Archives for category: Peer to Peer Sessions

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:

Beech, D., 2008. Include me out!. Art Monthly, 42(6), p.1-4. Available at:

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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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Written by Tim Jeeves.

At the start of August we had our first Interactions face-to-face meeting, kindly hosted by Live@LICA. The following thoughts are developed from notes taken at that meeting. It’s not an attempt to record what was said, and shouldn’t be understood as representative of what the group as a whole necessarily thinks, but instead uses the meeting as a springboard for articulating my own position. It is a (one-sided) extension of the conversation begun in Lancaster.

A central question to that meeting, and perhaps the project as a whole, is what socially-engaged practice actually is. It is apparent though that providing such a fixed definition is not only incredibly tricky, but perhaps even damaging to such practice. Part of the value in socially-engaged work is to be found in the way that it escapes from pre-existing notions of how things should be done, and instead points towards new forms of social encounter. To fix the meaning of this work in terms that are used to describe current encounters is inevitably going to limit the potential for it to imagine different states.


Therefore, rather than establishing a definition, we wondered if mapping the landscape of the practice would prove a more flexible tactic.

Of course, even mapping is not without problems, as Rosi Braidotti states ‘… all cartography, act[s] a posteriori and therefore fail to account for the situation here and now’*, but nevertheless a map acknowledges its inherent difference from the area it is mapping in the way that a definition does not – no one looking at a map thinks they know what a neighbourhood will actually look like.

As Braidotti also notes, maps also have the advantage of being ‘situated’, they are mapped from a particular position and acknowledge that they only show a partial picture (there will always be space off the edge of the map).

Maps can also, when made in the right way, draw attention to the nooks, crannies, and hidden parts of the area they map (even stating that ‘Here be dragons’ when necessary).

Finally, maps also have the potential to intersect with other maps. They might have different scales and emphasises, be useful in different situations and show different areas, but even with all these differences, maps have the potential to act as intersecting guides in territories that might otherwise be less known.

The beginning of this mapping process can be seen elsewhere on the Interactions blog, and as it suggests, it offers a loose suggestion for what socially-engaged practice can be understood to be. As our discussion found, the beauty of such loose description is the potential it provided for more and more questions to arise when the terms are explored more closely.

For instance, one – very specific – line of questioning that can be pursued from a statement such as Engages audiences beyond the arts institution (ie theatres/galleries) in social spaces or contexts is:

  • In such social contexts, what does engaging the audience actually mean? Are they spectators or are they more directly involved in creating the work?
  • If the latter, what are the implications of this in terms of authorship and payment?
  • Are the experiential benefits of taking part in the work ‘payment’ enough for these people?
  • Is there a risk that to not pay participants when others are being paid normalises such non-payment in a broader context? (cf. the emphasis on volunteering to be found in the ideology of the coalition government).
  • What about working with groups where to pay them – even if money is available – could have serious repercussions on their benefit payments once the week or two of the project completes?
  • Does focussing so much on issues of payment act to reduce everything to financial exchange?

The ethics around these issues are complex and to make statements around what ‘should be done’ broader than the situated location of any given instance risks reduction and simplification. Perhaps a part of what is mapped should be concerned with what the appropriate questions are to ask in such instances? Maybe this is a more fruitful preparation for such ethical dilemmas than to settle on a pre-determined moral position.

*From Rosi Braidotti’s Nomadic Subjects, p.104.


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Within the wide-ranging terrain or landscape that is socially-engaged performance practice, artists Tim, Gisele, Gillian, Sarah and Dani have five distinct practices. The Interactions programme brings them together to share their interests with each other, think through issues and discuss research arising in the field of socially-engaged performance practice.

They meet again next week, and go onto hold two Mini-Symposium’s in Sept and Oct on themes arising from these discussions (book now to secure your place).

Our next few posts will draw on the thinking and ideas being raised within these Peer to Peer sessions.


Written by Gillian Dyson

I ‘Google’ “socially engaged performance”. Several HE courses come up: an Amazon book link; research papers:

Helguera, Pablo (2011): ‘Education for Socially Engaged Art’ Accessed (2014)

Hull, Hannah. ‘The Scales of Socially-Engaged Practice: Towards a Shared Language.’ Accessed (2014)

Horwitz, Andy (2012) ‘On Social Practice and Performance’ Accessed (2014)

Reflecting on conversations I have had this week with other solo performance artists I wonder what I/ we mean/ intend by title-ing ourselves ‘socially engaged’?

I also consider that the prefixing of ‘socially engaged’ to ‘art/ performance’ etc. perhaps undervalues the intrinsic nature and rigor of the practice in the first instance. The term does not refer to the process of making the work/ performance. Instead it focuses on the relational concern.

What indeed would a live practitioner be if they were not engaged with the social dialogue – the interlocutory?

Looking back at my biography of works I can see trends in practice type: The works commissioned by arts agencies that require a level of engagement beyond the gallery or theatre, or the International Performance Festivals that ask for new work responding to site or social situation. I am aware of how these commissioning contexts pre-determine the reach and type of ‘social engagement’ that my practice might have. It leads me to consider the types of audiences/ respondents/ social communities that me and my work might have communicated with, to, for, within.

I do not think I make applied performance. Neither is my work concerned with any overt social activism. And (despite many, rejected commission applications) I am not a public artist.

We had talked about a reticence that surrounds the recognizing of artists as a community of engagement in them/ ourselves, and how Socially Engaged Practice requires something more than artistic value(s).

But I am also remembering that for me, and the solo artists I have talked to, there is a sense of loneliness, isolation or under-valued-ness to our work. Surely then, the ‘added value’ of Socially Engaged Practice is one of creating community; valuing creative impetus; sharing dialogue? Does this need to be stated?

What are the ‘communities’ to which these social engagements apply? Or is Socially Engaged Practice endeavoring to create a community?  I consider the impact for my, and others artists involved in ‘community creating’ programmes such as Asiatopia or National Review of Live Art.

Solo performance art challenges the expectations of institutionalized performance-theatre/ gallery, by presenting the artist/ body/ subject in a non-commodity, non-capital environment of physical and theoretical removal from the normative. But is this social positioning in fact (paradoxically) a result of barriers to institutional or establishment financial or philosophical support? Is it expedient to (re)define ones practice as ‘socially engaged’?

I produce my work through dialogue. I look and see, talk and listen. I explore place, things, activities.  I collect words, objects, images. I exchange actions. Involvement with other people is automatic. I cannot imagine working in a social vacuum. There is no practice without a social context.

Image credit: Leo Burtin

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