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Corcoran Gallery of Art DC Now at the Corcoran Mia Feuer An Unkindness Public Program Artist lecture

Artists reflect the world they see and feel with results that are often wonderfully synthesized for patrons and galleries. But what happens when artists become catalysts for change—when they’re the ones who take actions that require reflection? In preparation for “Artists on the Line: A Conversation on Art, Activism, and the Keystone XL Pipeline” (happening TONIGHT, Thursday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.), our guest moderator Michael McCarthy, editor-in-chief of DC Modern Luxury magazine, asked artists Franke James and David Dufresne to share their experiences in the brave new world of artistic activism.

McCarthy: Franke, why is art–whether it’s fine art, film, literature or music–a lightning rod for change? What is it about creativity that makes it the best catalyst for changing minds?

James: Art can help you to see—and feel—the world differently. It can be a great catalyst for change because it speaks directly to the heart, the mind, and the gut—it can make people feel deeply about a cause and move them to action.

The big change happened for me when I decided to tell visual stories about actions I was taking in my own life—like “doing the hardest thing first” by selling our only car, an SUV. All of a sudden, people could relate to the concern I was feeling about the planet! And they could see it was genuine because I took action and actually did the hardest thing first.

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McCarthy: How can the artistic community and an army of “anybodies” provoke change?

James: Artists can be the change-leaders shaping society. But we need to speak up! Too many people are complacent in the face of social injustices. But complacency is complicity. Use your voice — fearlessly. Exercise your right to free expression and you will stand out. Believe me.

I think the democratization of the internet gives politically-minded artists tremendous power. We can create art that changes people’s minds—which is why we see some governments censoring our art. Artists can really throw a wrench in the system by speaking the truth that nobody else wants to admit.

The transformative power of art is amazing—especially when you consider that all of us (in modern society) are bombarded by the noise and clutter of mass media. Even so, art can break through—if it’s authentic. Art can cut to the heart of what really matters in life. We can have FUN saying what others are afraid to say.

McCarthy: What do you hope audience members will walk away with Thursday night?

James: Art is fun. Art is powerful. Art is politics.

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Anybody can be an artist.

Art isn’t about drawing a straight line or a pretty picture. It’s about communicating straight from your heart and brain about what matters to you as a human being.

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McCarthy: David, your game-within-a-film concept provokes reaction as all great art does. What has been the reaction so far?

Dufresne: Fort McMoney has received a lot of positive feedback from the players themselves and we have been (happily) surprised by the numbers of players— 309,000 players for the first round! We never imagined so many people would participate. To be honest, some people didn’t understand what the goal was at first. In terms of reaction from the oil industry, it was like a blackout.

McCarthy: Why did you decide to create a “game” instead of a traditional documentary?

Dufresne: It is time to create new ways of telling stories. The web gives us a lot of tools to create and innovate. And the game is a very good learning tool. The entire project was driven from the start by the idea of combining documentary film and video games, auteur perspective, and spectator freedom. Several factors pushed us in that direction: the desire to innovate, explore new forms of narration and involve the public.

ARTS-Doc-Game-2-207x300The world’s future is being shaped by energy issues, and we saw gaming as a lever for raising awareness. I’m totally convinced that the web can regenerate the documentary genre. As for video-game writing, what has contributed to narration more than gaming in the past 20 years?

McCarthy: Do you think the interactive nature of the piece will compel more viewers/players to take action since they’re “invested” in the decision-making process…rather than the passive nature of watching a documentary?

Dufresne: Absolutely, that’s the idea. For the moment, fewer people have seen the project than if it were a traditional documentary, but those who have played are much more involved. A lot of people told us they came first for the format, then stayed for the subject.

McCarthy: What do you hope audience members will walk away with Thursday night?

Dufresne: I hope that people will leave with the energy to try new ways of expressing their activism, I hope they will see that there are many new possibilities through the web.

 

Artists on the Line: A Conversation on Art, Activism, and the Keystone XL Pipeline‘ will be held on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 at 7pm; members $8 , public $10, tickets available here. Viewing of NOW at the Corcoran exhibition, Mia Feuer: An Unkindness, follows the program