artist / participant
Casco's first project in the year in which it celebrates its 20th anniversary looks back at a project that took place 20 years ago on another continent. Organized as part of our year-long programme 'User's Manual: The Grand Domestic Revolution', Casco's contribution to Utrecht Manifest–Biennial for Social Design, this signals another step in exploring how critical art, design and cultural practice affect society.
In 1989-1991, artist Martha Rosler organized her project 'If You Lived Here…' at the Dia Art Foundation in New York City. 'If You Lived Here…' was a seminal group project on housing, homelessness and the systems and conditions underlying them such as gentrification, bureaucratic complicity or non-compliance and increasing privatisation of the public sector. It took a radical approach toward art and institutions of that time, in a mode that might be called cross-disciplinary and "participatory". The archive project by Martha Rosler at Casco, initiated by Anton Vidokle and first presented at e-flux's New York space last autumn, provides an opportunity to revisit Rosler's undertaking and interrogate its legacy. Besides the archival materials that expose the organisational and research processes behind the project, more research documents that Rosler has assembled or solicited others to contribute over the last 20 years are installed for close reading at Casco. These also include new materials gathered in Utrecht.
Martha Rosler and her practice since the late 60's have become essential references for socially engaged art practice and critical feminist positions. Through her numerous works and projects, traversing diverse working methods from documentary to performative, literary to organisational, Rosler has progressively sought ways to reconnect the private and public spheres, domestic space and media culture and the urban environment in confrontation with shifting political and economic realities. 'If You Lived Here…' forms part of this practice but stands out for its complex array of activities, consisting of a cycle of three exhibitions, a book, open forums and public events such as film screenings and poetry readings.
The project was remarkable in involving diverse groups of people — artists, advocacy and activist groups, homeless people, community groups, schoolchildren, architects, urban planners and journalists —, many of whom were already dealing with the questions the project raised. In defiance of the territorial question of art versus non-art, a number of visual materials, ranging from painting, photography, videos, newspapers, advertisements and data graphs to architectural models and temporary offices and library spaces, filled the exhibition hall. The exhibition programme went beyond the usual "art gallery pattern." Rather than it being a contemplative field for a set of objects and documentary representations, 'If You Lived Here…' transformed the gallery into a terrain that supported participation and intervention and thus created a new situation of collective empowerment, no matter how fleeting.
How could such a thing [homelessness, displacement] be happening – particularly now, as the Western mass media are gloating over the collapse of the Soviet model of communism and victory of "our way of life"? … And what can be done? - from the introductory essay by Martha Rosler in the book If You Lived Here: The City in Art, Theory and Social Activism (1991)
After two decades, now that this victory is not self-evident any longer and new articulations of "communism" are called for, these questions resonate more strongly than ever. It is a good moment to take another careful look at 'If You Lived Here…'.
Open forum 17 January, 14.00-17.00 In the spirit of continuation of the form of public discussion in 'If You Lived Here…', an open forum will take place after the opening to share the history of the project as well as to develop a comparative view between past and present, between the US context and Utrecht and elsewhere in the post-welfare conditions of Europe. Participants include Martha Rosler, Anton Vidokle and Binna Choi, with guests including artist Marion von Osten, architect Andreas Muller, artist Graziela Kunsch and Friso Wiersum & Margot Ellenbruk, organizers of the Hidden City project in Utrecht.
If You Lived Here Still…
An archive project by Martha Rosler