Looking back at the early days of Creative Time Reports, I remember feeling that the only parallel to our work sprang up in the Walker Reader. We were fellow travelers on a path hewn to create space for artists’ ideas to infiltrate spaces outside of the museum or exhibition gallery. And while Creative Time Reports now exists as an archive, I am thrilled that the Reader continues to distribute this essential content to publics that reside anywhere a wifi signal beams. It is in this spirit that my co-editors at Creative Time Reports, Marisa Mazria Katz and Kareem Estefan, and I compiled a selection of our favorite posts for a book marking the publication’s five-year run. It is therefore fitting that we share the following essay from this book that speaks to some of our early learnings on the project on the Walker Reader, our sister from another mister.
When we launched Creative Time Reports in the fall of 2012, we felt an urgency to connect an international network of artists who had important things to say about events unfolding in their geographies to one another and to a broad global audience. From today’s vantage of fake news and helicopter journalism, these artists’ perspectives on world events cut to the heart of what artists and journalism can do for civil society: offer ways of seeing our world that are unfamiliar and that open alternative possibilities for the future.
The ways in which global society has narrowed in the seven years since the early days of this project have been stunning. With nationalisms, xenophobia, wealth inequity, and identity-based violence all on a precipitous rise, I am increasingly convinced that culture must play a more prominent role in confronting these divisions. Advanced capitalism is shrinking our imaginations, and political discourse is attempting to put us all into discrete boxes. Yet, in all our multitudinous identities, none of us fit in any one box, and it is perhaps within the realm of culture that we might be able to identify the subtler manifestations of these constraints and, most importantly, to tap into the creativity that we need to embody the society in which we want to live. This life that we imagine together not only should include fighting injustices and unmasking false narratives but also should create space for joy, allow us to tap into our differences and commonalities with generosity and support a productive agonism.
Impossible utopia, you say? Perhaps. But if we don’t carry a dream with us, then what will the future hold?
In our stumblings to bring Creative Time Reports to life, we learned important lessons from our greatest challenges. One morning we received a message via Facebook from an artist in Southeast Asia living under a repressive political regime. They desperately wanted to tell the story of life in that context with the hope that it might bring international attention. As conversations evolved, however, it became clear that this artist was being tracked by their government on Facebook. We had to consider more secure ways of communicating. Further, together with the artist, we came up against the very potent reality that even if this artist was brave enough to speak out, it might put their entire social media network at risk for retribution. The story was shelved.
We also found ways to add texture to some of Creative Time’s public installations during this dynamic period. Among my favorite examples of this was the suite of pieces commissioned to run in tandem with Kara Walker’s epic sculpture installation A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014). The work itself was a monumental undertaking—a six-story-tall sphinx in the form of a black woman whose surface was made of sugar, installed in the disused remains of the Domino Sugar Factory on the Brooklyn waterfront. The histories of forced migration, labor, legacies of colonialism, current-day racial politics and realities and so much more were front and center in this artwork, as they were in pieces by Ricardo Cortés, Edwidge Danticat, Jean-Euphèle Milcé, Shailja Patel, and Tracy K. Smith commissioned by Creative Time Reports. Each provided compelling international perspectives as well as poetic echoes to the installation and its powerful messages.
With Trevor Paglen, we continued the Creative Time tradition of following artists into unknown territory. On the heels of Edward Snowden’s leaked documents revealing the US government’s domestic spying programs, Paglen wanted to fly above and photograph the buildings in which surveillance agencies reside. I was surprised to learn how many more such agencies, like the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency, existed beyond the well-known National Security Agency. I was even more surprised when I saw the parking facilities sprawling around the buildings in Paglen’s photos, which suggest that these buildings must be far larger than they seem, given the number of cars that the lots can accommodate. (Do they occupy endless underground terrain?)
The importance of Paglen’s project was twofold: (1) Paglen made material and visible the infrastructures of the surveillance power of the state, which until that moment citizens might not have considered, and (2) he provided the photos free of charge for high-resolution download to any media agency or person who might want to use them under the Creative Commons license.
From the outset we envisioned Creative Time Reports not only as a platform in which artists could bring their views into public discourse but also as a means to add resonance to the idea that the work of artists should not be confined to the arts pages of a newspaper and that the ways in which some artists work could provide very different and necessary narratives for the public to consider in the ongoing homogenization and consolidation of news sources.
Today Creative Time Reports remains not only a profound resource for analysis of world events but also an incredibly useful compendium of artists’ writings for anyone doing research into specific geographies; political, social, and economic realities; or artistic practices. And the urgencies that we responded to at the outset of the project have only increased in the seven years that have since passed.