A conversation between Jordan Weber and The Canvas
Tell us a little bit about how you jumped into the world of art.
I've been at it professionally for 15, 16 years, though my mom was an artist, which was odd to be from the north side of Des Moines and have a mom who was an artist. I was a jock that blew out my knees playing basketball, which as a result pushed myself fully into art. The killing of Michael Brown by Officer Wilson was one of the defining moments that excelled my art practice into activism to work in a more meaningful way.
Your work brings awareness to marginalized communities and/or leverages art as an agency for bridging communities to resources. So that being said, you don't really have a consistent medium necessarily; if anything, your medium is community, correct?
I would say now it's community, and the ability to gain access to land, infiltrating institutions to solidify land, even acquiring soil. Permanent is ideal, because we want sustainable spaces to have the most impact. Otherwise, it's a performance to do these limited installations, and then they come down and then the institutions leave the community. It can be smoke and mirrors.
What are you working on at Harvard right now?
I'm working on getting better at scaling projects, to have more environmental impact, and the ability to mitigate and remediate toxic lands at a larger scale more effectively. My time is spent in a lot of meetings and lectures. Through lecturing and networking, it is opening up doors to allow me to infiltrate more spaces to gain access to more land.
What else are you currently working on?
Right now I have a lot of work in St. Louis. When I leave Cambridge in June, I will go directly to St. Louis to build a decompression space: a green space within an abandoned Baptist church in North St. Louis. The church itself is technically on the border of North St. Louis and downtown, but it's with Black Healers Collective of South East St. Louis, several urban gardens, and Pulitzer Arts Foundation. That will be a limited installation within a church where I will make some sort of installation for public healing through the request of the Black Healing Collective, and that will then turn into a long term activation at Peace Park, which is about a five acre park in North St. Louis. And that's the long term sustainable approach. Then I have a residency in fall 2022 at Yale as a Environmental Humanities Fellow, that will hopefully end in activating an island that Yale owns for the Black and Indigenous population at Yale.
A huge part of your methodology and practice is ensuring the work lives on after you're completed with the installation. How do you engage institutions in ensuring that the long term sustainability lives on beyond its initial opening?
This happens at the beginning and it's a very blatant conversation, to see how committed the institution is to sustainability and longevity. And that happens with normally the institution knowing or having previous relationships with local organizations that could sustain a project. The projects then end up being some sort of bridge building between the institution and the community organization. That's how you figure out really rapidly if an institution is ready to take on long term projects, because they need to hand that project off to the community, just like I do.
What would be a dream or ideal project for you?
That's a great question. Let's say Bard College owns 12 acres of land that was a former slave plantation. The ideal situation would be to work with an institution that has enough power to give that land back to the Indigenous population that once was on it, or to the families of people who worked that land. That's the dream scenario right now: how do we actually get ourselves in a position where land is given back to the people who were oppressed by the people that took it from them?
Is there an artist you look to for refining your practice? And who's doing what you're wanting to do?
Rick Lowe. He completely morphed an entire neighborhood for the benefit of the community and is still heavily involved in that project. The project is located in the Third Ward of Houston.
I was there early 2020, and it was incredible to see how the artwork itself was essentially hosting this ecosystem of commerce and culture.
Art is hosting an ecosystem, I couldn't have said a better phrase. It's got everything: community gardens, space for individuals to practice their crafts, retail, food, the food access points, and then it's got the ability to activate the street. He also kept the identity of the actual community, both architecturally and culturally.