I will get started with some discussion questions.
A disclosure: I haven't got to read everything yet, but have a good start on the Participation book.
Also, I never got the xeroxed piece, so could someone tell me what the page numbers are and the title of the book?
On Participation: This is a collected volume of articles that set up theoretical foundations for the move of art toward community-based interactive works, away from the making of objects.
My questions for discussion are: How do we as individual artists feel about making art that involves the audience in the works? What are the values and drawbacks of this type of art-making both for the artist and the audiences?
I liked what Burger said about how the avant-gardists sought to pull art back into life, integrating it with life, in order to reject and deny the irrelevance of art in its institutionalized form. In Aestheticism, the work's essential content is its separation from life, and its social functionlessness.
Wow. Burger also recognizes that art is essentially in a contradictory position in society. On one hand, to keep it separate from life allows us to keep it perfect, utopian, in a sphere of possibilities. On the other hand, if it is separated and not integrated with life, it is kept outside of realilty and doesn't therefore help change the conditions of life.
This is a marxist dichotomy. My thoughts are that art has become more integrated with life even if it is centered in and around "bourgeois" modes of production and consumption. I think Burger would say that art in its popular form is based on its commodity nature. Even though, I have marxist sympathies, I don't believe it helps us exist well in our world to get caught in such dichotomies.
As an artist, I seek to make art as an escape from the commodified relations that permeate my life. By this I mean: I have to work at a job that is not always fulfilling, thus selling my labor in order to eat. I get caught up in consumerism because sometimes it seems it is a nice reward and relief from the pressures of my life, except for making art and being with people.
As far as what kind of art to make and how to present it, I have done different things: objects, participation events, performances that break the fourth wall and get people to interact. All of these are good, but still don't heal the wounded society, or do they?. Maybe art cannot be expected to heal the world, and can only be a reflection and documentation of what is. I would like art to do more. And, upon reflection of my own words, I think it can help in small ways over time. For instance, creating works that do bring people together, outside of the normative ways of doing things, may create possibilities, new approaches to living, and therefore a more human and kind life. This I would like to work towards.
This takes me to Barthes' piece The Death of the Author (and Eco): They are suggesting that a new approach to art has begun (in the 1960s) that decenters the artist/author, and places the authorship in a collaborative relationship between artist and audience. The Reader is now the creator of the work, because interpretation is in the individual doing the reading/looking. Okay.
I get it. I am a sociologist. And the missing piece here is that these authors are forgetting that any interpretation by any individual also takes place within the social context and is therefore, socially constructed. By this I mean that there will be a type of "norm" of understanding, not wholly defined by the individuals in the room, but by the context of their lives (labor relations, family commitments, what images they engage with everyday, what their gendered self-concepts entail, their social class position and related tastes and approaches to things, etc). So all these sets and sub-sets of interactions and beliefs will inform (determine?) the way they interpret art.
Therefore, should the artist leave the works open, for interpretation by people informed by social norms? Or, should the artist write the works with some delimited possibilities so that readers may come away from the work with something different, that is, if we are able to give something different! I guess I see that as my role as an artist, is to be able to locate the normative patterns of the society and attempt to offer something different.