Archives for posts with tag: Culture. Performance

Table Discussion Notes : Interactions, Leeds. 8th October 2014

What is the role of expertise in socially engaged performance practice / artworks? (collated discussion and thinking from all the participants in dialogue with and written up by Tim Jeeves).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the discussions had around this question, a theme that kept being returned to was around hierarchy and its implications – particularly when working with groups of non-artists – once someone was labelled an ‘expert’.

In part, we negotiated this by observing that there are many different kinds of expertise brought in to any project, and it is important to recognise the value to be found alongside the expertise of the art practitioner; i.e. the expert knowledge of a local area, having a particular identity, understanding a particular issue through lived experience.

We talked about how the different expertises are blended together through the making of the work. Though there may be a very clear hierarchy within a particular field of expertise, in the mix of the different forms, this structural inequality would get problematised and challenged. Words that were used to describe the artists role in this blending included: facilitation, direction, curation and co-creation.

Whilst making this mix is challenging enough to achieve in the context of a project, it is also worth remembering that the societal context – and its systems for attributing cultural capital – are also significant. The artist who facilitates a powerful artwork for social change is likely to be more rewarded in that broader society – both financially and in terms of status and reputation – than the LGBTQ participants that informed the work with their experiences.

Inevitably, with so many artists participating in the discussion, whilst the variety in expertise was constantly returned to, when it came to the specifics of our own experience, we would often talk about artistic expertise.


The link between expertise and confidence was also noted.

Expertise does – to a degree – inspire confidence. If someone walks into a room and baldly states that they don’t know what’s going on, then it is easy for them to lose the trust of the group.

Inversely, if an artist feels ill-equipped to deal with the inevitable mishaps or a shortage of time when there is a very fixed outcome to be working towards, then there is a risk that they may fall back on to a short-hand of expertise to solve things in a less than fulfilled manner. When expertise is utilised successfully, a key element would appear to do this whilst unknowing, albeit with confidence.

We felt that many of the dangers of expertise are related to the ego, but were also careful to remember that there are positives to it as well. In spite of any risks, expertise, and its isolationary aspects, offers positive contributions to socially engaged practice as well.

An (artist) expert is someone that is able to:
– refer to alternative / progressive / radical practice performed elsewhere that perhaps someone else – not an expert in the field of performance / art – wouldn’t be aware of. They have access to a range of knowledge-based tools.
– spend time thinking on relevant issues – they might have ethical expertise, or expertise in articulating and asking difficult questions in new ways.
– break rules: they can make the world go wonky whilst keeping it safe. Artists have greater freedom in some instances (i.e. someone who works within an institution) though it is important to remember that they are still under pressures and the risk of self-censorship is a real one.

Expertise is not a fixed thing that someone ‘has’.
It is fluid; it grows by assimilating previous work and experiences into a practice. It becomes something different from what it currently is through reflection and critique of practices.


Image credits: Sarah Spanton


Courage, C. (2014) Placemaking as Performative Art [online lecture] in Complicating the co-production of art: hidden humans and acting objects, ‘Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference’. Held 29 August 2014 at Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and Imperial College London. available from <>

  • Quote from Courage, ‘I also see a social practice placemaking as a new genre placemaking, away from the top-down proscribed regeneration or participatory placemaking of city authorities and developers with major public art commissions for example.’ p.4.

Hubbard, P., Kitchin, R., Valentine, G. (eds.) 2008. Key Thinkers on Space and Place. London: SAGE Publications.

  • Brilliant compilation of individuals who have been influential in this field – gives biographical info and chronological synopsis of key theories and interests.

Purves, T. (ed.) 2005. What We Want Is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art. Albany: State University of New York.

  • Transferring goods and services as art, ‘gift’ and ‘generosity’ as part of the artistic act, project histories (or case studies). Part Two covers the theoretical and historical background of exchange and giving.

Willats, S. 2012. Artwork as Social Model: A Manual of Questions and Propositions. Sheffield: RGAP (Research Group for Artists).

  • Case studies inc. transcripts, diagrams and time lines of projects that have the everyday, society and participants in common – all by artist Stephen Willats.

Social Model as Artwork

Bishop, C. 2012. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso.

  • Discusses the beginnings and history of participatory art, and its relationship to the political in Western society. Concludes with the need to recognise art as an experimental activity, and participatory art communicating to both spectators and participants.  Useful as an overview.

Image credit: Stephen Willats

Follow us on Twitter @UKinteractions (you can join by scrolling to the bottom of this page).

Social Works, by Shannon Jackson, Routledge, 2011

  • A wide-ranging study on socially engaged practice in a variety of contexts. Particularly interesting is Jackson’s analysis of how art practice can usefully intersect with institutions; she makes a well-argued challenge to the assumption that radical interventions can only operate at the grass-roots level.

Include Me Out!

Art and Participation

  • Two blog posts by Dave Beech of the Freee Art Collective on the risks and dangers within the current tendency towards fetishizing participation in art practice.

Homebaked / 2Up2Down

  • Originally initiated by artist Jeanne van Heeswijk and presented in the Liverpool Biennial in 2012, this cooperatively run Bakery and Community Land Trust provides a rich example of a meaningful intersection between art practice and a local community.

Homebaked - 600

The Author as Producer, by Walter Benjamin, New Left Review, 1970.

  • It’s nearly 50 years old now, but there’s still a lot of value in Benjamin’s demand for the manner in which art work is produced, to be an essential component of how it is understood.

On refusing to pretend to do politics in a museum, by John Jordan, Art monthly, 2010. Available online:

  • When the Tate Modern invited the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination to run a workshop, they thought that they were just going to play at social justice. John Jordan documents this workshop, Tate’s attempts to censor them, and the birth of what has since become Liberate Tate.

Follow us on Twitter @UKinteractions (you can join by scrolling to the bottom of this page).