In Fall of 2011, a group of fifteen teenagers from Boston teamed up with the organization Urbano under the leadership of local artist Neil Horsky to take a critical look at Boston's Freedom Trail. On Wednesday, March 20 at 6 pm, Neil Horsky and several of his students will join us to tell us about their project and to offer insight on how these creative students viewed Boston's famous historic trail.
We sat down with Neil Horsky to hear more about the project and what we can expect to hear and to see at their talk on Wednesday. Enjoy!
OSMH: In the 2011-2012 season, Urbano's art installations and performances focused on the theme "Disobedience: Civil, Political, Public and Private." Tell us a bit about how the Freedom Trail on Trial project developed during this season and how the project fit the theme "Disobedience."
Horsky: First, I want to say that it was incredible to have the opportunity to develop a Disobedience-themed project in a professional capacity. It's rare to find an arts organization with the guts to take on subjects like Disobedience and this year's theme at Urbano, Narratives of Exclusion. Urbano attracts inspired, talented youth and educators from all over Boston to apply and cultivate their creativity in a socially engaged way, in a great studio space. Also they support their Teaching Artists tremendously with planning, production, and collaborations with many skilled artists and scholars. I commend Stella for creating one of the most relevant and essential contemporary arts education organizations in New England.
Regarding your question - Freedom Trail on Trial participants exercised disobedience in two fundamental ways.
First, we questioned and challenged how history is presented to the public - we were told to do something and said NO. Memorials tell you, "This is what happened, this version of the story is the version that matters most, this is what you should believe," and we responded by saying, "Well, what about other sides of the story? We're won't just take your word for it. Let's investigate, think critically, and come to our own conclusions."
Second, we shared our conclusions through unsanctioned public artworks along the Freedom Trail - we were told not to do something, said NO and did it anyway. This literally happened more than once during our interventions. Here's one example: as we were hanging clothes and flags from a clothesline that we had strung between two street poles above a small brick plaza, we were approached by a Downtown Boston Business District security officer who told us we were not allowed to hang things there. I told her it was okay because we were from Urbano, and handed her a Freedom Trail on Trial Day of Action brochure. Later we received an answering machine message from the Downtown Boston Business District dispatcher informing us that we "need permits to do that." We recorded the message and it became the audio track to the promotional video for The Freedom Trail on Trial exhibition at Urbano.
OSMH: How did the student artists in the project develop their ideas? What areas were they most interested in?
Horsky: We began with an introduction to interventionist art practice, a.k.a. "Guerilla Art" or "Street Art," exploring how these disobedient tactics and media have been employed for social, political, and historical critique.
We played art games that I developed in grad school to help generate ideas, imagery, and dialogue, focusing on Freedom as a concept and American ideology.
We attended a lecture at MIT on the Disobedience Archive project, a catalogue of civil disobedience from around the world, which had partly inspired Urbano's Disobedience theme.
We conducted research on history associated with the Freedom Trail. We took a guided tour of the Trail led by an historical re-enactor, which inspired many of the projects, and the Radical Reference group visited us at Urbano. They are librarian activists who assist social justice organizations with research.
The project concepts were derived following two general modes of inquiry. 1) How can we express alternative perspectives of histories presented along the Trail, or express other histories not officially presented? 2) How can we relate the significance of these histories to present-day conditions?
The students developed project concepts and media with guidance from staff, guest artists and me. Some students worked in groups, others individually. Their interests were diverse. Topics included Native American history, Civil Rights history, propaganda, police violence, discrimination, and more. Media included poetry, painting, sculpture, graphic arts, interactive projects, performance art, hanging clothes and flags...
OSMH: How do you envision that these art installations and performances could inform those of us who work on, live near, or visit the Freedom Trail?
Horsky: The artworks incite and expand dialogue surrounding history and its presentation. They help us appreciate the Freedom Trail as an existing asset and an ongoing opportunity - a potential forum for new public expressions more inclusive in both content and form. What better place than the Freedom Trail to continue investigating and sharing our collective past and its significance today? If we are not free to do this here, then where could we be?
OSMH: Tell us more about the event this week. What can our audience expect?
Horsky: You'll see beautiful documentation of our interventions by photographer John Savoia and filmmaker Rene Dongo, who is an Urbano alumnus, and photos from our gallery exhibition by Joel Veak. You'll learn more about the interventions and the history they address from me and other project participants, and there will be several question and answer and open discussion periods. Also you can participate in an interactive project that engages the Meeting House's museum collection in the spirit of The Freedom Trail on Trial.
Wednesday, March 20, 6 pm
An URBANO Artist Project
Co-Sponsored by URBANO
This program is made possible by funding from the Lowell Institute.
FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC