MacPhee, Reinberger Invite Viewer Participation in We Want Everything
The work of Brooklyn-based artist, designer, and archivist Josh MacPhee is socially engaged. So it’s no surprise that when his exhibition We Want Everything opens at the Cleveland Institute of Art, it will transform Reinberger Gallery into an active maker space and encourage visitors to be hands-on in the process.
We caught up with MacPhee to learn more about his practice and what viewers—or, in this case, doers—can expect from We Want Everything, which was organized in collaboration with the Cleveland Institute of Art Printmaking Department. The exhibition will be on view from April 1 to June 10 in Reinberger Gallery, with an opening event scheduled from 5 to 8pm on Friday, April 1.
CIA: What can visitors to Reinberger Gallery expect from We Want Everything?
JMP: A significant portion of the projects that comprise We Want Everything are about inviting the audience into the political graphics tradition I am a part of. Practically, that means finding ways to get people to make the work their own, which means getting them to participate in a series of printmaking processes. To that end, a large chunk of the gallery will function as a workshop, or printshop. There will be a huge collection of rubber stamps for anyone to use, a risograph printer and someone to facilitate printing on it, and scheduled community screenprinting sessions on giant, oversized screens. By encouraging and focusing on the ways images are reproduced, repurposed and distributed, I want to turn our focus to iteration and copying as an engine of human experience, rather than our culture’s fetish of the new and of authorial individuality.
CIA: Participation is something you value in artmaking. How do you hope that takes shape, or what engagement do you hope it fosters, in We Want Everything?
JMP: While in the work I do with political organizations and movements we are often aiming for measurable change, there are no specific, quantifiable goals for what comes out of this exhibition. I’m much more interested in providing an opportunity and a platform for people to participate, and I have no interest in forcing anyone to do anything. There is so much obligatory participation foisted on us by capitalism: endless customer response surveys, the explosion of the level of time that has to go into life administration, even the need to check out your own groceries at the store. Politics is not the purvey of politicians, but part and parcel of our daily lives. I’m hoping this show can offer forms of political thinking and participating that are consensual—and, ideally, enjoyable!
CIA: When you spoke at CIA’s Lunch on Fridays in November, you said you went to the Punk Rock School of Art, so to speak, which was heavily embedded in the DIY scene of the day. Leading up to We Want Everything, you’ve been working in more traditional ways with CIA’s Printmaking Department. How has that shaped your work, personally, and how has it shaped work that will appear in the exhibition?
JMP: It’s actually sort of funny that I’ve been making a living in part as a printmaker for almost twenty years, yet this was the first time I had ever made work with more traditional printmaking processes like etching and aquatint. It’s a world of difference from jamming out 250 screenprints the night before a demonstration! Working with faculty members Maggie Denk-Leigh and Stevie Tanner in CIA’s printshop has been great, but I’m going to have to return to my more down and dirty risograph and screenprinting at home.
CIA: Also in your Lunch on Fridays talk, you recategorized what many would call political art as “social movement culture.” Will you expand on that? And what elements of social movement culture might people see or experience in We Want Everything?
JMP: In 2008, Dara Greenwald and I organized a large-scale, traveling exhibition (and book): Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures 1960s to Present. The show was comprised of more than 2,000 cultural objects—posters, flyers, stickers, pamphlets, newspapers, T-shirts, songs, film, photography and more—from more than two dozen countries. All were developed out of popular struggles, whether it was a fight to lower rent or to decolonize Southern Africa, the battle over a woman’s ability to control her body or the demand for investment in AIDS research. In putting together the exhibition, we learned that there is a real and meaningful difference between what is often called “political art” or “activist art,” and what we coined social movement culture. While there is overlap, all too often what passes for political art—especially in arts institutions—is individual artists’ gestures about politics. This is often fundamentally different than art and culture that emerges out of people organizing together to transform their lives, where there are collective stakes, and real social change on offer. Art in this context faces different demands and expectations.
For more than two decades, I’ve been working with social movements, community organizations and labor unions to create art that both forwards their demands and helps build an internal sense of collectivity. We Want Everything is partly an invitation into this culture, a window into a way of understanding the world where the question is not “is this political art?” but instead where we see all art as politicized, the question is, “What does this art support: human equity and liberation or the status quo?”
CIA: What else about your practice or We Want Everything is important for readers to know?
JMP: Everything is an experiment, an opportunity to learn. I’m excited to see how people respond to the show, and hope they get something out of it as well. I don’t do much work in gallery settings and have no sense of fidelity to what a gallery should be, so turning into a space to print, research, and engage feels natural to me. Hopefully, others will agree.
ALEX VLASOV: MY KID CAN DO THAT | MARCH 7–16
JORDI ROWE: THE METAPHYSICS OF THE SUBLIME | MARCH 18–27
ALEXA WEHRMANN + SEBASTIAN SCHENZ: CUM RAGS TO CUM RICHES | MARCH 30–APRIL 9
WE WANT EVERYTHING | APRIL 1–JUNE 10
CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF ART
11610 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106