Holy smokes. It’s the end of January already, this is a little bit insane, but let’s keep this positive momentum going. PARTICIPATION. The MIT Press Documents of Contemporary Art series so far has been little too helpful in relating many of the theoretical essays to the work of the artists that are being discussed. Perhaps because relational aesthetics is so based in theory, the need was finally felt for a bit of explanation, which you know, was appreciated. Participation is split into 3 categories. Theoretical Frameworks//Artists’ Writings//& Critical and Curatorial Positions.

The way this book is split up explains a lot about the process of experiencing work, as does the introduction by Claire Bishop. I’ll be honest, historically, I have not read much about relational aesthetics, which means all the more reason to gain a better understanding of what it is that I am or am not experiencing. Bishop helps me out in her introduction by really setting up a context from which one should begin;

“The idea of constructed situations remains an important point of reference for contemporary artists working with live events and people as privileged materials. It is, for example, frequently cited by Nicolas Bourriaud in his Relational Aesthetics (1998), a collection of theoretical essays that has catalyzed much debate around the status of contemporary participation.  In parallel with this debate, and perhaps addressing the sense of unrealized political potential in the work that Bourriaud describes, a subsequent generation of artists have begun to engage more directly with specific social constituencies, and to intervene critically in participatory forms of mass media entertainment.  The texts in this reader have been selected with the development of this work in mind.  The aim has been to provide a historical and theoretical lineage for recent socially-collaborative art, presenting a variety of positions that will allow students and researchers to think more widely about the claims and implications of the artistic injunction to participate.”

I love this paragraph because Bishop is so succinct about explaining the context of participatory art. She begins by stating that constructed situations are especially relevant for artists who are working with actual events and people as their medium. She also emphasizes the debate around this idea and how that debate is discussed within Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics.  Bishop goes on to say how Bourriaud feels there is political potential in participatory work and that new generations of artists have begun to deal with more specific social issues through participatory forms within mass media entertainment. This conclusion is pretty grand, because Bishop is asserting that artists are thinking outside of the gallery walls to create participatory pieces that encourage an understanding of political and social issues. These situations could take place anywhere, from a public city street, to the internet or televised public sphere.  Bishops states that the texts in this book have this goal in mind - to make clear that participatory work fosters the understanding of broad and specific social and political circumstances.  She also aims to give a historical context for this kind of recent socially-collaborative art, with the ultimate goal of presenting a wide array of positions that reflect the important social/political implications that are available to those who choose to participate. 

There are things to be learned through participatory art, and the focus is on social and political implications. This book will focus on the theory behind much of the work, which will provide a context for us from which to understand. I’m looking forward to jumping into artist writings, because lately nothing seems to be making me happier then reading those. Lastly, we’ll consider the role of the curator and critic in regards to works of art that fall in the seemingly vast realm of relational aesthetics. BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE, if you read through all that. Great Job.

Oh! Duh, you know I would not give you an entire post without SOME kind of art to consider. Since we’re thinking about historical frameworks, how can we possibly consider participatory art work without looking back to the SITUATIONISTS. I’m sorry, I’ll stop writing things in all caps, I swear. ;) These guys founded their movement in 1957 and they advocated experiences for the fulfillment of human desires.  They experimented with the “construction of situation,” and set up environments that would fulfill these desires through methods pulled from the arts. They also rejected all art that separated itself from politics. I’m greatly simplifying, here is some work by the primary members.

 Asger Jorg

 Constant Nieuwenhuys

 Pinot Gallizio

Guy Debord

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