Following on from On Participation. Part I – written by Tim Jeeves, following the Interactions Peer-to-Peer session #2, held at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford.

On Participation. Part II – Problematics and tactics

Dave Beech, of the art collective Freee, draws attention to the problematics of participation, in particular the principle, prevalent in some quarters, for the artist to renounce their authorial status in the name of equality. As he notes, there are pleasures to be found in asymmetrical relationships such as the ‘relationship between host and guest, [… where] there are pleasures in being the host and pleasures in being a guest. Equality cannot be forced onto these intersubjective relations without killing off the care and the pleasures of caring and being cared for.’

Even aside from the bland equality such relinquishing might encourage, there are also questions to be asked around how possible it might be anyway: the movements of cultural capital are complex, and have a tendency to remain within particular groupings. Denying authorship in one area will often mean that is re-asserted, perhaps more subtly, in another.

Beech also highlights the neutralizing affects of inclusion. Making a parallel with the way that the European Union has assimilated its old cold war enemies into principles of neo-liberalism, Beech notes that art institutions – with their policies of engagement and relationship development with excluded communities – similarly pacify cultural dissent and conflict.

Dissent and the outsider are an essential component of a functioning democracy, as much so as giving voice to the disempowered, or agency to the dispossessed. To integrate a voice is to quieten it, and to encourage participation too strongly risks homogenization and recasting the participants in the mould of those who initiated the project.

None of which is to be taken as an argument against participation per se, there is much to be in favour of it; but neither should it be seen as inherently positive, even in instances where flagrant exploitation might be avoided. Rather participation should be seen a tactic, one among many; a formal container that holds ideas, aesthetics and political ideology. It may influence how such content manifests, just as using any medium influences the way that an artwork is encountered, and these influences are not neutral.

References: Beech, D., 2011. Art and Participation. dbfreee, [blog] 13 March. Available at: http://www.dbfreee.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/art-and-participation

Beech, D., 2008. Include me out!. Art Monthly, 42(6), p.1-4. Available at: http://dbfreee.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/include-me-out

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