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Humanities Center Affiliate Olson co-authors book on social practice art

Kristina Olson, associate director of the West Virginia University School of Art & Design, has published a new book titled “Social Practice Art in Turbulent Times with co-editor Eric J. Schruers.

“I was contacted by an editor with Routledge Publishing about doing a book for their ‘Art and Politics’ series based on a paper I gave at a national conference,” Olson said. “I knew that I wanted it to be a collection of essays by art historians writing about social practice art to make it a well-rounded and lively analysis of the topic.”

The book is an anthology of research in social practice art, meaning projects that create social and political change through individual, community and institutional collaboration, valuing the process over finished products. Multiple authors contributed to the book and its contents are split into four parts: history, specific examples, global perspectives and critical analysis.

“Contributing scholars provide a variety of assessments of recent projects as well as earlier precedents, define approaches to art production, and provide crucial political context,” Olson said. “The topics and art projects covered, many of which the authors have experienced firsthand, represent the work of innovative artists whose creative practice is utilized to engage audience members as active participants in effecting social and political change.”

Olson also authored a chapter in the book, “Social Practice Art and the Politics of Food.”

“My chapter considers the work of today’s social practice artists that was initiated by artists who came of age in the turbulent conditions of the 1960s and 1970s,” Olson said. “Artists like Alison Knowles are mentioned in my chapter, she has been leading her group performance called ‘Make a Salad’ from the 1960s to today. Futurefarmers, led by artist Amy Franceschini, produce all kinds of community-based projects including the Soil Kitchen in Philadelphia in 2011 where folks in this inner-city neighborhood could bring in a soil sample from their property and have it tested for contaminants.  While they ate a free bowl of soup, they could learn about soil remediation and how to plant a successful urban garden. 

 “Embracing viewer participation, it is perhaps not surprising that much of this work has incorporated the production, presentation, and consumption of food. I consider some of the history of twentieth-century art that incorporated food to challenge modernist artistic conventions and survey some of today’s social practice artists who use food to address pressing social and political issues.” 

Olson expects “Social Practice Art in Turbulent Times” to be used in a variety of art classes around the nation, including contemporary art history and studio art programs that teach social sculpture.

“I teach a course on contemporary art every spring and anticipate incorporating readings and information from these essays to educate students about this growing field of socially and politically engaged artistic practice,” Olson said. 

Article from College of Creative Arts.