“Social practice is a theory within psychology that seeks to determine the link between practice and context within social situations. Emphasized as a commitment to change, social practice occurs in two forms: activity and inquiry. Most often applied within the context of human development, social practice involves knowledge production and the theorization and analysis of both institutional and intervention practices.” – Wikipedia
An artist friend of mine asked, “You’re really into this ice bucket challenge thing. Aren’t you?” Yeah, I am. In June I learned that a friend from college was diagnosed with ALS. Jay Smith is young, smart, creative with a successful business and a beautiful family, the news was unbelievable and incredibly sad. Have you ever wept so hard tears literally shoot out of your eyes? The feeling of helplessness, the unfairness of the diagnosis, the mystery of what had happened was shocking, stultifying and confusing. There is no known cause for ALS and no treatment. Jay needed a miracle.
Then, something miraculous happened. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became a social media phenomenon like nothing else before. Within a few weeks people all over the world became aware of this insidious disease through social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter with silly, wacky and funny videos of people dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads, donating money and challenging their friends to do the same. The modern miracle of the internet and social media has raised awareness and money to unprecedented levels not since Lou Gehrig, the baseball heart throb, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1939.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is one of the biggest Social Practice art projects the world has ever known. And like other art movements there are enthusiastic early adopters and those who doubt the authenticity of the art form. Even when some of the greatest minds on the planet opt in to dump ice water on their heads and gasp, there are some who are annoyed by the pervasiveness of the project and choose to throw a wet blanket on the idea.
Imagine if you as an artist create an art project that is so successful, so pervasive, so entertaining and popular that critics will pounce on it with lies, fear and distrust from out of nowhere? The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is like the Jeff Koons of Social Practice art, either you love him and get it or you don’t. Either you delighted in the expressions of support or you doubted. I was kind of shocked when the signs of social media fatigue started to set in, the first complaint I noticed was a popular Philly DJ who’s voice reaches far and wide on the radio and internet. I tried to explain to him that dumping ice water on your head is a metaphor for living with the disease that literally takes your breath away. He decided to double down on his gripe and said he had already donated and was tired of the videos in his facebook newsfeed, with a smily face emogi
Facebook rage and rants, charity envy, misleading info-graphics, religious interference and science deniers have emerged from the social media troll layer like crazed zombies eating brains. From Pam Anderson placing the life of the poor little mice, worms and fruit flies used in efficacy testing over the lives of suffering humans to supposedly charitable institutions like churches spreading lies about stem cell research the disinformation being spread is stunningly ignorant. I can only imagine the rage in the minds of people trapped inside a non-responsive body while adrenaline surges though their brains listening to uninformed, narcissistic boneheads blabber and mouth off. I’m talking about you Bill Maher. But many ALS patients can’t speak for themselves and their advocates and caregivers don’t have time for this shit from the haters because they are too busy caring for their loved ones.
Now is a time when art, creativity, performance, science and technology have shined a light on what is hard to look at and not shy away. The ugly/beautiful Social Practice art movement called The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is challenging the people of our world to open their eyes to a very difficult sight to see. Some are wondering what the next gimmick, meme, trick, game or challenge will be? Maybe a cure for cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, autism, Alzheimer’s…? Through Social Practice art we can make real miracles happen in the real world. Suck it ALS!
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