Notations on Innovations

Perhaps more than other pronouncements, those of an innovative nature are contingent on their opposite, the non-innovative platitudes from which they distinguish themselves and through which their innovativeness comes into focus, and into being. Mind you, such difference is entirely in the eye of the beholder. On the other hand, as its etymology confirms, the word “innovation” suggests not a complete departure from the familiar, not something new, but rather a “change in something established,” a concerted effort to meddle and tweak. Thus, the innovative is rooted in the ordinary and cajoled into being by it. This simultaneity of multiple conditions, the “new” only present within the old or established, makes for a curious situation where multiple perspectives rule at the same time.

That is not unlike the high of the speculative moment, that threshold where multiple possibilities can be entertained before decisions are made. To my mind, such an awareness afforded by innovation makes it relevant to our current moment, loaded as it is with intersecting social, cultural and economic systems. Innovation’s significance comes less from its specific material impact than from its function as a lens that allows us to behold a variety of possibilities and options. The specter of evaluation raises its head: is such awareness “actionable,” can something be done with that? I would say yes, it is essential for a nuanced, considerate and comprehensive assessment of any given context and, accordingly, can lead to more nuanced, considerate and comprehensive interventions or projects.

And innovation is usually not established in isolation. In fact, its impact is enhanced if a certain consensus arises around such an innovative incident, when the “difference within” has become a benchmark, and an agreement has been forged as to the nature and extent of its innovativeness. An example is Maria Nordman and her projects involving chance encounters with people. Untitled, 1969 (ongoing[1]), consists of an open door to a Santa Monica storefront with blackboards inside, “for whomever might arrive by chance.” For Speaking Voice and the Sun (1989), she assembled in New York’s Central Park a group of passersby who agreed to stand in a circle and speak to each other as they moved away from one another. The work was completed for each participant when s/he could no longer hear the other, and would set off on his/her own way again. Innovative, but not considered so at the time, because it wasn’t considered at all. Today, Nordman’s projects are recognized as milestones in recent art history, with all the hallmarks of (artistic) innovation – proto-performances, curatorial interventions, socially engaged spaces, collectively authored, immaterial, often sound-focused projects, reverberating with notions of specificity and abstraction, feminism and conceptualism.

So what about that question of visibility and influence? If innovation is a given, what is the difference between the innovative act (informed by innovative perspective) and its repercussions? Perhaps that is the instant where degrees of innovation manifest themselves, with those most influential being the ones that are most deeply embedded in a given context, even if that becomes evident only over time.

A visitor peers into a work by Maria Nordman at the Stommeln Synagogue in Germany, 1996. (Image)

[1] as of 1986, per Nordman, Maria. De Sculptura: Works in the City; some ongoing questions. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel, 1986, p. 15.


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“’Innovation’ in art and capital” by E. C. Feiss – September 30, 2014

“Notations on Innovations” by Carin Kuoni – October 3, 2014

“Re/new” by Robert Sember – October 7, 2014

“Radical or Reactionary: The Value of Innovation in SEA” by Elizabeth Grady – October 9, 2014

“What’s New Pussycat?: Socially Engaged Art and the Institution” by Jen Delos Reyes – October 15, 2014

“Is socially engaged art ‘innovative’? (A word game with scrapheap prizes.)” by Stephen Pritchard – October 20, 2014

“Innovation as symptom?” by Carin Kuoni – October 31, 2014

“Unmaking Innovation: A Return to the New” by Elizabeth Grady – November 10, 2014

“Change as Form” by Robert Sember – December 1, 2014

“Jen Delos Reyes Responds to Growing Dialogue and You Won’t Believe What She Found on the Internet” by Jen Delos Reyes – December 4, 2014

Growing Dialogue is a series of moderated online debates among thought leaders in social practice.

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