Just in time for the media overload of campaign season, RedLine’s year-long series R/Evolution invites viewers to forgo the “white noise of politicians, to look to the artists to help frame political, social and political conversations,” says Louise Martorano, executive director of the non-profit, adding that the series is “motivated because, historically, artists have always been on the vanguard of social change and movements. Although it’s always hard to review history as it's happening, it's kind of this moment to… really listen to what artists are doing.”
The media “moment” of this particular election season highlights “bipartisanship at its most severe,” Martorano suggests. And while it may be the role of artists to bridge the political divide, she says it is equally true that “where they’ve always showed up is to pose questions that either side may not be considering.”
The first exhibit in the series, Monumental, which opened last month, asks just some of these questions. Featuring the work of RedLine’s resident artists, Monumental “looks at how public monuments and historical memory are constructed,” which Martorano ventures are social phenomenon that are “not as multicultural as they could be,” being “really attached to a Euro-centric history.” She points to the work of Sarah Fukami, whose Wakeme (Partition) addresses the legacy of Japanese internment, particularly as it “integrates with her own personal history.” Adjacent to Monumental, RedLine has staged (R)evolver, also part of the R/Evolution series, which features artists from its Reach program, which provides support — paint brushes, studios, social-support networks — to individuals have experienced homelessness in some way.
Come March, R/Evolution will collaborate with the Month of Print in a show curated by RedLine alums Sarah Scott and Chinn Wang that explores collaboration and "the institution of the community print shop as a space for social practice and collective art," Martorano says. And in August, RedLine will host "48 Hours of Socially Engaged Art and Conversation," which takes a critical look at the relationship between art-making and social responsibility, bringing various Denver institutions together to talk about "best practices" in the field.
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Through ongoing programs like Reach and the annual 48 Hours, RedLine has always tried to link social engagement with art, and R/Evolution strengthens that connection. As implied by the title of the series, revolution and evolution are related but distinct modes for social change — one sudden, the other gradual. Artists are often “on the vanguard of social change and movements,” Martorano says, pointing to both Occupy Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution.
In 1938, twenty years after he joined in the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky, a former — and marginalized — Bolshevik co-wrote Towards a Revolutionary Art with surrealist Andre Breton, which includes this: “In the contemporary world we must recognize the ever more widespread destruction of those conditions under which intellectual creation is possible.” For Trotsky, that destruction stemmed from both the exploitative and competitive conditions of capitalism, as well as the co-option and oppression of creative freedom by the state, including the Soviet State he himself had helped to found.
“It’s antithetical to contemporary art to tell artists to make work about a certain idea,” notes Martorano. This freedom may indeed seem revolutionary in an election year saturated with spectacle, when presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz daily proclaim from the podium exactly what we should say, how we should act, and who we should be.
R/Evolution continues through the year at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street. Visit RedLine's website for more information.