Martha Rosler: If You Lived Here Still
An archive project by Martha Rosler
August 28 – November 14, 2009
Opening: Friday, August 28, 6 – 8pm
41 Essex Street
New York City
T: 212 619 33 56
e-flux is pleased to present the archive of Martha Rosler’s foundational project from 1989, “If You Lived Here…”
“If You Lived Here… ” was, in Yvonne Rainer’s words, “a vivid demonstration of how an art exhibition can constitute a radically different approach, one that can offer not only a diversity of objects but can contextualize a social field in and from which the objects are produced and derive their meaning. In other words, art exhibition does not have to separate, or isolate, its objects from the conditions in and under which those objects have been produced.”
Part research-based artwork, part curated group show (with three discrete exhibitions, four public meetings, and numerous auxiliary events), part discursive series on and around the subject of homelessness and housing in America, “If You Lived Here…” took place at a Dia Art Foundation building in Soho, in New York City, in 1989. In structuring her project, Rosler worked with the young artist and student of urbanism Dan Wiley as well as with a self-organized group of homeless people calling itself Homeward Bound, and with such groups as the MadHousers, a Southern architecture collective building “huts for the homeless.” She also worked with numerous advocacy and activist groups in the city, as well as with architects and urbanists.
Reception of the project, by both Dia itself and the art and local press, showed a difficulty in recognizing the project as an exhibition of art rather than, say, a pure form of social activism. But in the end, “If You Lived Here… ” was recognized as presaging much of the interest in documentary and research-based practices, “relational” and discursive structures, participatory projects, and the “new institutionalism” that became prominent artistic and curatorial methodologies in the following two decades. According to the German art historian Nina Möntmann, “If You Lived Here… ” was a key work that influenced a whole generation of artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Renée Green, Fred Wilson, and numerous others.
As homelessness rises to record levels in New York City and elsewhere (whether because of the current grave economic conditions or the continuing absence of sensible housing policy), we find it a particularly important time to present the documents of “If You Lived Here… ” for public viewing and research. The archive includes several hundred documents. Among them are notes and plans, correspondence between Rosler and numerous individuals and groups, exhibition checklists, posters, announcements, and press releases, photographs and videotapes, research into the Dia Foundation’s real estate holdings, volumes of magazine articles and newspaper clippings on homelessness as well as lavish real estate ads, archival material on the urban development, galleys and manuscripts of the book that resulted from the project, as well as many items that informed the project but may not have been exhibited in the original exhibition cycle.
A slide show of images from the exhibition will play continuously in the exhibition space.
“If You Lived Here Still…” will open with a reception for the artist on Friday, August 28th, at 6 pm and will remain on view through November 14, 2009.
Opening hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 12-6 PM
For further information please call 212 619-3356
Still Here: An Interview With Martha Rosler and Anton Vidokle
In 1989, Martha Rosler organized “If You Lived Here…,” a major multi-part project on homelessness and housing at the Dia Art Foundation. The cycle of three exhibitions placed film, video, photo and poster works alongside graphs, charts, billboards and hand-painted slogans-such as the infamous Ed Koch quip, “If you can’t afford to live here, mo-o-ve!” More significantly, Rosler planned an extensive series of public events ranging from Town Hall meetings to poetry readings.
Twenty years on, the project remains a touchstone for art that engages social activism and discursive formats. e-flux is currently hosting Rosler’s archive project “If You Lived Here Still….”: a selection of documents, photographs, videos and slideshows that reveal the original project’s extensive organizational armature and bring it up to the present through images from subsequent presentations and a wall of material from current activist and advocacy groups.
MEDIA FARZIN: Can you tell me about the original project, and how it happened?
MARTHA ROSLER: Dia had invited me to do a solo project, and I chose homelessness as the subject. This was 1988, and homelessness, as a social fact, had suddenly appeared as if from nowhere. I gradually realized that there were many artists already working on this, so it made little sense to produce a solo work, at a venue known for encouraging, even coddling, individual geniuses. I put out a call for artists and went on a hunt for academics and activists, with [artist and urban scholar] Dan Wiley.
The project had to embed questions of homelessness in the social fabric; a show focusing on “homelessness” tout court would simply be that two-edged sword, a call for liberal guilt. What are people doing to keep their homes, what happens when they fail? We wanted to include urbanist solutions to the problem-to explore it as a complex rather than a straightforwardly obvious, negative social reality. I had one rule: no images of people lying on the ground. (The one exception turned out to be a bus poster that was part of a project-called, satirically, LA’s Official Housing Project for the Homeless-by Robbie Conal and his students at Otis Art Institute.)
FARZIN: How did this “archive project” at e-flux come to pass?
ROSLER: This is mostly for Anton, the “curator,” to answer. But I would suspect that the thinking is that the “back story,” as with my e-flux library project, has much to offer-not only the amount of “networking” and negotiating involved but also the contents of the files themselves.
ANTON VIDOKLE: I never saw the original project at Dia. It was not at their main building and I don’t think they publicized it too much. I knew and was curious about this work because a couple of years ago I invited Nina Möntmann, a German art historian and curator, for an informal lecture in the context of another project we did, Martha Rosler Library. Nina had written a book, a chapter of which deals specifically with If You Lived Here…, and her discussion of it during her talk was so interesting that I wanted to pursue this further. I asked Martha a couple of times to include material on this project in public panels and conversations I organized, and at a certain point she told me that there is actually an archive pertaining to this project at her house.
So early this summer I went to her house, and we located five boxes of papers in storage. One of the first documents I saw was a letter from Charles Wright, Dia’s director, which was absolutely fascinating-and so I asked Martha if she would like to present the archive to the public at e-flux…
FARZIN: So the archive project presents new information?
VIDOKLE: Probably ninety percent of the archive’s contents is new information, in the sense that the material was not a part of the exhibition at Dia. It contains correspondence with the many participants of this project, Martha’s research, all sorts of background material that normally is not included in presentations, but is what a work or a project is developed from.
FARZIN: The title, “If You Lived Here Still,” seems to emphasize that the social problems are still with us. Is it as artists or as citizens that you’re taking up the issue?
ROSLER: Homelessness and hunger are at record levels in the United States right now. Art can serve as a condenser of complex matters into symbolic narratives, and a catalytic node for discussion and organizing. It allows for the further germination of ideas though themes that remained unmined or require a more contemporary view.
I was surprised to discover, given the leery response of the US art press at the time, that there remains a great deal of lasting enthusiasm for this project, in both curatorial, artist-activist, and architectural circles (generated largely by the book, I suspect). Bringing forward the archives reminds people that beginning a conversation through art provides symbolic closure but does not obviate the necessity to keep on informing, organizing, audience building, and agitating.
“If You Lived Here Still…” is on view at e-flux through October 31. e-flux is located at 41 Essex Street, New York.