Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Hi Gang,

Below is the essay I wrote about "Participation" for my first packet. I must agree with Laura - I had a difficult time getting through this book; but feel that I was able to get some real good worth out of it.

Collaboration: Intersections with Participatory Art

In Participation: Documents of Contemporary Art, Claire Bishop weaves together narratives and explorations around the meaning of art that engages and is collaboratively created. This series of essays on the theories and practices of participatory art inspire an excellent dialogue around the purpose of art and its abilities to connect community and engage in active discourse.

There has been much discussion around the audience of art and whether art is created to emulate life or vice versa. There has also been much discussion around the separation of life and art. Peter Burger theorizes that art and social praxis can be integrated in society. He states:

For an art that has been reintegrated into the praxis of life, not even the absence of a social purpose can be indicated, as was still possible in Aestheticism. When art and the praxis of life are one, when the praxis is aesthetic and art is practical, art’s purpose can no longer be discovered, because the existence of two distinct spheres (art and the praxis of life) that is constitutive of the concept of purpose or intended use has come to an end. (Bishop 50)

This notion is fascinating to me. As a performance artist, I strive to find ways to engage my art with society. My art is geared towards social involvement and collaboration. There is no question as to whom my art is serving; it is serving humanity. It is a living, breathing entity that can change with the cues of the audience. It is part of the community. it is an active dialogue. It is a complete collaboration.

The thought of art in our world as a way to serve humanity is an enlightening and exciting concept. That is what I feel modern art and participatory art movements are supporting.

We have an innate need as a species to co-exist with the art we create. This co-existence allows the art to take shape and form our thoughts, feelings, and community. That is why Burger’s work is so relevant. If we strive to make connections with our art into our everyday lives, we’ve answered the important questions of what our artistic and social purpose and intent are. For me that intent and purpose is to serve the community in ways that promote and encourage active exploration of self and social awareness.

In my opinion, the focus of art as a social tool, weaving together many different ideas and mediums has allowed us to make much progress in our craft. For example, before coming to Goddard I was set on only being a theatre practitioner. Once I started the MFA-IA program, I started to become enlightened and open to the possibilities of branching out in new artistic practices.

Suddenly, I was not confined to one medium or mode of artistic investigation. I was able to start to take my socially conscious practice and evolve it. Suddenly, I was working in a more interdisciplinary sensibility. I was interested in trying my hand at different mediums of exploration and weaving them into my current practice.

This is what I think the future of art is. It is about constantly finding ways to connect with people and discovering new ways to interact artistically and personally.

Collaboration has always been at the forefront of my artistic practice. Interdisciplinarity is the new road I am embarking on to find new mediums and modes of connecting to the communities in which I serve.

By connecting life and art, it is possible to bridge gaps of understanding through collaborative means. By making art a social practice, it allows us to live and breathe art throughout our daily interactions.

This socio-artistic responsibility is the bridge between life and art. It is how we can make a difference and find meaning throughout the human experience.

Using Art to Engage in Social Discourse

Building off of Burger’s theories around art and social praxis, it is important to look at what artist’s are doing to bridge these two worlds. One excellent example of this is the work of Adrian Piper. Piper used her “Funk Lessons” practice to explore racial issues within the white community, while teaching the basics of funk music and dance to the participants.

Piper used this technique to spark a dialogue and expose her audience to a cultural experience that was foreign to them. This end result of this practice was a collaborative performance piece of funk dance.

Piper used this medium as a way of connecting the participants to black culture and the issues that related to the exposure of this social idiom. Throughout her collaboration with these groups of white participants, there were many intense reactions to the content and themes. Piper writes:

The intimate scale of the dialogue permitted a more extensive exploration of individual reactions to funk music and dance, which are usually fairly intense and complex. For example, it sometimes elicited anxiety, anger or contempt from middle-class, college educated whites: anxiety, because its association with black, working-class culture engenders unresolved racist feelings that are then repressed or denied rather than examined...

(Bishop (Kwon)(Bishop)(Bishop)133)

The above is an excellent example of how participatory art can engage discourse and become a healing vehicle. Through the exposure of a specific art piece or practice, we can collaborate with diverse groups of people and find ways to progress socially.

As Piper illustrates through her “Funk Lessons”, the participants were able to collectively get to a space of catharsis and start to process the intense feelings they were experiencing while being exposed to the cultural elements that induced their reactions. (Bishop 133)

This is most excellent. This is why I create work that engages collaboration within community. I am committed to creating work that asks the audience to be part of the exploration in hopes that it will open their minds and allow them to ponder or progress socially. It is my hope that through my art I am able to promote a space of critical discourse on the social theme in which I am presenting or living with my audience.

Participatory art is a socially responsible way of exploring the cadences of human struggle. It is a way to interact in a collaborative space to create and learn in ways that speak louder than words. It is a way of living artistically and socially. It is the bridge between art and life.

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