Two years ago, my friend Renata was teaching at the University of Zhongshan in southeastern China.
“Come to China,” she said. “They will want to know your art.”
Last December, the Regional Arts Commission offered me the chance. They awarded me an artist support grant to travel to China, talk to artists, teach, learn, and expand my social practice project, Dare to Touch the Face of God.
Not many people know the term “social practice.” It’s the idea that art is more than beautiful — it’s important. And the shear practice of creating and viewing purposeful art can spark an action or open a heart.
As I described it last night to about 35 Chinese artists and creative professionals and students: social practice art is where our ideals meet action. Stop talking and DO.
Dare to Touch the Face of God is an artist’s response to violence and intolerance in our world. We often feel helpless in the wake of horribleness. Social practice art offers action.
Last night, 15 people who never thought they could have an impact on the world inscribed prayer flags. China understands Prayer Flags. China understands the consequences — and power — of action. Had I brought 40 flags, I’m sure all would be inscribed.
The prayer flags are inspired by the tradition of Buddhist prayer flags. Many Chinese are Buddhist and it’s a familiar symbol. According to tradition, the inscribed prayers are lifted by the wind, carried around the world, and touch every being who feels the breeze. The idea that a normal person could add their messages of harmony was novel and exciting. That it was art? Remarkable.
No one asked questions — maybe it’s a stupid question, maybe someone is listening to the question — but every single person wanted to speak to me after the talk. One woman hugged me and, which tears in her eyes, told me that she didn’t know that one small act could be so powerful. She didn’t know that art could change our lives. Her life.
It can. It does. And it takes the collective to do it.