Civics, an exhibition by Joseph Bochynski
If ‘Civics’ came from somewhere, it came from a question rooted in guilt. How
can an artist, who prefers to make discrete art objects, operate a studio
practice which has meaningful engagement in the civic life outside that studio?
Especially, in the worse case scenario, when the work product of the studio
This concern for generating a positive, civic impact with others is neither new
or interesting. The progenitors of civic based art include history painting, the
City Beautiful Movement (1890s), the WPA (1930s), Institutional Critique (1970s),
Relational Aesthetics (1990s), and Social Practice (2000s). It does, however,
break up a number of traditional dichotomies in contemporary art which have
become stale in the face of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives
The most prominent dichotomy this question seeks to resolve is between the
apolitical abstract paintings of Bushwick in the past 5 to 10 years with the
simultaneous radicalization of American politics. How can a studio practice be
mindful of both?
While exploring practical solutions to this problem, I came across my own
biography’s successes and failings in this field. This turned the project back
onto the personal with an exploration in images and text. Where have I
successfully and unsuccessfully encountered civic life, and what is worth
repeating through the studio filter?
Since the pursuit of inquiry is more inquiry, asking these questions has only
served to open the ‘civic’ discussion into more general fields. The most self
reflexive and potent question asks if the personal is still political when that
personal reflects the historically dominant view (a view that we could all use a
little less of).
The findings of these questions reside somewhere in the gallery between mosaic
panels, group photos, rubble, totems, and text. It is literally couched in the
white armchairs that roll about the gallery floor.