Mark Nelson

How can art-making impact social and political issues?

The projects I have created for the last 22 years are the direct result of having been raised overseas as a resident guest in other people's lands. These experiences gave me priceless insight into culture, class division, politics, and passion. As a kid I knew I would make the arts a career. It is through the mentoring and nurture of friends overseas that I came to understand the importance of art as a vehicle for social change, particularly as a voice in a culture so wasteful of resources and preoccupied with decadence.

Artists can impact social and political issues in a range of ways. By traveling and interacting with populations outside of our national borders, by spending part of your formal education and life's journey in lands that are not privileged and live as equals. Artists can talk to a broader audience by exhibiting in public places that directly come into contact with the general population rather than the limited arena of the galleries. They can create work that provokes solutions instead of supplying answers. Everyone needs multiple options, one size does not fit all.

My studio is knee deep in materials. I rarely throw anything out with the idea that every scrap will ultimately find its way into a project. I choose my themes from world events and childhood memories of military life and colonialism. For additional resources, I often venture outside of the studio to acquire raw video and still imagery, capturing the nuances of specific objects and environments. Like many artists, my studio space is never large enough. To resolve this problem, I develop my sculpto-media projects in components, and then assemble them whole at the designated site. Once these works are installed, I video tape audience/pedestrian interaction, and edit my raw footage into docu-media.

When it comes to issues, poverty is probably at the top of my list. I had first became aware of poverty at age 10, in Hawaii, living in a home overlooking the ocean, while native Hawaiians living in shanty shacks dotted the shoreline. My life in Panama was equally enlightening, where the guest residents (U.S. Americans) often treated their hosts like second class citizens. My mentors were life educating as well as formal in the visual and performing arts, and it was ironic that one of my Panamanian artist/teachers encouraged me to study in Chicago. What I had not been prepared for when I returned to the US, was the "Third world" poverty conditions. I was perplexed by so many low income project buildings, under the old system of racial profiling existing within the same culture that claimed to have a global monopoly on freedom. I was equally overwhelmed at the contrast of wealth that flowed through this land I had come to know in Panama as Gringolandia (USA); the amusement park for the privileged. Surely, this couldn't be the same place I had experienced watching the Southern Command Television network!. Como va ser ?!

As an artist and human, I believe our love for humanity must be greater than our determination to be a global enforcer. With our value system being all about the mirror, we are out of touch with the international community, and perceived as global gluttons. History has taught us that the exportation of forced ideologies, no matter how good the intention is, will usually fail. Instead of supporting policies of instant gratification, let us rededicate ourselves to the visualization of global harmony without having to own it. Artists can use their position within their communities to discuss the political and social issues of the day and help to organize a suitable response.

Mark Nelson defines his art by his childhood experiences overseas. Raised as a Colonial American outside of the continental U.S., Nelson's worldly upbringing culminated in a twenty year residence in the Republicof Panamawhere he developed his interest in visual and performing arts. At the encouragement of his mentors, Mark Nelson returned to the USAto finish his formal education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Masters in Fine Arts at the Universityof Illinoisin Chicago. Nelson then took up permanent residence in the city of Chicago, where he lives and works in his GringoLandia Studio, located in the historic neighborhood of Pilsen.

Published by CAR_Sara on Tue, 01/08/2008 - 12:22am
Updated on Wed, 07/09/2014 - 4:11pm