Midway through a workshop on creative activism the morning of November 22, a group of Pakistani visual artists visiting NYU got some surprising news: Jay-Z had heard they were in the States, and had requested that they perform with him in a music video, as backup singers.
Stephen Duncombe, the Gallatin associate professor who was leading the workshop with conceptual artist Steve Lambert, produced a blank sheet of paper. “You’ll all need to write down your shirt sizes,” he deadpanned, “so you can be fitted for costumes.”
Lambert squinted at a message on his cell phone as he rattled off some logistics. The shoot was to take place that afternoon. In Maryland. On a boat.
Read the rest: For Pakistani Artists, an Exercise in Creative Activism.
Iowa Public Radio
I appeared live on the last segment of the “River to River” program.
Capitalism – Does it work for you? That’s the question on a 20-ft-long sign with flashing lights that’s come to Cedar Rapids. Viewers vote by pressing true or false. Steve Lambert, the artist behind the project Steve Lambert explains his inspiration and share some of the responses he gathered.
download an mp3
The Cedar Rapids Gazette
If you remember, I was on Jason Sims podcast, “Jason Sims Puts You In Your Place” a few months back and Jason and I decided to make it the first “2-parter.”
You can listen to Part 2 now and in this conversation we talk about:
- getting my wisdom teeth taken out in Tijuana.
- the non-glamorous side of traveling for work – from touring with bands to teaching with the Center for Artistic Activism
- seeking out meaningful experiences on the road at the expense of those very experiences
- Visiting Kenya
- The struggle of saying “no” to what sound like amazing opportunities
You can get it on iTunes or from the site, Jason Sims Puts You In Your Place.
Sculpture Magazine did a review of Capitalism Works For Me! True/False in their most recent issue. Read the PDF: SculptureMag-Steve Lambert.pdf
“Capitalism Works For Me! True/False” is on the cover of issue 114 of Social Text.
I’m proud to be included in this radio piece for Future Tense (Australian public radio) on Pranks and Tricksters. The show also interviewed Charlie Todd (Improv Everywhere), Bani Brusadin, and Dr. Gabriela Coleman.
You can download the Pranks and Tricksters MP3 or just listen to it here:
The interview went really well and the production is excellent. I highly recommend giving it a listen.
You can see my terrible draft sketches in this interview for Type Talk.
I had a great time talking with Jason Sims about the various places I’ve lived and how it’s affected my work as an artist. You can listen to it on Slice Radio, download the mp3, subscribe in your podcatcher of choice, or whatever.
Can I highly recommend it? Because I do.
My It’s Time to Fight and It’s Time to Stop Fighting show at Charlie James Gallery was the backdrop for these 3 videos encouraging people to vote in the election.
I Am Voting:
Vote Like a Champion:
Vote Your Dreams:
The LA Weekly ran a piece about my solo show at Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles. You can read the whole thing at the LA Weekly site.
Adam Stock wrote a piece in Alluvium that included a reference to Light Criticism and Capitalism Works For Me! True/False. You can read the full piece on the Alluvium site.
I was quoted in Why Kickstarter Outfunding the NEA Isn’t a Good Thing on Read Write Web. I actually have way more to say about this than what was included. You can read some of what I’ve said in a 4 part post the UCIRA blog (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4).
Don’t ask me about this in person unless you want to hear me go on for at least 20 minutes.
See also: this video on “why should public funds be spent to support artwork that might be considered offensive?”
Thomas Seeley did an interview with me about Capitalism Works For Me True/False for Breakthru Radio. You can listen to the show online.
DESIGN ACT Socially and politically engaged design today – critical roles and emerging tactics
30 September, 6-8 pm
Antigo Tribunal da Boa-Hora,
Presentation of the DESIGN ACT book by the editors Magnus Ericson and Ramia Mazé followed by a panel discussion with Joseph Grima, Meike Schalk (both contributors to the book) and Lisa Rosendahl, Iaspis director. Moderator: Annika Enqvist, project co-ordinator, Iaspis
DESIGN ACT Socially and politically engaged design today – critical roles and emerging tactics is a new book that presents and discusses contemporary design practices that engage with political and societal issues. Since 2009, Iaspis’ and Interactive Institute’s collaboration DESIGN ACT has been highlighting and discussing practices, in which designers have been engaging critically as well as practically in such issues. Itself an example of applied critical thinking and experimental tactics, the process behind the DESIGN ACT project is considered as a curatorial, participatory and open-ended activity. DESIGN ACT has developed through a website with an online archive; public seminars; presentations and an international network of practitioners, theoreticians and curators.
The book is organized around three sections:
‘WHAT are examples of these movements?’ Contemporary and historical writings, including reprints of ‘Suicidal Desires’ (from the book Superstudio: Life Without Objects, by Peter Lang and William Menking) and ‘Designer as Author’ (from the book Design Noir by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby), historical reflections by Helena Mattsson and Christina Zetterlund and an interview with Doina Petrescu (FR) by Ramia Mazé.
‘HOW does it happen and what does it take?’ A substantial analysis of the tactics and methods of the examples of projects featured in the DESIGN ACT archive, by Ramia Mazé and Natasha Marie Llorens.
‘WHERE does it happen and in what contexts?’ A broad perspective on practice from institutions, education and research to new forms of practitioner initiated projects: Interviews with Pelin Dervis (TK), Joseph Grima (IT/US), Ou Ning (CH), Meike Schalk (SE/DE), Yanki Lee (UK), Ana Betancour (SE), Otto von Busch (SE), Mauricio Carbalan (AR) and Tor Lindstrand (SE), by Magnus Ericson.
The book also includes descriptions of 36 projects from the DESIGN ACT archive by:
A+URL, Camilla Andersson, Anti-Advertising Agency, Jon Ardern and Benedict Singleton, atelier d’architecture autogérée, Otto von Busch, Constant in collaboration with Recyclart, City Mine(d) and Speculoos, Dunne & Raby, eskyiu, Fantastic Norway, Aslı Kıyak İngin and Teike Asselbergs, International Festival with Front, Natalie Jeremijenko and the xClinic staff, Yanki Lee with Paula Dib, live|work, m7red, MINE, muf, New Beauty Council, Josh On, Marjetica Potrč and STEALTH in collaboration with A5 Arkitekter, Michael Rakowitz, Raumlaborberlin, Hannah le Roux, School of Missing Studies/Centrala – Foundation for Future Cities, Stalker, Think Public, Unsworn Industries and Zoom Architecture
This book is a final and complimentary part of the project DESIGN ACT, produced by Iaspis, published by Sternberg Press and edited by the founders of the DESIGN ACT project, Magnus Ericson and Ramia Mazé.
is the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s International Programme for Visual Arts. The main purpose is to promote dialogue between practitioners in Sweden and the international scene. Iaspis encompasses an international studio program in Sweden, a support structure for exhibitions and residences abroad for Swedish-based practitioners, and a program of seminars, exhibitions and publications. www.iaspis.se
The Interactive Institute
is a Swedish IT research institute that combines expertise in art, design and technology. Pioneering societal and sustainable approaches to world-leading applied research, the institute develops new research areas, products and services, and provides research and strategic advice to corporations and public organizations. www.tii.se
EXD (Experimenta) is an international biennale dedicated to design, architecture and creativity; a forward-thinking platform that cultivates and analyses contemporary culture through discussion and reflection. It is a springboard for up-andcoming talent and experimentation in different formats, from exhibitions to urban interventions, debates and lectures. Focusing on people and ideas, the biennale’s programme is designed to provide insight and incentive to both a specialized audience and the public at large, disseminating information and provoking debate. www.experimentadesign.pt
The following is an essay by Sam Gould written for The Present Group‘s to accompany the edition of “I Want You To Have This”. I was very flattered by it.
If you prefer a pretty pdf version, here it is. There’s more on the project (an audio interview, photos, and ability to buy one if they are still available) at The Present Group’s website.
Against Generosity, or: Steve Lambert, and a Lot of Other People, Want Something From You
by Sam Gould
Generosity is a lie. To be more precise, generosity, as a form of absolute selflessness is almost never achievable, and most often when you come across someone attempting to be actively generous it’s an action rife with conflict and contradiction. Though we hate to admit it, we shouldn’t be worry about this too much. Unless you are training to be the Messiah why should it be any other way? People want to redeem themselves, they want to boost their ego, their sense of self-worth. People want to do good deeds for any number of reasons. And yet, to continue the adage, our punishment for our good deeds done is often the guilt in knowing that we wanted something in return for our actions, no matter how incalculable that return might be within our own heads and hearts. However benignly or benevolently, however grossly, we are selfish beings. Is that so wrong? How much good is psychically corrupted in hiding it?
Would it be more helpful for us to start describing these acts in a somewhat different fashion, a fashion more productive to the situation at hand, one that for semantics sake doesn’t degenerate into questions of intent? There’s no shame in admitting that we get something out of giving. It doesn’t dilute the gesture or its value. We create our own values when it comes to un-regulated and intangible systems of exchange. Let’s therefore promote a community of reciprocity wherein our return, the exchange in question, is self-determined. Let’s do away with the problematics of generosity for something more anarchic, more complex, more… generous in deed than definition.
Steve Lambert – his person and his work – exists on a continuum in a long line of absurdist provocateurs hell bent on changing the world for the better one sincere, well-formed, slightly ridiculous gesture at a time. Sometimes it’s not intentionally so ridiculous, it’s just that from the outside, for those not already there, it can seem a little far-fetched. But just wait. You’ll see. He makes objects and actions in equal measure, never favoring one over the other – they are all constructed as a means of provoking dialogue around various political subjects, profound and humorous alike. For Lambert these bits of provocation are intended to get people thinking (and talking) about how they act, what they believe, how they imagine the world around them, and how they imagine what it could be. Inaccurately defined, his work is generous. It gives a lot of itself. It also asks for much in return from its viewers and participants. So, from here on out, I’ll use Lambert as an agent for my argument.
Lambert’s newest project is an edition, a simple wooden box with the words, “I Want You to Have This” inscribed upon it. Keep it by your front door. Put that scratched copy of Come On Feel the Lemonheads inside, your old rabbit’s foot, the weed someone gave you and you’ve kept in the freezer for years, in the hopes it will remain fresh, thinking, “I like pot. I’ll smoke this someday. The perfect day…” and yet you just never got around to it. I Want You to Have This allows you to give away the shit you don’t want anymore, the items that follow you, from one house to the next, one phase of your life to another, like a benign demon, a cuddly, lice-free, and not all that heavy monkey on your back. They aren’t too much of an intrusion or burden, these items. But honestly, they take up space and you don’t need them now, and you might not ever have to begin with. Why not give them away? The piece is a very simple gesture that aims at discussing a less than simple subject; the transparency of a gift delivered insincerely. A gift can be a burden, and a burden given in the guise of a gift can really piss people off, as cultural norms state that you have to accept the damn thing without complaint.
These days it seems to call someone out as a Social Practice artist is to say they are doing something, which for one is public, as well as new and difficult to define. Or to call some a Social Practice artist is to say that their work is, again, public and that they aren’t trying hard enough. Lambert is a Social Practice artist, but not quite for either of those reasons. His work is about publics, yes. And his work is not hard to define or difficult. It is deceptively simple. Simplicity, as a methodology, is a great asset in the creation of a public around a piece or practice. It allows those who engage a work to enter into the piece easily, with confidence that they are aware of its place in the world, how it works, and how they are to engage it. From there on out, they gain the agency to consider, deconstruct, and absorb the work as their own. They are aware of the ruse, the trick, the framework, and in the case of Lambert’s practice, their “in on the joke.” His work, in line with a particular stain of Social Practice, is public in that it is often situated outside of the gallery space, but far more importantly it is about galvanizing a group of unknown people around an idea to consider it and make it their own. It is open. It is malleable. It grows from project to project to include others. It continues conversations from one to the next, and encourages the viewer/participant to converge with the work of other practitioners, as well as become one themselves if they do not consider themselves one already. It asks us to do this work till it doesn’t become work any more but life. It asks us to form A Public around our work so that through embodiment and accumulation it may become The Public, i.e., Common Place, Quotidian. It represents itself in a state of becoming, in that it suggests to those who encounter it a possibility of a future, a future which they are part of – with others.
Social Practice accepts and values the influence of other fields and histories outside of the aesthetic realm. Furthermore, contrary to what one might expect, Social Practice values art and aesthetics equally as much as the practices so-called outside influences. And, with that in mind, it finds that the designation of art can allow one to mine fields and hybridize them in a manner to elicit dialogue around issues that are important to the practitioner, and as this work is about the formation of publics, those that gravitate towards the work. Of course this forces one to mention an important issue – there’s a lot of disingenuous crappy social practice work out there that doesn’t work hard enough, that isn’t critical of its own intentions, and yet due to its relative “newness” gets lumped with the rest. This is work that wants to give, wants to be (pseudo)generous, without being honest with its intentions or desires, without being open with its tensions, which are generative and nothing to hide. I say this without a want to be cynical, and I’d argue that my statement isn’t that. It’s to say that to create a space that values the socio-cultural and political intentions of its rhetoric the person or people who envisioned and desired that space need to get naked, fight to relieve themselves of hierarchies, and attempt the creation of an area of questioning as much as an area of statement making. Too much Social Practice continues to value statements over questions. I’d argue though that the questions, in the end, are the slightly more valuable by- product of the two. Good questions provoke more thoughtful statements. Questions, which are of honest concern to those who ask them, are reciprocal in nature.
And this brings us back to my original point. A practice concerned with the formation of publics, the notion of social art as a form of generosity has become increasingly prevalent. For a practice whose strengths, for one, lay within its non-hierarchical stance, this is disingenuous when inconsiderately employed. In response to the work of artists such as Harrell Fletcher, do-gooder work abounds, with more and more works and projects proposing to do this and that for someone. But the imitators and the influenced, as well as Fletcher’s work itself, seem dangerously hollow. I say dangerous because I see and believe deeply in the public possibilities and political efficacy of a certain strain of Social Practice. When a work or worker presupposes that they have something to give to someone without making it plainly apparent that they get something in return for this act, a system of hierarchies is established and allowed to flourish; between artist and participant, between white people and people of color, between middle class or rich and the poor, able and disabled, and so forth down the line. A practitioner working in this way promotes dictation over facilitation in that its more about making statements through their interactions than it is about asking questions of the people who allow that interaction to emerge, or about being publicly questioned ourselves. We need to express, in overt, theoretical, even aesthetics terms that we as social practitioners are part(s) of the public which we are actively attempting to form, not actors alongside or outside the public(s) which we endeavor to help create. And, if it is evident to others that, in certain circumstances we do not consider ourselves part of that public, we need to ask difficult questions of ourselves if we wish to see the work we do as separate from ourselves while continuing to be politically effaceable. Simply put, our concerns and actions need to be reciprocal in some form or another, and this reciprocity needs to be visible. We need to ask, “What do I get out of this,” with as much intention as, “what can I give.” This is a problem that Lambert handles often, and elegantly.
Whether creating a space to publicly talk “about anything” (as in Lambert’s 2006 work, I Will Talk With Anyone…), or an object that asks its viewer to consider the manners and habits in which we give of ourselves to others (as in Lambert’s newest work), an exchange between maker and participant takes place in the work we make. In this sense, there really isn’t too much of a difference between I Want You to Have This and another work of Lambert’s, a collaboration with The Yes Men and many others, entitled NY Times Special Edition. Each work takes a simple object and presents a set of possibilities and problems in front of those who encounter it. Both are works that are supposed to live with you, rather than you visit them, in that they enter into the most quotidian aspects of our day; our commute, a visit to a friend’s house. While the scale of each project differs, the intentions of both are of a piece. They ask us to question the things in our life that we find most common place and immovable; the material wealth we collect yet find burdensome, our complicity in war’s fought in our name, education and the models we accept for ourselves and others, or our participation in economies of all sorts. With a slight smile they ask, “Well… what if?” They give something to you for free, and yet ask you to do something with the information or object you’ve received. They agitate for us to question our considerations. They are anything but singular, anything but passive, anything but generous as we know it.
From the Lower East Side Printshop’s Special Edition Residency 2010 Catalog Essay by Sarah Hanley.
Many artists aspire to be revolutionary, but Steve Lambert is truly original and radical. To begin, it takes more than a few seconds of preemptory scanning of his webpage – the main hub for his action and web-based work – to fully understand what he is about. Second, his intended audience is much larger than the art world. Though he possesses traditional degrees in art from respected institutions, he has managed to escape the solipsistic trap that often results from such training to create work that anyone, anywhere, can connect with and understand. Finally, though the final product is frequently something that cannot be owned or possessed as an investment in a traditional sense, this is not his sole intention or driving concept. Instead, Steve Lambert has dedicated his career to creating pubic signs, freeware, websites, and publications that will truly cause anyone who is lucky to witness them to stop and think, or to just improve their lives in a simple but meaningful way.
Take for example his freeware Firefox application titled ADD-ART, which replaces all ads on the browser with artwork. Or his special mock edition of the New York Times (http://nytimes-se.com), which unlike its sarcastic relation The Onion, envisions a truly guileless and utopian alternate reality in which all public universities are free and Condoleezza Rice holds a press conference to frankly confess that the Bush Administration knew all along that there were no WMDs.
Lambert brought this spirit of enjoyable subversion to his residency at the Printshop with a series of three prints that challenge basic ideas behind ownership of art. He was guided by one of two (or a combination of both) of the following self-determined principles. First, he wanted people who buy the work to have to come to terms with the fact that “you can’t get a perfect one.” This concept sprang from Lambert’s interest in Buddhist ideas, specifically, that one must accept things as they are, because that is how they should be. OUT OF IDEAS is a screenprint in Lambert’s signature brushwork lettering style (downloadable on Lambert’s website) and each impression is either torn in two, splashed with coffee, or both, depending on the artist’s whim. Likewise, each impression of the variable edition screenprint This is Perfect is uniquely off register. No two are alike, but also – none are perfect. Lambert’s choice of palette for this print was inspired by the color scheme for a palace he visited during a trip to Turkey with a friend, who noticed that one of its tiles had a mistake in the pattern. They later learned that this was intentional and all Islamic art incorporates a flaw, as Muslims believe that nothing can be perfect but Allah.
Lambert was also interested in overturning the expectation that a collector can buy his work and simply look at it. This was the guiding principle for In BLANK days… , an interactive print that requires the owner to fill in the chalkboard-painted blanks. Depending on the choice of words, the resulting statement can become a directive/goal, a means of stress release, or a source of humor. “If you own the work, you have to do something. It’s not just…I own it, and that’s the end. “