The artist, activist and filmmaker Ashley Hunt—who merges art and politics in work concerned with questions of institutional power—will speak at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film on Friday, May 1, as part of the Watkins Visiting Artists Series.
The presentation, which begins at 6:00 p.m. in the Watkins Theater, is free and the public is invited. The Watkins Visiting Artists Series is funded in part by a grant from Humanities Tennessee, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
(Hunt’s visit was previously announced for 2/19, but severe winter weather forced the rescheduling.)
Over the past 15 years, through various projects employing video, photography, mapping and writing, Hunt has focused on ways people understand, respond to and conceive of themselves within systems of power. Rather than seeing art and activism as distinct pursuits, he approaches them as complementary, drawing upon social movements and contemporary cultural theory as his work addresses important trends towards documentary and participatory practices in contemporary art.
“Ashley Hunt has addressed some of the most pressing social issues of our era, and he has done so with political savvy and artistic sophistication,” said Tom Williams, assistant professor of art history at Watkins. “His work offers a permanent rebuke to anyone who still believes that the merger of art and politics means the triumph of politics over art.”
About Ashley Hunt
Ashley Hunt has played the role of an activist-journalist in his investigations of power and politics in contemporary society, using video, photography, mapping and writing to engage contemporary social movements and public discourse. His work addresses systems that enable certain people to accumulate power and those that disempower others.
Among his most celebrated works are his ongoing video series on the prison system, entitled The Corrections Documentary Project (and which includes footage he filmed in Tennessee), and his Prison Maps.
In The Corrections Documentary Project, Hunt investigates the institution of the prison and, more specifically, how incarceration helps structure and preserve racial and economic divisions within society. A 2001 film Corrections (57 minutes) looks at the privatization of the prison system, exposing the conflict between for-profit corporations focused on pleasing investors and the communities that must deal with the consequences of high incarceration rates. Probing further to explore links between political campaign strategies and the increasing penalties for nonviolent crimes, Hunt uncovers a complex system of desires and incentives that lie behind the growth of the American prison system.
Other investigations by Hunt have focused on community identity and the demise of welfare state institutions (Communograph), war and disaster capitalism (9 Scripts from a Nation at War, A World Map: in which we see…), documentary representations (As Flowers Turn Toward the Sun, Par Course A), and political activism (Undeliverable Address). His 2010 performance, Notes on the Emptying of a City, explored the first-person politics of being in New Orleans with a camera in the months following Hurricane Katrina, when he engaged with community activists to research the city’s refusal to evacuate the Orleans Parish Prison. His work has been screened and exhibited at the P.S.1/MOMA, the Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta. He was also included in Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany and the 3rd Bucharest Biennial. In 2007, Hunt collaborated with Sharon Hayes and other artists on 9 Scripts from a Nation at War, a project that has been the subject of a number of exhibitions internationally.
Based in Los Angeles, Hunt is Co-Director of the Program in Photography and Media at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). He is an alumnus of the University of California at Irvine (BFA) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA), and participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program.
Hear Ashley Hunt at TEDxCalArts: Liveness, performance, and this exact place in time
Now in its fifth year, The Watkins Visiting Artists Series (VAS), with support from the Humanities Tennessee Grant Program, welcomes nationally and internationally recognized fine artists, designers, filmmakers, educators and critics to the campus and the community. The guest artists, whose work crosses many disciplinary boundaries, give public presentations, sharing their expertise and perspectives on their careers and providing insight into issues facing contemporary artists and designers. The VAS offers the area’s cultural community a rare opportunity to engage the work and ideas of trendsetting visual artists, designers, filmmakers and intellectuals. The critically acclaimed initiative has not only brought a number of internationally renowned artists to Nashville—like first-time visitors Harrell Fletcher, R. H. Quaytman, David Hilliard, Jonathan Katz, Alec Soth and Artemio Rodriguez—but it has also invigorated the local art scene by introducing artists working in new media and performance—artists like Nick Briz, Jon Satrom and Liz Magic Laser (2013 New York Armory Artist)—and those expanding the parameters of traditional media and art practice—such as Chris Sickels, Deborah Luster (2013 Guggenheim Fellow) and Natalia Almada (2013 MacArthur Fellow).
Watkins is located at 2298 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard in MetroCenter; free parking is available in the campus lot. For more information, including updates to programming and future series guests, visit this website or call 615-383-4848.
Founded in 1973, Humanities Tennessee is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting lifelong learning, civil discourse, and an appreciation of history, diversity, and community among Tennesseans. Statewide programs include the annual Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word℠, the Appalachian and Tennessee Young Writers’ Workshops, a variety of History & Culture programs, Grants & Awards for teachers and community organizations, Chapter16.org, among many others.