Sunday, 9 August 2009

The fourth corner (working title)

The Participant's choices, in general, are essentially binary; s/he can cooperate with expectations or not, and if not, generally forfeits the role of participant.

Theorists who write about questions of participation often focus on the difficulties of assessing the projects as art – how to make a critique of a participatory project on aesthetic grounds; how art can be effective now on a political level in the public sphere. Few seem to focus on the purpose and meaning of pursuing participatory practices per se, or on the role, identity and agency of the participants. Possibly this is something that gets lost in the anxiety over ethics and artistic status / quality, or it is assumed to have been covered already during the emergence of such practices and debate over social efficacy. Possibly it is neglected because of the individuality of each project, its context and the people within it, making it difficult to infer anything meaningful that can be discussed as general principle. It seems an oversight, though, to not attempt to interrogate ‘who is the participant’ because the introduction of participants fundamentally changes the shape of an artistic practice and its dissemination: it squares the triangle of artist, curator/mediator and recipient. It does not quite fit within any of them. Even in projects with a high degree of social integrity, participants are usually a silent party, their identities unknown, their voices mediated by the artist’s and the curator’s; I'm interested in what importance the participant has and imagining how things might be different.

The project will use a game structure, developed by artist Olivia Plender in dialogue with a reference group composed of other artists, a sociologist, game theorist, education programme curators and cultural theorists with interests in participatory / socially engaged practice.

The envisaged end products will be:

A finished game, which can be physically produced as a limited edition depending on its final form. I hope that it will be distributed to and via museums, institutions, galleries, and art development and commissioning agencies.

A launch event with panel discussion

A blog which will document processes, debate, and questions or problems thrown up by these

The first stage will take place online and through a workshop event in London. The date is yet to be confirmed but will probably be on a weekend in late January or February 2010.

We will be looking for a small number of people to join the reference group and a larger number to 'test drive' ideas and prototypes of the game and respond on the project blog.

If you are interested in being involved, please get in touch and tell me a bit about yourself, what you do and what your interests are... Thank you!

Monday, 20 April 2009

tbc (working title)

“Andre Malraux liked playing cards on the floor with photos of the works he had selected for his ‘imaginary museum’. He would gather them in packs, which he shuffled, mixed, cut, and cut time and again, before laying them out in tight rows on the carpet”

(From Hubert Damisch, ‘Moves’, 1997, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam)

This project is about exploring the unseen hierarchies, the self-appointed and readily assumed roles at the junctures of artist, curator, viewer and ‘participant’ in the social event we recognise as an exhibition. In the tradition of projects like 'I am a curator' (Chisenhale Gallery, 2004) it aims to question all parties’ notions of their own agency within the unspoken contract.

Who is the ‘Participant’ in participatory art events? S/he seems to occupy a strange indistinct area, not a collaborator, but more active than a viewer; not generally as dynamic as a catalyst, but necessary to the process, like a kind of carrier or raising agent. The participant generally operates, consciously or otherwise, within a limited structure like a mouse in a laboratory maze. I sometimes think the Participant is the agent for destabilising the traditional exhibition structure, except they don’t know it yet, and neither does anyone else.

I plan to work with artists to develop one or a series of games exploring exhibition-making. Whether they take the form of board games, dice, cards, lists of prompts or instructions or some other format will be up to the artists. We will all be playing by the same rules but the aim of the game is to find our own ways to subvert them. The notion of a ‘game’ is interesting because it insinuates entertainment, restriction, fierce competition, apparent uselessness, chance, strategy and psychological maneouvring, all at the same time.

For Vision Forum, I’d like to invite members to be Product Testers – to test run the very first drafts of the game(s) using their own work, collections, colleagues and friends and discuss what, if anything, the process uncovers. The processes and any outcomes and recommendations will be used to challenge, refine and if need be, throw out the project. Along the way I hope that it will provide an opportunity for members to get a different angle on their own work or practices.

I would like to organise an event in London where the members attending do some game-playing and discuss how it works and what the implications are of the given rules. I would also like to invite people to contribute to a blog with their subsequent thoughts and comments, particularly accounts of their own ‘matches / contests’ played back home. All feedback will be taken into account in the development of the project and all Participants will receive a credit in the final product and a copy, if physically produced, of the game(s). All the details of what, when, where and who are yet to be confirmed - more to follow soon!

I'm currently living in London and studying at Goldsmiths university for a MFA in Curating. In the long gap between my first degree and this, I've spent several years doing arts admin and development work whilst dabbling in putting together exhibitions and events in spare time; and several more doing a random selection of unrelated work.