Artist, writer, and organizer Shane Aslan Selzer is an artist whose practice engages micro-communities to expand on larger social entanglements such as critical exchange, critique, and failure. In the past year, Selzer’s collaborative video work has been exhibited at Tabakalera in San Sebastian, Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster, and Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin. Selzer is the founding editor of the Social Action Archive Committee (SAAC), whose work has been exhibited at University Art Museum, Albany NY, and the Children’s Museum of the Arts. SAAC is currently developing a new project with The Carl George/Ross Laycock/Felix Gonzalez-Torres Archive at Visual AIDS in New York while in residency at Triangle Arts Association, Governor’s Island, NY. Selzer is the Co-Editor of, What We Want Is Free: Critical Exchanges in Recent Art (SUNY Press, 2014), and part-time faculty at Parsons, The New School for Design.
In light of CMA’s 30th anniversary CIVICKIDS campaign, which fosters civic engagement and shared community pride through art-making, we endeavored to find out more about our neighbors on Governors Island and understand their varied approaches to working with civically engaged children.
CMA: Let’s start by telling us about your practice.
SAS: My practice always aims to incorporate and support the realities of my lived experience. I primarily work with archives as a way to learn from what’s happened before me and connect it to strategies for moving forward. Parenthood changed my life and therefore it has become an integral part of how I approach my work.
I will be on a public panel about Caretaking in the Archive at The Center on October 2, 2019 speaking about my work with Visual AIDS and the stakes of bringing private and personal documents into the public.
CMA: Why a family bike ride?
SAS: When Triangle Arts offered me a residency, I told them that it would need to be focused towards both Sekou and my needs and summer ambitions. One of the goals Sekou had for the residency was to learn to ride a bicycle. Governors Island is a unique place in NYC for bike riding because there are no cars and the pavement is smooth and flat. We practiced a few times and it didn’t quite click. Then, we invited Sekou’s good friend Rime out to the island, and Rime really encouraged Sekou to pedal fast and keep up with him! It totally worked and was an incredible day of joy and fun for all of us.
Sekou and many of his friends and cousins helped us make the cyanotypes. Some of the objects you can see in the images were gifts from classmates or treasures found on the playground or the walk to school. We wanted to bring everyone together to celebrate what we made, but when we talked about it, the idea of an exhibition didn’t feel very fun to Sekou. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the developmental transition that happens around ages 6-8 from interior magic play towards exterior experiential play in the world. Many cultures make note of this transition, an acknowledgment of all the competencies a child has acquired. We decided to focus on bike riding as an example of this and share our excitement about this experience with new and old friends. Of course this led to difficult conversations about who can and can’t ride a bike and how to make the event accessible for people with different skills and abilities. We tried to focus on human-powered machines, bikes, scooters, strollers, wheelchairs, ways to move yourself or another body. The ride started at the Triangle Arts Studio so people could see our cyanotypes without that being the main focus. We rode to the big slides and spent time moving with gravity before riding back to the ferry.
CMA: Would you say that being in a creative environment helps kids deal with difficult conditions in the outside world or even interpersonally?
SAS: Objects hold stories, but can also be surrogates, placeholders for human experiences, so they can be much less complicated to speak to directly. With art, looking is encouraged, and questions are always good. There is no right way to think or feel about an artwork, so it helps us understand our own perspective while sharing someone else’s point of view.
CMA: Any advice on having difficult conversations with children?
SAS: Active listening is such an important tool for parenting. No topic is off-limits. Sekou should feel confident that he can ask me (as his parent) about anything that comes up. Sekou always knows when I’m listening and when I’m distracted. I usually try to ask questions to prompt further elaboration from him and I always try to use the basic principles of nonviolent communication. I use this tool kit with my graduate students at Parsons in group critiques and I find that it works well for young children too. It’s something that gets easier with practice, like most skills.
CMA: What do you mean by nonviolent communication?
SAS: Nonviolent communication starts with learning to separate the kinds of speech we use in difficult conversations. Direct observations are the starting point. What did you see, hear, etc? Next comes feelings. How did you feel when that was happening? Then comes thoughts. What do you think about what happened? Thoughts are where analysis and judgment come into play. It’s where things get complicated quickly and conversations can go sideways. Sometimes it’s good for me to slow this part down and return to observations and feelings. The last piece is the requests and action. Getting in the habit of knowing the difference between observations, feelings, thoughts, and actions helps us communicate more clearly with people across our differences.
This program is supported, in part, by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. CIVICKIDS is sponsored by Google.