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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue
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LigoranoReese: School of Good Citizenship

Morning In America Temporary Monument, Democratic National Convention, Marshall Park, Charlotte, NC, 2012. Courtesy the School of Good Citizenship. Photo: Nora Ligorano.
Morning In America Temporary Monument, Democratic National Convention, Marshall Park, Charlotte, NC, 2012. Courtesy the School of Good Citizenship. Photo: Nora Ligorano.

School of Good Citizenship
June 20 – November 8, 2020

The 2020 Republican National Convention (RNC) has been riled with abrupt shifts in its planning. Originally slated to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, it was then moved due to the Trump administration’s initial refusal to comply with the state’s social distancing measures in the time of the severely mismanaged pandemic. Charlotte, despite no longer hosting the RNC, continues to the be the center of activities for LigoranoReese’s—the collaborative of Marshall Reese and Nora Ligorano—latest public art project the School of Good Citizenship, a timely and critical work that reflects on how to be a good citizen and questions the meaning of citizenship in the US itself. The project's shape has shifted substantially, as it was originally conceived to take place in person. As creative directors of the project, LigoranoReese’s imaginative nimbleness in pivoting their physical, site-based project to a virtual one has enabled an expansion of its immediate audience beyond Charlotte through Zoom classes, film screenings, an open-call exhibition, and musical interventions, among other activities. 

LigoranoReese have a history of intervening at national party conventions through multi-faceted projects including their 2008-2016 “Melted Away-Temporary Monuments,” a series of text-based monumental ice sculptures that often used the RNC and Democratic National Convention (DNC) as sites for their shifting and melting sculptures composed of words such as “American Dream” and “Democracy.” These works presciently gestured toward issues that we are currently grappling with in re-framing monuments as impermanent rather than enduring fixtures. Importantly, the Brooklyn-based artists had already established a relationship with Charlotte as a site through their ice sculpture the Middle Class during the 2012 DNC.

Ballot by Kevin Knudson, <em>Counting Up What's On Your Ballot, Levine Museum of the New South, 2020.</em> Courtesy the School of Good Citizenship.
Ballot by Kevin Knudson, Counting Up What's On Your Ballot, Levine Museum of the New South, 2020. Courtesy the School of Good Citizenship.

Through the School of Good Citizenship, LigoranoReese have created compelling collaborations that activate dialogues related to previous subjects that they’ve tackled such as the meaning of democracy, the nature of the economy, and the contestation of truth. The School focuses on social justice issues around the upcoming elections through partnerships with Charlotte-based artists and organizations including the Latin American Coalition and the League of Women Voters. These alliances have coalesced into a series of intertwined pedagogical projects that focus on how to be civically engaged, how to tell and amplify stories from those whose voices are often silenced, and enfranchising voters and voters’ rights. A quote from the artists on their website reads that the project’s goal “is to combine art and activism as foundations for participation in this election year.”

Launched in June, the School of Good Citizenship will continue through the November 2020 elections. Their syllabus-of-sorts unfolds with Seeing Voices Community (Un)heard, a series of workshops which teaches students from an array of backgrounds to express their personal stories through photography and writing. Taught by artists Hector Vaca Cruz, Julio Gonzalez, Renee Cloud, and poet de’Angelo Dia, the courses have instigated thought-provoking student projects that document the city of Charlotte. These works include a visual investigation of Charlotte’s redlined neighborhood, which emphasizes the city’s ingrained infrastructural racism. Others focus on documenting the Black Lives Matter protests in the Queen city that capture a clergy die-in and the iconic vision of protestors taking a knee.

Along with providing visual avenues to create discursive personal stories and anti-racist images, the School of Good Citizenship highlights Charlotte as a groundswell of national issues including voting rights and immigration. An open call exhibition at the Levine Museum of the New South, Counting UP: What Does Your Ballot Look Like? (opens online in August 2020) examines how ballots are counted. In addition, the Stories Beyond Borders screenings of short films on immigrant communities in October gestures towards Charlotte as the home to the Federal Department of Justice’s Immigration court where immigrants from Latin America have their cases heard.

Charlotte Community Virtual Choir performance of <em>I Believe</em> by John P. Keefrom <em>I Once Was Lost Now Am Found</em>, Live stream August 24-27, 2020. Courtesy the School of Good Citizenship.
Charlotte Community Virtual Choir performance of I Believe by John P. Keefrom I Once Was Lost Now Am Found, Live stream August 24-27, 2020. Courtesy the School of Good Citizenship.

Intermedia described above, along with spoken word and music have long been part of LigoranoReese’s materials. The School of Good Citizenship is collaborating with musicians David Tang, Jared Dougherty, Kevin Mayes, and choral directors in North Carolina to create a particularly poignant counterweight to the RNC speakers. I Once Was Lost Now Am Found is a virtual choir that will be live-streamed through the School’s social media every evening during the convention. The choir models a historically peaceful form of uplifting protest. Good citizenship and good leadership are paramount to a functioning government. The School of Good Citizenship moves us toward both of these future possibilities through lessons in civic engagement, positive social change, and an incitement to take action.

Contributor

Marisa Lerer

Marisa Lerer is an Associate Professor of Art History at Manhattan College. She specializes in public art, memorials, and art and social justice movements in Latin America.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues