in|ter|ceptions and in|tensions—
situating suzanne lacy’s Practice
kerStin Mey
begin with imagination but from then on let reason prevail.
—Jose saramago
Suzanne Lacy’s art practice both typifies and probes contemporary preoccu-
pations with dialogic, relational, and socially engaged aesthetic strategies and
expanded art praxis in the public domain. It epitomizes what some have called
“the social turn,” yet reaches beyond this. The title of this book—covering her
work to date—signals in programmatic terms a decisive departure from the
territory of “institutional(ized)” art.
In the introduction to her edited volume Mapping the Terrain: New Genre
Public Art, Suzanne Lacy charted the territory and underlying conditions for
the emergence of socially engaged art practice in the United States (and West-
ern Europe) since the 1970s, when many aesthetic approaches did not have
the visibility they command at the present time.1 The term “new genre” was
employed to signal a radical departure from traditional aesthetics, from their
manifestations and modes of display in gallery or museum spaces. It also sig-
naled movement away from the increased appearance of art objects in public
spaces, the main purpose of which was to promote dominant social and moral
values through an “accessible” visualization of founding myths and narratives.
While many of the practices surveyed in that book were those of “signature”
artists, it also revealed a range of collaborative and locally sited approaches.
New genre public art was defined by Lacy and her colleagues as “visual
art that uses both traditional and non- traditional media to communicate and
interact with a broad and diverse audience about issues directly relevant to
their lives. . . . [It] is based on engagement.”2 The book insisted on the need
to redefine the relationship between the public and the private, and to criti-
cally reframe the addressees for art and the public(s) it constitutes. Mapping
the Terrain emerged in a period when many artists and art institutions were in-
fatuated with “interactivity” and “connectivity,” wooed by the emerging capa-
bilities of advanced communication technologies and the powers of global
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