(UK) London – (In)correct approaches by Martynas Petrikas (LT)

After a week rich in experiences and ideas one of them appeared to be constantly reoccurring: a great deal of artists and theoreticians we have met in London seemed to be preoccupied with the status of participatory art.

Interesting enough my own topic of enquiry before the study trip began was an issue relating to the same problem: i. e. how to recognize and keep up (or tear down) the boundary that divides the products participatory artists and “real” artists produce.

For me, after the London trip was over, such a query appeared as an example of the incorrect approach, since I have realized that participatory art practice invites a broader and much more complicated reflection in this matter.

The question whether one should consider participatory art a “real” art instantly suggests a hierarchical, i. e. vertical model for organizing, sorting and labeling. In its turn the hierarchy evokes the whole universe of different criteria it has to rely on to maintain the ability to differentiate and denominate. A matter of criteria is moreover important here as one is able to construct one’s own system that helps tell what kind of art deserves to be called “real”. Needless to say that flexibility of such systems opens vast possibilities for usage, where manipulations with excluding and including are not uncommon.

One of the best known of these systems states that the foremost criterion to tell a “real” art apart lay in its functions, or more precisely, in lack of them. One has only to remember the notion of disinterested aesthetical experience and to look for it in the artworks one comes across with. Hence one might find the core of the difference between the “real” and participatory art: aesthetical autonomy in the former vs. obvious social outcomes in the latter.

Yet is such a differentiation is entirely valid? First of all the aesthetical autonomy of art is a highly questionable issue: ironically the most hermetic and abstract artifact, according to Jacques Ranciere, is also the most active in political, hence functional sense. Moreover Pierre Bourdieu’ research has shown that the art cannot possibly escape a function: even disinterested aesthetical experience serves certain functions itself – as a possibility to discriminate between those able and those unable to experience it, to name only one of them.

On this basis hierarchical approach resting on functional discrimination between two art classes appears to be obsolete. Serving a function economic, political or indeed a communal one does not provide a ground to treat such art as a lesser form or of a minor class.

Hereby a different approach could be used, i. e. horizontal instead of a vertical. An image of a field of art where different art classes exist side by side and not one above (or below) another was also somewhat granted by the London trip. Navigation trough utmost contrasts between richly equipped institutions providing support for participatory arts (Tate Modern, the Barbican, etc.) and brilliant initiatives of the grass-root provenance (Art in the Park, Spare Tyre, etc.), between highly informed, perfectly accomplished art pieces (the DV8) and those democratic ones, where the process and arbitrariness are the most important elements (Third Angel / mala voadora at The Albany), revealed the actual spatiotemporal map of the matter, the map that resembles not a pyramid, but rather a keyboard where all the keys are different, yet exist side by side and remain various branches of the same sound “tree”.

Thus the status of participatory art appears to be a matter of approach where openness as well as obvious reality of field of art can provide with a definite answer.

Notes for further enquiry

  • Jacques Rancière. Le Destin des images. Paris: La Fabrique, 2003.
  • Pierre Bourdieu. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/local-communities
  • http://www.barbican.org.uk/about-barbican/vision
  • http://www.artinthepark.co.uk/
  • http://sparetyre.org/
  • http://www.dv8.co.uk/projects/canwetalkaboutthis
  • http://whatiheardabouttheworld.co.uk/whatis http://www.thealbany.org.uk/event_detail/752/Theatre/Story-Map:-What-I-Heard-About-The-World

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