I create participatory art projects that start off as benign visual puns but become earnest reflections of how we play and what we value. Each project centers around a mass-produced commodity that I transform into an interactive, postcolonial artifact. I present these objects to their relevant communities through site-specific installations, then invite the public to join in craft, play, and performance. Projects culminate in a physical record of these community activations that memorializes its participants. Together, we ascribe personal meaning to the cultural symbols and popular iconography of today's material world and collectively reckon with their social value.
Karl Orozco is an artist and educator whose multidisciplinary, project-based practice centers on play as a form of community building and cultural exchange. Karl was the 2018 National Artist-in-Residence at the Neon Museum of Las Vegas, NV, and received the inaugural 2019 Art in the Parks grant for Flushing Meadows Corona Park. In June 2021, Karl will be leading a community art activation in Woodside, Queens, in partnership with Little Manila Queens and The Laundromat project.
Images courtesy the artist.
Interview questions developed by 2020 AIM Curatorial Intern Niu Niu Zhang.
Hospicio Cabañas (Playable Stage for Thunder Hawk)
Flint corn, glue, paper clay, wire mesh, and wood
Come You Back to Maynila Bay
Image: Mikayla Whitmore
Archival dye on paper, with gold foil, embossing and pen.
104 prints: 16 x 6.25 in. (each)
Image: Mikayla Whitmore
Crossing the Jordan (VII)
Flip-flop, vinyl, acrylic, and PVC foam.
Q&A with Karl Orozco
In your opinion, what role does art play in 2020 amidst the events of the past year?
I lead many conversations with my students about the role of art in activism. One student shared that it's not enough for art to simply reflect the ills of society. It must offer solutions for the things it critiques. I couldn't say it any better. It's sad to think about how galleries and museums had to close this year at a time when people needed art, creativity, and healing most. This year affirmed my belief that art should be made as accessible as possible. I hope that artists continue to aggressively share and publicize their work online once this pandemic is over, and that we better invest in communities to have and maintain their own arts spaces and opportunities.
Are you currently working on art, games, or other projects that directly comment on the pandemic or the current political environment?
Since the beginning of COVID, my partner Isha Aran and I have collaborated on a comic called Prep School which follows four rebellious teenagers at a mysterious high school preparing students for societal collapse. The pandemic laid bare how fragile our society was. We began this project as a coping mechanism, but it has become a wacky, gratifying exercise in envisioning a better future. It's sometimes hard to stay hopeful with how chaotic and traumatic this year has been, but I find that thinking about social issues through the lens of a young person quickly snaps me out of these moments of despair. You can read along on Instagram (@prepskool).
As interaction is a major part of your art, what have you gained or learned from working with communities?
I've learned how to be a better listener, and to put ego and biases aside when engaging with others outside your community. I have much experience as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, and in many ways my artistic process mirrors those same designer-client relationships. I try to create bodies of work that are in service to a community. It's thus really important to have conversations with folks whose lived experiences actually touch on the work you create, and to invite them in the ideating process early and often. It can be hard, but I always remind myself that if you're not uncomfortable, you're not learning.