Lost dog, 2015, video

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Originally the work was meant to be a documentary about people who have lost their loved ones. I wanted to meet the people involved, perhaps have a coffee with them and maybe even gain access to their homes simply to interview them about their experiences.

Soon it became clear that most of these people were either reluctant to speak or too busy to take part--most of the who were interested in participating seemed to have odd, disconnected motives of their own: one wanted to be paid; another was a self-described "manic depressive" in the manic phase of her cycle; one thought that I was among his dog's kidnappers, and was attempting to negotiate a ransom.  It is true that I did not have any presumptions how the project would turn out, but at least I did not expect the hostility and hysteria of a death threat--nor the other offbeat responses I got. And I was also a bit surprised by that so few people could be bothered to respond at all.

In recent years it seems there are more and more demands on artists to engage to social-artwork projects. It is increasingly popular to engage in works that involve or activate the community and the artist in a shared effort to bring people together --with artists placed in the role of helping us all by somehow (supposedly) fostering an understanding of one another. It is now considered a given that artists have to work in the field – be among the people at large, creating works that speak to, for or with them. The days of a solitary genius working in his or her studio are over it seems.

This Lost Dog video came out of a social art project of my own--and I genuinely did want to reach the people behind those telephone numbers on the posters.  So how does a social art project turn into a series harassment phone calls? Was this just one of many social projects gone wrong?

Lately I have found myself forced to wonder about the validity, even the viability of social-art projects; found myself forced to wonder about the attitudes and ideologies underlying the demand on artists to interact directly with a public that is assumed to be somehow unenlightened and that is presumed to need something 'useful' from the artist; and I find myself questioning the idea of artists being cast in the role of social workers, educators and facilitators of culture.  Perhaps the broader public is better left alone to choose what--if anything--they do or do not want from art; and, when there is something they do want, perhaps we can simply let them ask for it rather than trying to tell them what it is. If there is such a thing and the voice of the public-- and if artists wish to hear it--perhaps it is better just to listen.