President's Report

Art without boundaries

There was a time when, to experience art, one had to go to a museum or an art gallery.

Today, that’s not the case. Art can be found on street corners, in public parks and can be accessed virtually by anyone on a computer or mobile device.

As Assistant Professor of Art Juan Obando always tells his students, “art can happen anywhere you want it.”

While Obando says there is still a lot of room for traditional art, there are also many different ways to make and showcase art, something he tries to show students in the classroom. As part of his Arts and Politics class, for example, he uses “fanzines,” small photocopied magazines popular in the punk rock scene of the 1980s and ’90s meant not to be moneymakers but simply disseminators of visual information.

“It’s kind of a challenge to show them that things are not always supposed to look glossy and perfectly formed, and video doesn’t have to be HD (to be considered art),” says Obando, a native of Colombia. “There is some beauty in those kinds of lost forms.… A little magazine that you can fit in your pocket can be more powerful than a painting that you have to travel to a museum in a big city to see.”

He also likes to challenge the idea of the artist as the solitary creator who spends hours locked up in a studio. He encourages students to interact with their friends and collaborate, to create work on the Internet and pass it around. “It’s a very playful approach to art-making,” he says.

Obando teaches his students to see the Internet not only as a platform for disseminating information but also as a source of inspiration and social data that can be used to create social sculptures.

He points to a student’s project, which included a compilation of Tweets from female Twitter users about singer Chris Brown, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to assaulting his then-girlfriend, singer Rihanna.

“They were Tweeting about how they wouldn’t mind getting beat up by him,” Obando says, adding that the student used the Tweets to make signs that she and her friends later wore around their necks while walking on campus. “It was really interesting; it could be seen as depressing, but I think that’s the power of art. You can get depressed or you can get inspired.”

Obando says it’s important for students to know they don’t have to depend on art institutions to disseminate their ideas. He constantly pushes his students to go beyond the accepted spaces for art to be displayed.

“When you make something and you don’t think it’s going to fit anywhere, maybe that’s a good sign,” he says. “If it doesn’t fit in a museum, it doesn’t fit in a classroom, maybe you have to create the platform to make it fit somewhere.”

Obando joined Elon's faculty in 2010. He holds a bachelor's degree in industrial design from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and a master's degree in studio arts from Purdue University. Last year, his work was included in the Narco-Nations exhibition at Duke University. Earlier this year,  his curatorial project Low Lives: Occupy! was presented at The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics in New York City.

This summer, Obando developed an editorial piracy project as part of his residency at Casa Tres Patios in Medellín, Colombia, and was recently awarded one of the prestigious 2012 Rhizome commissions to start working on his latest project, Museum Mixtape, which will include an album and video series featuring amateur rappers performing freestyle rhymes as guided tours for museums in the southeast United States. With this piece, Obando says he aims to create a playful connection between hip-hop narratives and institutional art spaces.

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