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AM) It can be almost impossible for an artist with any contemporary art-world orientation to do projects with small communities without a knee-jerk negative response from critical studies academics, that you’re somehow using people for your own ends, that there’s something “colonialist” or patronizing about working with everyday folks. People suspect cynicism. Do you run into this kind of criticism?

HF) That kind of response to my work came up until recently. I’m not sure what’s changed, but I think there has been a climate shift in the art world with regard to socially engaged work. My response to the question of exploitation is that in many ways the people I work with are actually using me. There is at least a certain amount of mutual exploitation in the projects, or in other words, reciprocity. That’s a good thing. We are helping each other out. I work with people to give me different perspectives and content than I can come up with on my own: they work with me to be enabled to do things they otherwise wouldn’t have access to or the skills to do. In other professions, that’s a normal dynamic. Even in something as closely related to visual art as theater, it is normal for a director to have overriding control while actors play their part and add their individual abilities to a larger piece. No one suggests that a regional theater director is exploiting non-professional actors by casting them in a play. Sometimes exploitation is a justifiable criticism of socially driven art, but in my case I don’t think it is.

Allan McCollum interviews Harrell Fletcher (Bomb Magazine)


One Comment

  1. one can argue that it can go both ways

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