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Analysing the critical fields for participation in socially engaged practices.
By Max Dovey
INTRODUCTION PARTICIPATION AND ENGAGED ART CRITICAL FRAMEWORKS CRITICAL DISCUSSION WORKS RE-ENACTMENT FOOD POETICS OF PARTICIPATION CONCLUSION 3 4 5 8 11 11 14 17 21
What critical frameworks have been developed for analysing socially engaged practises and how can they be applied? Analysing the critical fields for participation in socially engaged practises.
This paper will explore the conflicting theoretical models for analysis of participation in socially engaged art forms. It will address two key questions; what frameworks of evaluation are in play when such practices are discussed and how socially engaged art forms can be analysed. The idea of µrelational art¶ has become very widely used in recent years but suffers from a lack of critical definition. It is used to describe almost any art based event involving interaction between groups of people. I have chosen three critical writers whose recent publications have established different criteria for analyzing socially engaged art. I will not discuss the language of participation rather its prominent role and function within socially active artworks in relation to the critical theory. By aligning different examples of works with these theoretical positions an overview will be developed that identifies conflicting aspects in the area of discussion. Finally I will try to resolve some of these conflicts by discussing their relevance in the wider context of participatory culture, presenting an overview of how these critical theories have developed our understanding of new public art. Public art works that are based around audience interaction and engagement (with each other and the space) that reflect a current urgency in participatory culture. By turning to these expanding fields of participatory culture, a wider understanding of how these critical positions can benefit trends in contemporary arts and culture. Technological advances have enabled publishing and producing of individual content that in turn has affected art and its audiences. Public interactive art is becoming more audience led and collective based, for example, sound-trails and flash-mobs all ask the viewer to participate with the people and place around them. By looking at how the critical theories that have been developed in relation to socially engaged practises, a
wider understanding can be developed by addressing these issues in relation to participatory works inspired by the interactivity of web 2.0.
PARTICIPATION AND ENGAGED ART
µThe nineties saw the emergence of collective forms of intelligence and the µnetwork¶ mode in the handling of artistic work. The popularisation of the Internet web, as well as the collectivist practices going on in the techno music scene, and more generally the increasing collectivisation of cultural leisure, have all produced a relational approach to the exhibition. Artists look for interlocutors¶ (Bourriaud 2002:81).
We are increasingly invited to take part in a wide variety of contemporary art as the expanding social field becomes focused on de-centralised subjective experience. Art is no longer something we look at; it is becoming µan experience¶, something we do. For example, the individual reading a book from an open Public library (Clegg & Guttman 1994), swimming across London (Sharrock 2007), dancing in one of Adrian Piper¶s µFunk Lessons¶ (1982-84) or sliding down the µTest Site¶ (Höller 2006) at Tate Modern. The direct engagement in these pieces emancipates the viewer into social exchange and a shared environment. This essay will look at participation in the social field where communication and inter-subjective exchange is integral to the piece. It is possible to see this interest in the social field as part of a wider development of µparticipatory culture¶, where consumers are invited to help µco create¶ new experiences, such as products or artefacts; for example, digital media.
However, this use of the social field in art practice is not new. The boundary between art and life, author and audience has been explored by many art
movements of the 20th century. The avant-garde have often tried to break down the barrier between artist and audience. The Dada season during Paris in 1921 saw many performances, encouraging the public to become part of the jury in the mock trial of Maurice Barres (Breton, 1921). Allan Kaprow¶s Happenings and Fluxus performances focused on the interactions and social reality that came from participating in public spaces. Similarly the Situationist¶s µconstructed situations¶ were, for Guy Debord, direct modes for audience activation and engagement that challenged the passive nature of the Society of the Spectacle (1967). Happenings of the 1960s and real time durational performance events dissolved artist audience relations, shifting aesthetics towards the involvement of audiences¶ subjective experience. Active collaborative discourse within social parameters has also been present in activist art and community arts practices. Participation can be mapped within community based work and activist work as a mechanism for social change. From public art to commercial work a new series of terms has been generated, Relational Aesthetics, New Genre Public Art, Participatory Art, Interactive Art and Process Based. All the works presented in this paper are centred on participation with communities and the public, the critical positions I consider map a new terrain for critical analysis not a history of participation. Participation within public interactive art will then be discussed to understand the progression of the critical fields. CRITICAL FRAMEWORKS
Three key writers have constituted the contemporary theoretical discussion around the social art field. Nicholas Bourriaud¶s Esthétique Relationnelle(1998), translated into Relational Aesthetics (2002) presented and defined a European movement into social relations within Fine Art practice. Californian academic Grant H. Kester released Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art in 2004. Kester attempts to identify socially engaged practises as part of a wider social praxis, defining his theoretical position as µdialogical art¶. London based critic Claire Bishop (2004 & 2006) shares dialogue with both writers analysing their
critical positions in the context of contemporary art criticism. Not all the writers explicitly theorise participation in art instead they provide a new theoretical framework for the analysis of participatory projects in the social field. These recently published texts develop theoretical analysis of socially based work in contemporary art. They each present areas for evaluation based upon previous modern theorists and movements. By applying these critical frameworks to specific pieces I will present common values and contradictions in a spectrum of critical approaches in order to answer the research questions. By discussing their critical positions to specifically participatory art an understanding of how their frameworks can provide criteria to analyse recent interactive public art.
Bishop¶s two key contributions are Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics (2004) and The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents (2006). Her basic position can be summarised by this quotation; There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond. While I am broadly sympathetic to that ambition, I would argue that it is also crucial to discuss, analyze, and compare such work critically as art (2006).
Bishop commented on both Bourriaud and Kester in these two articles, articulating the need for a new basis of judgement. In The Social Turn Bishop presents a critical conflict that emerges from collective or community engaged practices between ethics and aesthetics. Bishop argues that socially lead projects are too often misjudged due to ethical, political and social concerns. Bishop warns that the ethical examination of socially engaged work lets the aesthetic become sacrificed for social change. She sees the critical development as an urgent µcritical task¶ particularly important in Britain where New Labour policies like PAT10 have encouraged all publicly funded projects towards the goal of social inclusion (Bishop, 2006). In Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics she focuses on Bourriaud¶s relational aesthetics, her main criticisms are that the structural analysis
of the work is a restricted aesthetic judgment. She argues that the value or impact of the work presented in Relational Aesthetics is restrictive both in form and context. The work does not achieve the freedom of dialogue that it claims to due to a prescribed social attitude and specific context.
Bourriaud¶s key book is not without its concern for what Bishop might call ethics, or politics, µthe enemy we have to fight first and foremost is embodied in a social form: it is the spread of the supplier/client relations to every human level of human life,¶ (2002: 83). Bourriaud presents prolific artists such as Felix Gonzalez Torres, Liam Gillick and Rirkrit Tiravanija, arguing for a collective aesthetic of inter subjectivities that locates itself within the dynamic of the social network the work then produces. The work that is presented should be analyzed by assessing the freedom of the dialogue, and how that dialogue creates a space that both artist and audience can co-create. Influenced by French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari aesthetics is analysed not by its µconviviality¶ or its politics but on its ability to open possibility. In Relational Aesthetics the social composition in regards to achieving open exchange and dialogue with one another should be the focus for critical analyses, µHow does this work permit me to enter into dialogue, could I exist, and how, in the space that it defines?¶ (2002:109). Bourriaud establishes an aesthetic based upon the process and mechanics of social structure(s), their ability to engage as a model for exchange, rather than a model for change. Bourriaud¶s critical position is centred on how a viewer can participate in the social realm. Evaluating a work would therefore involve a focus on the formal processes through which participant dialogue is created.
In Conversation Pieces: Community And Communication in Modern art (2004) Kester¶s critical model theorizes the process of communicative exchange, calling this µdialogical art¶ that continually emerges from sustained engagement with a community. µWhat is the new locus of judgment? I would contend that it resides in the condition and character of dialogical exchange itself¶ (2000:5).
Kester¶s dialogical model analyses the work primarily in its social and political context and how ethically the artist and community form a creative response. Kester maps µdialogical art¶ from process and audience based work of the 1960¶s/70¶s (Adrian Piper, John Latham) and the rise of a durational and ephemeral aesthetic. Kester presents and discusses art that confronts the definitions (and differences) of art and social activism, focusing on ideas from Suzanne Lacy and Stephen Willats, whose politically active work open conversations within communities. Kester argues that a collaborative work or conversational encounter is not necessarily a work of µdialogical art¶ unless the social conditions have been explored collaboratively in the process. If there is no sustained relationship with a community or group then the artist is unable to µcatalyze emancipatory insights through dialogue¶ (2004:12). The liberating nature of what emerges from the dialogue is of central importance to Kester. Kester presents a framework relating to social and political context where the artists communicative methods are of higher importance than an aesthetic judgement based on the final work. CRITICAL DISCUSSION
³One of the ways in which I'm trying to work through an evaluative model for these practices involves research at the interstices of the aesthetic, the ethical, and the tactical.´ (Kester: 2007)
The three critical frameworks outlined above clearly overlap in their approaches and concerns. They share a value system based upon aesthetics, ethics and politics that situates itself in relation to wider shifts towards participatory culture. In this section I will compare the different frameworks and expose how they relate to one another. To uncover these conflicts it is important to present the theorists criticisms of each other. Firstly the political integration of socially engaged art is of
dispute between all theorists, followed by the form in which the work can be analyzed.
Bourriaud argues for a relational form in which events and social structures generate µfree exchange¶, or what he calls µthe criterion of co existence¶ (2002:82). These exchanges are generated when we enjoy, µ the transposition into experience of spaces constructed and represented by the artist¶ (2002:82). The relational exchange is the mobilization of democratic social systems, an alternative free from material based economy and capitalist values. Kester & Bishop praise Bourriaud for a concise account although they disagree with his political agenda arguing that µfree exchange¶ does little on its own to challenge post industrial economies by, for example, not dealing with issues of class or property (Kester, 2007). Kester observes that this change in current art practice is solely a response to post industrial economies that find all kinds of ways to exploit µfree exchange¶. He also makes the point that that Bourriaud¶s understanding for this is specific to only a small section of a wider socially active movement, those who go to galleries. The location of the work Bourriaud presents brings me to Kester¶s secondry issue; the form of relational aesthetics. Although Bourriaud defines the relational form to be open ended (by citing Umberto Eco¶s idea of the poetics of the µopen work¶) the work Bourriaud presents appears to Kester as µchoreographed¶ and µstaged¶ (Kester, 2007). The communication devices created by artists like (Gillick and Tiravanija) do not act as a vehicle for wider social or political change, which for Kester limits their impact to an aesthetic trend in contemporary art. A sustained analyses of the relations produced cannot be made from the one off events of Tiravanija. If the relations made in these artworks are of importance perhaps it is worth considering how the experiences formed can be documented and analyzed. Without this, Bourriaud¶s µfree exchange¶ fails to exist further than gallery shows.
Claire Bishop¶s position on Bourriaud is that µfree exchange¶ and µco existence¶ does not expose difference and conflict, her µrelational antagonism would be predicated not on social harmony, but on exposing that which is repressed in
sustaining the semblance of this harmony¶ (2004:275). Bishop then continues to showcase artists like Santiago Sierra and Thomas Hirschhorn whose socially collaborative practices produce µanxiety¶, µunease¶, and µdiscomfort¶. This preference avoids attempts to understand important aspects of this type of work, for example, the value of relations between artist and audience made during the creative process. One can sympathise that analysing the relations between artist and participant can be challenging. However Bishop¶s view may become restricted as participatory culture continues to prioritise subjective relational experience over a social exposure aesthetic. In addition certain interactive public art pieces make attempts to document the subjective experiences. In The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents Bishop critiques Kester¶s dialogical aesthetic as restricted by µan inflexible mode of political correctness¶ (2006:181) going on to point out that his position ignores the Dadaist and Surrealist movements whose experiments gave birth to some of µthe best examples of socially collaborative art¶ (2006:181). In a written response featured in May Artforum 2006 Kester expresses frustration as Bishop neglects to locate this contemporary trend of participatory practices into a wider praxis of social activism. Poignantly accusing her of µpolicing the boundaries of legitimate art practise¶ (2006:22). Kester then states that her avoidance of politically active art as typical of µmainstream art criticism¶ (2006:22).His attacks on both Bourriaud and Bishop do constitute from a typical argument that arises between mainstream art criticism and outsider art practices. The significant aspect of Kester¶s position is his argument against art for µfree exchange¶ or social exploitations, rather the importance of the relations produced in their social context.
We can see from the frameworks in play above that there a number of important areas of conflict in evaluating µrelational practice¶. One is the importance of the pleasures involved in µfree exchange¶ and the ways in which it relates to a world outside the gallery. A second is the question of how the artist works with his or her subjects, through sustained long-term dialogue or through one off µexploitations¶. Finally the problem highlighted by Bishop, that perhaps the most challenging work
is that which produces antagonism not harmony. The rest of this essay will look at its second question, (how can we analyse socially engaged art forms?) by aligning a number of works with the frameworks introduced.
Figure 1 1920 The Red Stage in the storming of the winter palace Petrograd, Russia.
The storming of the winter palace (1920) was a site-specific re-enactment of the October revolution in Petrograd, Russia with 8000 participants that was apparently µBetter than the actual storming of the Winter Palace, which was full of confusion¶ (Deak 1975). The large-scale performance is an example of early signs of politicizing participation in Russian constructivism, a collective performance that directly address its social history. The performance involved 125 ballet dancers, 100 circus people, 1,750 supernumeraries and students, 200 women, 260 secondary actors, and 150 assistants. µSpectacles such as these were not merely designed to commemorate Soviet power. They were meant to usher in a new kind of theater, one in which the distinction between actor and spectator was broken
down.¶ (Agit Drama, 2002) In the Deak review in Drama Review the writer takes great pleasure in describing how Kerensky, the director, controlled participants like µpuppets on a string¶ (1975:14). This pointed comment gives some idea of the history of participation in public art, and how critically the subjective relations between a collective have been of little importance. Perhaps by presenting The storming of the Winter Palace (1920) alongside Jeremy Deller¶s Battle of Orgreave (2001) the importance of discomfort in Bishop¶s argument can be revealed. Deller¶s Turner prize winning performance of the 1984 miners strike in Orgreave directly involves ex-miners and policeman of the original strike, inviting them to reencounter this radical industrial action. The Battle of Orgreave consisted of 200 ex miners from the strike of 1984 with 800 members of heritage re-enactment societies alongside residents of Orgreave who watched the performance. The participation of policeman and Miners from the 1984 strike engages the work with complex social issues, its important to note that the work makes no attempt to educate or heal through participating; instead exposing uncertain relations that surround the original encounter. The 18 months of planning can be viewed in the documentary made by film maker Mike Figgis who portrays the event as a piece of factual journalism for television. Bishop presents Deller alongside artists who µdo not make the correct ethical choice¶ (2006: 183) emphasising her primary concern; social consensus in collaborative pieces not being of higher importance than artistic intention.
Figure 2. Jenkinson, M. 2001 of Dellar, J. scene from The Battle of Orgreave Yorkshire, England.
The re-enactment works are examples of artists or directors working with the public towards an event. Both directors have maintained artist integrity towards the final piece that according to Bishop¶s framework makes for a clearer aesthetic judgement. Both pieces µuse¶ the public to stage the event. The Soviet example illustrates the history of attempts to µbreak down the distinction between actor and spectator.¶ (Agit Drama, 2002) Deller¶s work seems to fit Bishop¶s ideas; it is not an opportunity for µfree exchange¶ or an exercise towards social inclusion but a piece rooted in the memories of the class antagonism of the miners¶ strike. The nature of re enactment is ambiguous and uncomfortable. Although the work was the product of an 18-month engagement with the community there is no record of the long-term effect on the participants. The lack of social and relational value in Bishop¶s analogy of Deller¶s work emphasises her enjoyment of art that exposes rather than changes and that is documented within a framed aesthetic.
Figure 3 Gabie, N.2001 Canteen - Cabot Circus, Bristol (Bristol Alliance).
FOOD I would like to impose the critical horizons of Bourriaud & Kester to works that are comprised of the same activity but reveal a conflicting area in evaluative frameworks. By presenting two artists who present the same activity I can expose key values in both their criteria for analyzing these works. In these works Bourriaud¶s notion of µfree exchange¶ conflicts with Kester¶s value of social context.
As part of a residency, artist Neville Gabie directed a series of creative interventions with the construction team of the redevelopment of Cabot Circus in Bristol city centre. One of these projects was Canteen in which Gabie reveals and explores the varied ethical background of the 20,000 strong workforce through an organised dinner where each participant brought their national dish. As part of the same residency (sponsored by the developers Bristol Alliance and Insite Arts) Gabie collaborated with music composer David Ogden to collect national anthems from workers that were performed with the city of Bristol Choir. Over 25 contributions from different workers were reordered and written down (some translated) so that the city of Bristol Choir could perform them on the building site. Both these projects have different forms of documentation (Canteen ± a building site cookbook and DVD and The Cabot Circus Cantata), but these works demand the reader to engage with the methods and conditions of social involvement in their context(s). The social benefits of Gabie¶s work are noted µNeville has built 14
invaluable working relationships across the hugely varied Cabot Circus workforce¶ (Bristol Alliance, 2010), and these networks have ensured the success of the work. These works require the reader to assess how Gabie has shaped his tactical approach with artistic intention, the dinner for example provides participants creative opportunity to emphasise the subject he is exploring, in this case migration within a globalised workforce. This is the type of participatory art that requires Kester¶s critical perspective, the dialogical aesthetic.
Figure 4 Tiravanija, R.2007 The Opening Of Rirkrit Tiravanija¶s untitled 1992 (free) at David Zwirner Gallery, New York.
Perhaps I can highlight the intelligence of Neville Gabie¶s approach by comparing it of Rirkrit Tiravanija, a U.S based artist who is celebrated by Nicholas Bourriaud in Relational Aesthetics for (amongst other works) cooking with audiences.
Tiravanija¶s art µhas as its goal the transformation of public spaces into social places that celebrate convivial interaction between people¶ (Hoptnan 1987). The conviviality of the environment installed is what interests Bourriaud, how participating in Tiravanija¶s work opens up encounters and interactions. In untitled free in 1992 Tiravanija questioned hierarchies of art economy by cooking for members of the pubic. This touring dining experience directly comments on the art institution whilst pioneering Bourriaud¶s idea of the artist generating µfree exchange¶. In his 1996 work untitled Tomorrow is Another Day Tiravanija built a wooden construction of his New York apartment in the Kolnischer Kunstvereinmm inviting members of the public to co-inhabit this shared space 24 hours a day. Kester specifically attacks this work by including accounts from artists Jay Koh and Stefan Roemer. In a video response to the work they describe their frustration because as the same time as Tiravanija¶s show the local the police were dispersing homeless people away from the area (Kester 2004:105). Bourriaud argues that µit is not a matter of representing angelic worlds, but of producing the conditions thereof¶ (2002:83) through this kind of µart of exchange¶. Kester on the other hand sees this work as stopping at the door of the gallery and therefore not fulfilling his criteria.
These two artists together (Tiravanija & Gabie) expose a wide spectrum from community practise to fine art and although they both cook with their participants there work must be analysed in regards to the relevant critical approach. There is a degree of appropriateness that must be applied when evaluating the artworks; by presenting these works alongside their critical models their different evaluative frameworks are made clear. Kester¶s critical model values the quality of the dialogue that the communicative methods form in relation to the social context and would therefore seem like an appropriate way to analyse Gabie¶s work at Cabot Circus. Bishop argues that if Bourriaud presents Tiravanija¶s work as political then its political meaning is only permeable through the artist¶s concept of a communal harmonious social space. This is essential when considering Neville Gabie¶s work and revealing the issues surrounding Tiravanija. Without a clear social praxis the
work shows no indication of feeding a dialogue back into its social context. The communicative methods applied relating to the social context are then isolated and carry no further social or political benefit apart from within the limited networks that are interested in it. A close examination of Gabie¶s work supports Kester and Bishop¶s critique of Bourriaud¶s support for Tiravanija. The Poetics of Participation
By presenting two modern works that rely on the sensation of participation the legacy of the µRelational Aesthetic¶ criteria will be discussed. Both these works are distant from the areas discussed previously however they will bring this critical debate up to date. The two public installations both operate on a pleasurable participatory experience, the interactions generating excitement from social encounters with strangers in public. These works are defined and situated by the rise of participation in media and culture in society. How can these critical writings be adapted to become relevant to something that has changed from being a radical intervention to becoming part of popular culture. This chapter will discuss the relevant aspects of the writers discussed in regards to two contemporary art works that represent the tendency of µparticipatory culture¶ in public artwork.
Figure 5 Buni, C. 2009 Play Me I¶m Yours Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The installation of old pianos in public spaces in cities such as Brazil, Canada and originally UK generates instant µinter-subjective¶ pleasure and social interaction. Play me, I¶m yours by Luke Jerram turns urban environments into playful performance spaces with the installation of a public piano. Local authorities around the world have asked Jerram to litter their city with pianos because of their ability to act as a catalyst for expression, interaction and communication. The subjective pleasure in interacting with others in a collective public space is part of a bigger movement of participatory culture. In this light it is interesting to return to Bourriaud¶s aesthetic criteria and look at Play me, I¶m yours and its ability to generate a shared communal environment formed around interaction and exchange. Participatory culture has been encouraged by web 2.0 and mobile technology, allowing virtual networks to be organised in the form of physical collectives of people from flash mobs to protests. The thrill found in forming relationships through unknown encounters with strangers creates a pleasurable sense of empowerment both in the encounter with strangers and the feeling of taking over a public space. What is important to recognise is that Jerram¶s 18
installation of a piano takes no sustained community research nor does it have to highlight social tensions by focussing on µantagonism¶, it simply opens exchange between networks of people. The simplicity of the intervention turns out to be a fruitful way of generating interaction and expression, in Bourriaud¶s terms, µfree exchange¶. Furthermore, Jerram continually curates and broadcasts stories that are generated from the public pianos from meeting future wives to wanted criminals (Jerram, 2010). The technologies of Web 2.0 are utilised to collect and track the photos, videos and press coverage of the installations. People use the pianos to make music promos, to form community music events, to link between different cities, to form impromptu concerts. Once these online creations are identified as the artwork itself new possibilities for of curatorial interventions come into being. The user-generated documentations gives the work a permanent context for these ephemeral encounters. The piano in this context is like a node in a network that facilitates encounters and social relations with more accessibility and fulfilment than the work Bourriaud presents. The work is public and open to anyone with any level of keyboard skill or a willingness to sing or dance. The mobility of the pianos is significantly similar to Bourriaud¶s writings about creating mirco-topias within social spaces. The documentation and broadcasting of the connections made not only make the work more intricate and accessible but provide critics with documents to analyse the work.
Figure 6 Monkman, K. and Wexler, T. 2010.Congregation Rockbound Art Museum, Shanghai, China.
The final piece I want to bring into the discussion is KMA¶s Congregation, an interactive light projection for public spaces. The piece is described to be a µballet designed, choreographed and composed entirely for pedestrians¶ (KMA Congregation: 2010). Spotlights react to pedestrian movement connecting strangers to form a collective public dance between strangers. This piece, like Play Me, I¶m Yours, generates inter-subjective exchange between strangers forming a creative collective of public participants. Like Jerram¶s work it also offers the participants a pleasure in the creative reclamation of public space. The co-creation of Bourriaud¶s µmicro-topias¶ (2002:13) (social communal environments) is more adventurous outside the gallery and therefore a wide subjective sensation becomes possible for the participant. Their ability to open human relations through participation is considerably better than the work of Tiravanija, the public setting progressively liberates participants that is unattainable within the art gallery. When looking at these works in regards to Bishop and Kester¶s critical frameworks it can
be assumed that there value systems would not appreciate aspects of the work. They have no sense of a sustained dialogue with a community nor any particular interest in antagonism or ambiguity. But by looking at art¶s relational value these works generate more possibility for the participant, and are mobile interventions that can create communities instantly anywhere. They offer a sense of empowerment to the audience by asking them to participate and become involved with others in an act of collective expression.
Throughout this essay conflicts in critical analysis have been revealed through applying them to participatory art projects. Beginning with an overview of each writers value system or criteria for analysis I then proceed to discuss their criticisms of each other. Revolution and re-enactment presents the politically active nature of some public, participatory performances alongside Bishop¶s value of aesthetic over social relation(s). Bishop values art with people that exposes and uncovers the knots within the social fabric. Following on from that to discuss work involving food, alongside both Kester and Bourriaud¶s critical viewpoints. These two works by Gabie & Tiravanija highlighted the wide difference in the critical considerations when analyzing the work. Tiravanija¶s work represents Bourriaud¶s focus on the construction of social environments that develop from µfree exchange¶. Gabie uses a sustained relationship to curate individual responses of participants in relation to the collective. The final chapter brings in new works that portray Bourriaud¶s ideas but in public art contexts using digital technologies of web 2.0 and interaction. The relevance of the relational aesthetic is important to this work but the expansion of the critical analysis into popular participatory practices is of greater significance.
Bourriaud¶s progressive model for analysis does provide a critical framework for understanding socially based artworks. The introduction of the relational aesthetic defined a new area of work to analyse social practices in the 1990s. The way in
which Bourriaud encourages us to look at relational art µhow does this work permit me to enter a dialogue¶ (2004:109) based on the artist¶s ability to open possibility gives readers, critics and secondary audiences criteria to judge. However the structural analysis over social context (e.g. How the work opens choices, not what the choices are) leaves Bourriaud¶s theory and the work he discussed defined by a select group of artists. So the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija and Liam Gillick (with their audience) produce social scenarios to develop human relations in gallery spaces. Unfortunately these µopen ended¶ relations do not venture further than repeatedly circulating the µbut is it art¶ questions to the same art demographic. Bourriaud often describes relational artwork to produce µmicro-utopias¶ and social µinterstices¶ (2004: pg 13, pg 70) that is how Relational Aesthetics should be viewed, a small section of a much wider terrain of social art practises. The critical framework that Bourriaud has developed does benefit the analyses of work by KMA and Luke Jerram. These recent artworks reside so much in the fluidity between human exchanges that an observed µreading¶ of the work becomes challenging. A secondary analyses would look at the formal structure to measure the success of the work, for example, how many participants and in how many cities has the work been performed. As participatory art strives further into subjective experience Bourriaud¶s critical model will become the easiest way to analyse the work(s). Bourriaud¶s model appears in the communication art of Jerram & KMA through members of the public participating with an installation that encourages play and exchange. Whilst the public setting puts the Bourriaud criteria in a more progressive art practise these playful public installations could also be criticised for lacking aesthetic criteria.
Bishop makes strong critique of the work in Relational Aesthetics but her desired social aesthetic for art that exposes contradiction rather than produces connection leaves her critical position at risk. Her brash accusation of all art seen to be µstrengthening the social bond¶ (Bishop 2006) neglects to acknowledge the popularity of participation as cultural communication. Installations like Congregation and Play Me, I¶m Yours that generate interaction in social space are
quickly disregarded by Bishop, because they are µpredicated on social harmony¶ (Bishop 2004) The excitement of dancing with a stranger and the discourse that follows gives participating an explosive realm of subjective experience that cannot be written off so quickly. Collaboration, co creation, audience as producer, interaction all make participation popular and do not cost any sacrifice on behalf of the artist or the art. Participatory practices have the potential for political challenges and interventions to emerge through the inter subjective experiences of the audience/users. This would still depend on the artist¶s aim and intention. For instance Gabie¶s Canteen engages with the politics of globalisation through its participatory process. Socially engaged art is reinventing itself as a fluid process that facilitates subjective experience through producing collective social environments. This tendency shows no sign of declining for example recent shows at Hayward Gallery at the Southbank (Move: Choreographing you) or public performance work of Blast Theory or Duncan Speakman. This kind of collective event based work that owes as much to the flash mob as it does to the gallery poses significant challenges to Bishop¶s modernist critical framework. The discourse that runs throughout social practices makes it harder to locate and identify the art and the artist. The fluidity of these practises means the art cannot be µframed¶. In addition to this the launch into subjective experience through participation submerges the µsignature¶ of the artist and the work sacrifices identity for accessibility. The fact that a piece like Jerram¶s Play Me, I¶m Yours can move from the artists control to City authority marketing opportunity beyond the control of the artist also shows the problems with work such as this. Without identifiable authorship and form the work is open to Kester & Bishop¶s critique that it just celebrates µthe human bond¶ without any critical purpose. The artworks¶ ability to facilitate encounters and interactions should be analysed in relation to how the artist shapes these exchanges to communicate something. The frequent (one off) sensational encounters that these works create between people and the sustained relations that Gabie curates have to be compared. The relations developed by Gabie appear to be more sustained, tactile and productive than the one off encounters of interactive public art. Such a comparison leads me, finally, to
support Kester¶s critical analyses for developing participatory artworks that form from the continual facilitation of relationships between groups of people. Gabie¶s work has a multi-layered complexity and a focused power that comes from a sustained set of working relationships rather than the fleeting encounters facilitated by KMA or Luke Jerram. Although the documentation of these one - off encounters provide readers the ability to analyse the work, they exist only as snap-shots of the relational art, whilst the social relations produced by Gabie in Canteen will grow and develop after the event has taken place. This is why Kester¶s durational analytical framework that is composed of µsustained encounters¶ presents new ways in which this work can be read. Kester¶s critical model is the only one that expresses flexibility between social, political and ethical concerns. Measuring the sustained relations between artist and audience allows an aesthetic to emerge that reflects both antagonism and connection. The continual output of participatory expressions creates a collective aesthetic that needs an analysis taking account of the long-term durational impact of the project. The rise of participatory culture should look at how the artist can present the discourse from a social intervention. The role of the artist should not be just to simply facilitate dialogue or subjective experience but to say something with it.
Max Dovey Word count 6,081