To hear Grant Kester tell it, he's been planning this for decades.
"I've been writing about various forms of activist and socially-based art forms for probably 25 years," says the UC San Diego professor of art history, who also has a background in art journalism. "I put two and two together and started thinking about taking my experience in publications and connecting it with my research interests."
Those interests led Kester to become the founder of FIELD, a recently launched website of "socially-engaged art criticism." The description can be a tad misleading. One could read it and think that the dozens of contributing critics are the ones being socially engaged, but Kester is quick to point out that the site is devoted to the critical analysis of art practices that are socially engaging. That is, readers won't be reading lengthy commentaries on museum exhibitions, but rather, on what Kester describes as "amazing, complicated and contradictory forms of art practice that are being developed by artists and collectives internationally.
"It really can cover a huge range of things," he adds. "They can be public art projects but ones that also overlap with other fields like straightforward activism, environmental work or participatory planning."
Kester held FIELD's first issue launch and seminar on May 1 at UCSD, and plans to release new articles three times a year.
FIELD contributors include academics and artists from all over the U.S. and Mexico. There are 13 articles already on the site and vary in subject, tone and execution. L.A.-based writer Marc Herbst personally reflects on the cultural practices of East Germany. Local artist Alex Kershaw interviews Tania Bruguera, a New York-based performance artist and member of Immigrant Movement International. Almost all the articles have some kind of political or societal bent, but if thereís any reoccurring theme, it's that there's not one.
"The idea of the journal is to have a space to at least begin to have these cross-disciplinary conversations about how we evaluate this practice," says Kester. "And not just art critics contributing, but artists and curators, along with anthropologists, philosophers and sociologists. We want to have a mix."