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Activating Democracy
The "I Wish to Say" Project
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Price £29, $38.50
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ISBN 9781783206711
Paperback 222 pages
Published October 2016
Imprint: Intellect
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Books by Sheryl Oring
Books in Visual Arts

Edited by Sheryl Oring
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Driven by a powerful belief in the value of free expression, Sheryl Oring has for more than a decade been helping people across the United States voice concerns about public affairs through her “I Wish to Say” project. This book uses that project as the starting point for an exploration of a series of issues of public interest being addressed by artists today. It features essays by contributors ranging from art historians and practicing artists to creators working in literature, political science, and architecture. All the contributors offer a different approach, but they share a primary goal of sparking a dialogue not just among makers of art, but among viewers, readers, and the concerned public at large. The resulting volume will be an essential resource for politically engaged contemporary artists searching for innovative, cross-disciplinary ways of making and sharing art.


Sheryl Oring is assistant professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, as well as a practicing artist.

'Walter Benjamin famously asserted that mechanical reproduction would emancipate works of art from ritual, never anticipating the coming age of compulsive Instagam sharing, ritualized text messaging, and overall information-overload. In a counter-intuitive move artist Sheryl Oring improbably dusts-off antiquated slow-technology (the typewriter) in order to resurrect the declining art of non-digital communication (also known as composing a letter to your political representative). The unhurried, heart-felt messages generated by Oring’s I Wish to Say project calmly testify to the significance of her rescue plan for a society bedeviled by pixilated manias and the allure of electronic display screens. ' – Gregory Sholette, author of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (Pluto Press, 2010)

'"URGENT," “PAST DUE” and “FINAL NOTICE” are stamped on postcards typed from dictation of ordinary people and subsequently sent to the President. By listening to and transcribing people's hopes, dreams, anger and pleas, Sheryl Oring's “I Wish to Say” is a performative speaking truth to power. This book beautifully presents this project and its participants, while providing insightful context and analysis of artists who are forging new pathways in ephemeral socially engaged art.' – Dread Scott

'I Wish to Say exercises art’s muscles in the social practice of democracy. In the midst of America’s fractured body politic, the project delivers thoughtful, pluralistic participation. It invites us to talk back to power with the power of the wish, to express our concern. It’s the human microphone distributed across so many people, places, and moments in time. ' – Cora Fisher Curator of Contemporary Art

'Now that politics and performance art are one and the same, Sheryl Oring’s facilitation of public engagement through her Franklin Furnace Fund performance art work, 'I Wish to Say,' is a fitting and needed action.  In this 2016 election season, I expect many folks will wish to say something to our Presidential candidates!' – Martha Wilson, Artist and Founding Director, Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.

'Activating Democracy tells the story of speaking truth to power, one person at a time. Sheryl Oring has activated democracy by stressing conversation over voting and reactivating a seemingly abandoned, deeply gendered tool of communication: the typewriter. Her voice is inseparable from that of her interlocutors, the many U.S. constituents participating in the project, as well as the co-authors and readers of this book. We have much to learn from her and the artists, scholars, and activists included, as we all ask ourselves what we would say to the U.S. President and how we hold him accountable. Directly challenging the “deskilling” so often ascribed to socially engaged art, the practice’s common figure of ‘the artist as conduit’ is here paired with the insistence on a continuity of skill through the provocative use of typing as a craft and aesthetics whose urgency is far from nostalgic. In a time where electoral democracy is most strongly defined by its constant fundraising pleas and shocking campaign expenditures, this book’s many artistic and scholarly contributions are also a much needed antidote to the endless polls and feedback loops presented to us as public opinion by the mainstream media.  ' –   Pedro Lasch Artist & Duke University professor, author of Art of the MOOC: Merging Public Art and Experimental Education

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