Written by Tim Jeeves, following the Interactions Peer-to-Peer session #2, held at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford.

On Participation. Part I – Influences

Recent years have seen what Clare Bishop identifies as a ‘social turn’ in art practice. Very present in socially-engaged work, this tendency towards participation can also be seen in more aesthetically / entertainment focussed immersive theatre work as well as gallery-based contemporary art. As Bishop suggests, such work ‘rehumanizes – or at least de-alienates – a society rendered numb and fragmented by the repressive instrumentality of capitalism’. By positioning the participatory elements of these works against the sense of disillusionment and lack of engagement that is to be found in mainstream politics, they are often understood as emancipatory and politically vibrant. Alongside this politicised understanding of such work, it is also perhaps worth noting the possible influence of online environments that, in recent years, have seen a normalisation of the participatory voice as a means of generating content, alongside more traditional top-down distribution.

The combination of these factors has lent participatory practice a powerful force and presence in recent years, meaning that – at times – any problematics with the form can be overlooked.

As Bishop suggests, some analysis would appear to suggest that ‘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 [forgetting that] it is also crucial to discuss, analyze, and compare such work critically as art.’ As Bishop argues, a number of other considerations remain essential.

References: Bishop, Claire. 2006. ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents’. Artforum 44:6. pp.178-183.

To be followed shortly by On Participation: Part II.


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