On Lawlessness

Thinking about Jake Hanrahan’s misunderstanding of what art is and what it’s for has me thinking about what art is, and what it’s for.

Jozef Legrand
Jozef Legrand – Hareng Saur

Even when art seeks to do good, its primary lever is its lawlessness—Its utter lack of utility. Art isn’t really for anything. Even activist-artists like Laurie Jo Reynolds, or an artist like Jozef Legrand who is working so explicitly with public space that his work is mostly outdoor furniture—they are both coming at their legislation, plazas and benches from this artistic vacuum in which you really can do whatever you want. Reynolds’ work grew out of using the inmates at Tamms as content for her own ideas about isolation. Legrand works with people so well because of his own obsessions with congregating and civic space. When he’s not consulting with local governments about how to improve public spaces, he organizes demonstrations about nothing, in which people hold all kinds of different signs about external causes and internal states of mind. The purpose of these demonstrations is not to present an external display of solidarity. It’s to experience the internal sensation of congregating.

There is great freedom in uselessness—real power in playing the role of court jester. The Daily Show and Colbert Report can tell the truths CNN can’t because they’re “just” comedy shows. Artistic gestures, even most public ones, are under no obligation to scale, make sense, consider every person or even be fair. Does this generate conflict? Is it difficult to manage art’s fundamentally unruly nature when it leaves the protected space of a gallery or museum? Is it sometimes hard to defend art?


More Articles Like This One
  • Introducing our team and Field Funds!
  • Announcing our new
    Executive Director!
  • Spring Update!