We are happy to be writing this update on the progress of the Mobile Agora Project (M.A.P.), the development of which was supported by the 2015 SPART grant.
M.A.P. is conceived as a nomadic public pedagogical platform that will install itself in public markets in the greater Baja-Alta California region to incite critical reflection + dialogue on the way collective identities and civic engagement is (and can be) (re)constructed in a territory marked by migration and the economic (neo-liberal) erosion of national boundaries.
Since our last blog post, we have begun to manifest the physical infrastructure of the project in the form of a 1980s fiberglass trailer (seen above) that we are restoring and retrofitting to serve as a base of operations for the project.
Additionally, we have continued working with our community partners — the craft collective Manos Unidas Creando Arte and the immigrant youth activist group RAIZ — who will be joining us for the pilot launch at the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet in South-LA county later in May.
Part of the function we had conceived for M.A.P. was for it to serve as a research-outpost, allowing us the opportunity to document the economic, cultural and social character of this and other markets in the region — an effort to expand our ongoing research into the function of public (and informal) markets in the greater Tijuana – Los Angeles borderopolis.
We are excited to report that we have initiated this process of learning from + about the market prior to our full-fledged intervention, inviting others into the collaboration, and expanding the pedagogical function of this project — i.e. thinking through the very strategies + possibilities of how we hope to collaboratively learn and teach in the space.
This prologue of sorts takes the form of the The S.N.A. (Social Neighborhood Art) Project — a collaboration with Anthropology Professor Karen Stocker that invites undergraduate students from Cal State Fullerton to learn about a neighborhood through public art + research workshops, and design a creative way of sharing what/how/why they learned with/in the community.
We undertook the collaboration for the first time last year as part of our residency at Grand Central Art Center, by inviting students to learn about the history and redevelopment of Downtown Santa Ana, and subsequently design a public intervention to reflect on the issues they encountered (+ info here).
As we were preparing to lay the groundwork for M.A.P., we were approached by Professor Stocker about the possibility to collaborate with her students once again, and thus, a new iteration of the S.N.A. Project was born.
The S.N.A. Project: AGORA, which began in March, takes the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet as a site of investigation. Through creative documentation exercises, dialogue with local/site experts, and artist-facilitated workshops, students have been invited to reflect on the social + cultural + economic dynamics of public markets.
After initial site visits, the group chose to hone in on the following aspects of the market and its function within the local + regional context:
How do visitors’ + vendors’ cultural norms + behaviors shape Swap Meet culture?
i.e. How do the unique cultural + social norms of individuals fit together to shape the collective character of the Swap Meet?
Does the Swap Meet culture then shape norms + behaviors of visitors + vendors in turn?
i.e. How do individual vendors’ norms + behaviors interact with those of other vendors to shape the collective character of the Swap Meet?
Ultimately, can Swap Meet culture shape the social and/or economic norms + behaviors of visitors + vendors – inside & perhaps even outside the Swap Meet?
i.e. Can the Swap Meet be a site where the public goes to learn/practice new ways of interacting w/ others? Ways of interacting that transcend the bounds of the market?
In an effort to begin responding these questions, while learning/practicing strategies for sharing what we learn, we invited artists working in the greater Los Angeles/Tijuana transnational region to facilitate a mini-series of public art + research workshops titled Public Market + Public Research to provide students + participants an opportunity to learn about + put into practice aesthetic strategies for conducting research in public space.
The first of these workshops was facilitated by artist Jimena Sarno, an LA-based multidisciplinary artist and organizer working across a range of media including installation, sound, video, text and sculpture, and focused on aural (audio) research strategies and collective listening models as processes to engage, document and learn about social landscapes.
After a conversation on her practice, and an overview of audio recording + editing techniques, participants ventured throughout the market to produce an audio portrait of the social + cultural dynamics of the site.
The second workshop in the series was facilitated by Collective Magpie, the San Diego-based transnational collaborative team of Tae Hwang & MR Barnadas inviting the public to participate in the design + construction of migratory collective forms. The workshop took place in one such form, an inflatable dome installed in the Swap Meet to serve as a classroom in which to learn about designing + collaboratively constructing spaces for dialogue in public space.
As a culmination of the project, students are working to collectively design an artistic intervention inside the Swap Meet that will reflect on the dynamics they have encountered in the site, an intervention striving to incite dialogue on the market’s role/function within the local and regional landscape.
The form of the intervention has yet to be determined, but it will be happening in mid-May, to coincide with the launch of the Mobile Agora Project pilot.
To find out more information and get more follow the group’s process, you can visit the S.N.A. Project blog here.
– cog•nate collective