Have just been reading about the “Art-Rebate” project that happened in San Diego in 1993.
(John C. Welchman, Bait or Tackle? An Assisted Commentary on Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso, Art and Text 48, May 1994, p31…)
Three artists got a grant of US$5000 to complete a public art piece as part of an exhibition called “La Frontera/The Border” at the Centro Cultural de la Raza and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. The artists divided $4500 of the money into ten dollar bills, and handed them out, one at a time, to “undocumented immigrant workers” in the San Diego area. The premise was clear – to provide a “rebate” (more symbolic than financially useful) to some of the many thousands of “illegal” workers in southern California, who “pay considerably more taxes than they consume in public services and welfare. The fact of their labor poses no or little threat the the job security of other local workers. The immigrants take jobs and accept standards that are below the expectation threshold of citizen-workers. They are unjustly scapegoated for the economic fallibility of the state”.
It`s an interesting action, partly because it is deliberately antagonistic – certainly the artists knew that Art Rebate was going to irritate the national funding body which provided the grant, via the Museum. The barrage of negative (and positive) media stimulated by the project`s press releases were very much to be considered an integral part of the project itself. In fact, this symbolic value in Art Rebate somewhat outweighs its potential practical benefits…although one columnist pointed out, some recipients immediately rushed off to buy lunch with their rebate, it has to be said, the $10 is not going to buy much more than that.
Welchman describes Art Rebate as “post-conceptual”…I suppose the reason for this is that it shares some things in common with the kinds of “conceptual” work made in the early 1970s, ie an interest in its own means of production (where does art come from, what are the channels and structures that create and distribute the art?), yet, the “post-” is appropriate, not only because of the two decade time lag, but also because Art Rebate has some characteristics which were very rarely found in the original (capital C) Conceptual Art… namely, a specific, local, interaction with real-world politics (completely separate from the politics of the art-world).
(Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso, July 1993, Louis Hock, Liz Sisco, David Avalos)
[postscript – more San Diego/Tijuana stuff (about architect Teddy Cruz) here.]
As Sisco noted in a discussion of the Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso project of 1995, ‘Art is about framing and re-framing things, and [David Avalos, Louis Hock, and I] think that the way that this issue [undocumented immigrant workers in Southern California] has been framed is a problem’ In other words, Sisco and her collaborators bring an aesthetic awareness of the function of framing (in which what is excluded is as important as what is included) to their examination of the ways in which the mass media and politicians in Southern California have worked to construct a particular image of undocumented immigrant workers.
…The above quote is from pp12-13 of an essay “Ongoing Negotiations: Afterimage and the Analysis of Activist Art”, by Kester, Grant H, in a book (edited by him) called Art, Activism and Oppositionality – Essays from Afterimage, 1998, Duke. The Sisco quote originally comes from a panel discussion “Production and Representation in Contemporary Art” at the Cranbrook Academy of Art (Nov 11, 1995).
Kester also refers readers to an article about these artists by Cylena Simonds, called “Public Audit: an Interview with Elizabeth Sisco, Louis Hock and David Avalos” in Afterimage 22, No 1 (Summer 1994) pp 8-11.