Link to What's New This Week Art and the Workers of City Water Tunnel #3

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Sociology of Art
as a Tool for Illocutionary Discourse

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Created: July 13, 2003
Latest Update: August 31, 2003
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Index of Topics on Site Art and the Workers of City Water Tunnel #3

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, July 2003.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This lecture is drawn from the text were to use in the Sociology of "Knowing" in the Fall semester: The Citizen Artist: Twenty Years of Art in the Public Arena. Volume I. Edited by Linda Frye Burnham nd Steven Durland. An Anthology from High Performance Magazine. Published by Critical Press, the publishing arm of the Gunk Foundation. 1998. ISBN: 1883831-10-5.

So often we exclude Others from our circle of individual transactions because they are different in some way. Marty Pottenger took on a major art performance in New York City in which she sought to change the social interactions we have with construction workers. She focused on City Water Tunnel #3. And she designed an art project to make New Yorkers aware of the importance of the people who constructed City Water Tunnel #3 to everyone in New York.

We're trying to get this text for you, so that you can develop some insight to the myriad ways ordinary folks have of changing the world of their lived experience through other means than rational argument. This is important to us because we need that kind of change just now. We need to find a way to reconstruct a public value system that focuses on the value of humans, all humans, to each other, and their value as living creatures on this planet, and the value of all creatures to each other. We have placed so much emphasis on economic survival and control of Others and of Nature that we have forgotten that beyond control there is a single mortal existence to every living thing.

Libertarians, following such philosophers as Robert Nozick, have insisted that humans as a species will best realize their potential by allowing each individual the freedom to achieve and acquire as much as she can. Liberals, following such philosophers as John Rawls, have insisted that humans as a species will best realize their potential by living in a system of justice and fairness where none are dominated or exploited for the benefit of others. Critical theorists, and those of us postmodernists who don't disintegrate into absolute relativity, following such philosophers as Jurgen Habermas, insist that there is no "right answer" to balancing the tension between the individual and the collective, but that we must continuously seek to hear all truth claims in good faith and to seek rational means of living together without killing off ourselves and other species.

We can't tell you which philosophy of life, if any, holds the key to a life well-lived, in Socrates' sense, but no one can tell you that. We can make you aware of such differences in seeing and understanding life, and then remind you that no one has the answers, and that that inflicts upon you the Sartrian "angoisse" of having to critically face our lived experiences. I don't know whether we'll eventually find some metatheory of criticism in an attempt to opt in good faith between conflicting truth claims. I don't know whether Lyotard will eventually be show to be right that there can be no metatheory. But I do know that we cannot socially construct a world in which we can avoid responsibly for our decisions. I do know that we cannot "leave it to others, our representatives, to take care of us." In this life we each have a responsibility, whether guided by God or not, to be accountable for complicity in our collectives decisions. We do have a vote, whether it's in a legal system or just a vote with our heart, minds, and feet. And so we are each accountable, to ourselves and the lives we enjoy, and maybe to some higher order.

"How Shall I Know Thee," in telling the story of Marty Pottenger's art project, reminds us of the many different ways in which that accountability and complicity can work. We could have public discourse meetings to discuss the issue of how workers are excluded from the privilege of white collar prestige, or how they are ignored in projects of community information dissemination, or how we could get them to take part in more culture. Somehow I don't think such discussions would draw well in the frenetic environment of today's culture.

But Marty Pottenger went about shaking thier hands, looking in to their eyes with respect and recognition of the importance of the role they play in the culture and life of New York City. Performance art. And she included them in the performance. OK, so it's not rational, and I know the faith that Habermas places in rational argument. But it's illocutionary argument. We aren't trying to get them to vote on a new policy either for them or for the government. We're just trying to establish contact with an "Other," with someone we usually leave out of such discourse. In Illocutionary Art Performances I'll be sharing with you Marty Pottenger's own evaluation of how well the project worked.


Discussion Questions

  1. Who did Marty Pottenger select as the Other who had been excluded from a part of our lived experience?

    The workers of City Water Tunnel #3

  2. How could this project change the infrastructure as it affects the ordinary New Yorker?

    Through increasing awareness of the humanity of all workers, and the integral role each plays in the community.