Issue link: http://www.cultureddigital.com/i/417885
n December 2, Pedro Reyes inaugurates ICA Miami with a new prescription for art and therapy at his "Sanatorium." The installation of interactions between "therapists" and guest "patients" customizes visits through a menu of activities. Confess your unspeakable secrets into a bottle. Tailor a voodoo doll to look like your worst enemy. Avenge abuse by beating a mannequin in a padded room. The methods riff on techniques developed by several of Harvard University's Cultural Agents, creatives who link art with psychosocial development. Reyes, born and based in Mexico City, is now a distinguished Cultural Agent himself. He has created such works as Palas por Pistolas ("Guns into Shovels"), a collaboration with a collector that involved the Mexican army, a shovel factory and 1,527 citizens who surrendered their firearms. In poetic fashion, the melted steel from the firearms was transformed into 1,527 shovels, destined to plant as many trees. For Reyes, this socially engaged approach to art-making began with an invitation in 2005 to exhibit work at Harvard's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. His plan was to fill the galleries with projections of the future, but hesitated because the future seemed bleak. Reyes felt stuck between the dignity of wanting to be honest and the delicacy of not spreading gloom. Then, something happened to revive his faith in art and hope in the future: he met two spectacular Cultural Agents. The first was Antanas Mockus, the former mayor of Bogotá, (who thinks like an artist); the other, Augusto Boal, an artist (who acted in city government). Cultural Agent-spotting along the lines that Reyes recognized is an adventure we can all pursue. They are artists who engage the public as co-creators, such as Alfredo Jaar, Krzysztof Wodiczko and Tim Rollins, to create collective works that generate the byproduct of mutual admiration. So, after worrying a bit about the alleged bad aesthetic effects of good social intentions, Reyes got back on an active track and recognized that many of the artists he most admired were also Cultural Agents. This new framing of art allowed him to imagine a witty and productive future worth projecting at the Carpenter Center. He called the exhibition, "Ad Usum: To Be Used." An oversized T-shirt hung like a banner that read: "Turn always to the left, or always to the right, and you go in circles," while an enormous top invited visitors to give it a spin that would land on a quote from this or that philosopher, rehearsing the game of chance and interpretation that Mockus had pioneered. It's not that creative arts should be immediately useful or that they lack intrinsic value. On the contrary, the very autonomy of art allows it to challenge existing arrangements and to exercise freedom. Art can trigger fresh perceptions and unclog procedure in ways that make it a social resource to reckon with. Five years after meeting Mockus, Reyes reflected on his own recent projects, noticing that they begin either as art and end up as social intervention, or vice versa. Acknowledging the agency of art and interpretation released Reyes from the familiar double bind of radical thinking about the politics of art-making: either expecting too much revolutionary effect or holding out too little hope for change. Grand gestures now seemed unnecessary—and irresponsible—while the work of making art in complicated contexts promised real results. Mexican artist PEDRO REYES explores the connection between art and psychosocial development for ICA Miami's inaugural show. BY DORIS SOMMER AND GABRIELA POMA O 148 CULTURED Doris Sommer's new book features one of Pedro Reyes' shovels from Palas por Pistolas on its cover. SOCIALLY ENGAGED Reyes reflected on his own recent projects, noticing that they begin either as art and end up as social intervention, or vice versa.