Continuing the notion that art should be useful, advocated by Hans Ulrich Obrist in an In Your Face interview earlier this week, we have just released a conversation with artist Pedro Reyes in which he talks about the social and political capabilities of his practice. Reyes has just opened a new iteration of his piece Sanatorium at Art Basel Miami Beach. Originating in the Guggenheim and then re-staged at documenta 13 and at the Whitechapel gallery in London last year, the piece combines theories of psychology with theatre, performance and fine art to offer a re -thought blend of therapy to visitors. Reyes explains that it is 'a performance piece where members of the public are invited to come to the gallery and speak to perfect strangers as though they are therapists. In pieces like Sanatorium, it is the participants who bring the narrative.'
Reyes work continually seems to allow either his participants or his objects to undergo redemptive transformations. Whether it is turning automatic guns into musical instruments, creating a Peoples United Nations to address world problems through role play or presenting a cricket burger (the Grass Whopper) as an alternative to mass meat production, his artworks are imbued with his radical optimism, and indeed not just a little humour.
In our interview, Reyes' is realistic about this optimism. He reveals the reservations he sometimes feels about the actual capabilities of art to instigate positive social change whilst simultaneously resolving these by saying 'Everything changes the world, whether it's action or in-action'. And he is gaining traction in applying his ideas to government policy. Currently he is attempting to pass a nationwide disarmament campaign to turn weapons into instruments across Mexico. If that isn't an example of art having direct and political impact, I'm not sure what is.