invisible, will become visible, but also the traces of the hand stitching during the day will become threads of light at night. The stitches of many hands will become a glowing stream of life and light.

    A Brief History of Quilts

    The history of quilts and quilting is an age-old process, practiced in many cultures throughout the world. Quilting, the stitching together of layers of padding and fabric, may date back as far as ancient Egypt. Russia holds what is said to be the oldest example in existence of a quilted linen carpet. It was found in a Mongolian cave and is now kept at the Saint Petersburg department of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ archaeology section. Patchwork quilting, which began as a peasant tradition, soon spread upward to even the nobles. Apparently Catherine I of Russia, the wife of Peter the Great and Empress of Russia from 1725 until her death, personally sewed a patchwork quilt for her husband as a gift. In the United States, quilts originally were strictly utilitarian, recycling discarded materials to create warmth and protection from the cold. Historically, this process of “stitching together” drew together a community of women to create and complete a quilt. We will use our quilt similarly to draw together the community of this class.