So, as you know, I’m one of ten awesome artists on Sites residency program this year. It’s pushing the investigation of participatory artwork. This post is not on what I’m doing, but more questioning what we’re doing in art in general. And I don’t mean we as in the 10 artists, but every single artist in the world that does the following! These thoughts aren’t part of the Site thing, these are my own views and no one elses. (Although I’m sure many others have written and thought about this.)
I wouldn’t class myself as an artist who works with the community; i just happen to work with the community every now again. Actually, i put stuff on and I hope that they turn up! HA! But another side is that I like to think that my work – that’s very individualistically made – voices or reveals the smoke that reveals the truth. I like to think that my investigating power structures and systems – in what ever way that is – by revealing the democracy of information that surrounds us, it will allow us to reconsider our current position with in what ever system. Since i’m a small minority – working class kid working in a middle class world, i feel like i’m representing my fellow working class folks! So here’s the question.
Can art ever really be participatory in an autonomous sense? They say we can do anything, but then – what do the audience think when they walk through the door!?! Participatory artists should definitely consider the audience they’re working with – especially on an ethical level. But, this ethical level gets switched when you’re sat waiting in the gallery for participants.
You’re not trying to invade a community of people with certain rituals or ideas, you’re engaging with the art-viewing public who should realistically be used to these types of surroundings. But all of a sudden, i don’t get told to, it’s expected, almost instinctive, to greet the audience. Like customer service people do in shops. “Hey, How are you today?! Can I tell you our special offers in store today! If you need any help, just holla!” Because you know if you don’t – like a mystery shopper- they will think bad of the work or even you! My role suddenly turns from artist – tryna push a project to the next stage, to Greeter. I don’t mind, in fact i’m happy to do it – any way to make projects clearer work better in our favour, but it’s this nagging thought in the back of mind – why is it almost expected?
Can art – social or participatory – push any boundaries anymore? Neo Liberalism has blurred these lines so much that it’s expected for me to be artist and greeter/worker within the same role and the same time – without it being explicitly linked to do with my work. Post Fordism et-al! The more people we get through the doors, the more work we can make. product, product, product. evaluate evaluate evaluate. outcome outcome outcome. If it’s successful, what does it do? What does the final outcome look like. It can’t look like it belongs in the gallery. it needs to be good enough to be in the gallery. Where’s the process? The production line?
It gets democratized so much that certain things are expected. If it’s too different, it’s not working or doesn’t engage. If it’s too similar, it’s not risk-taking or interesting enough. You work to your audience. I’m pretty tired so these thoughts aren’t materialising as i’d like them to. But I’ll leave you with this, as Greg Sholette stated in his e-flux essay titled: “After OWS: Social Practice Art, Abstraction, and the Limits of the Social”
– What is the limit of the social within the social itself?