Hello, hello, hello. This post is brought to you by the color green, because well, it's St. Patrick's Day. While moving right along in this artists' writings section of Participation, I really enjoyed reading about Collective Actions. This short essay explained an entirely different approach to experiential/participatory/relational art that I am very fond of. (Forgive me for using those terms interchangeably, I understand they are subtly different from one another, depending on context, but for the sake of talking in sweeping generalizations, this works. *Sweeping generalizations are also a terrible idea I admit,, this post is starting well! :D) I'll explain why this piece has struck my fancy.
This essay pretty much explains the terms and conditions of an experience that is set up under the supervision of the five person Collective Actions Group. They are from Moscow and did most of their work from the mid 70's to mid 80's. Western participatory art seems to focus on changing the experience you have within pre-existing art institutions (museums and the like) but, this group didn't think about it that way at all, which is why I'm so fond of it. (Also because I am still scarred from waiting in line for hours-->wrong wheeler)
The premise of this piece was to bring 10 people to a snow covered field, all with no idea what experience was to be facilitated, and then through instructions from the artists, a piece would unfold. Not having an idea about what they were going to do is also successful in encouraging an openness to new experience. These participants began together in the center of a field and all walked outward into the forest, each with spools of white thread that they unraveled as they walked. Once at the end of the length of thread, they pulled the opposite end of the thread towards them, (this was not fixed to the board from which it was originally raveled) to find a piece of paper with facts about the organizers, time, & place of the action that was currently being performed. There were no further instructions beyond this.
Perhaps these instructions might seem somewhat arbitrary, but they are really not at all. The artists have initiated an experience that becomes dictated by the individuality of each participant, the experience becomes what the participant feels compelled to do. Participants are initially compliant in following directions, only to be set up to decide their own. Of the 10 participants, only 8 returned to the center from which the piece began. 2 left the field all together. Upon returning to the center, the participants received a photo of other people emerging from the forest in similar and at times almost exact locations from which they had just emerged. Though these photos were not of themselves, they worked as metaphorical photos of the experience that was just had. The essay culminates in this final paragraph:
"The fact that of the ten possible appearances only eight, and not all ten, came to pass, represents in our view not a failing of the action but, on the contrary, underscores the realization of zones of physic experience of the action as aesthetically sufficient on the plan of the demonstrational field of action as a whole. This is to say that the planned appearance in reality turned out to lie entirely in the extrademonstrational time of the event - the participant appeared from a non-artistic, non-artificially-constructed space."
There is a lot to deconstruct within this last paragraph. This paragraph first states that the participants' voluntary return from the forest is evidence. Evidence that there is a communal physic experience of the instructed action, and that action is aesthetically sufficient (not actually bad nor good). This communal experience is aesthetically sufficient on the field. I'll admit that's a strange sentence, and I'd be lying to you if I said I knew exactly what it meant, and in all honestly this is kind of where this essay lost me. Right at the very end. It's slightly disappointing, mostly because things that are overly complicated and therefor unrelatable are generally always a bit disappointing, but I am happier about the effort and terms of this piece. It's out of the gallery space, which immediately allows us to use a much vaster frame of reference within our minds about the potential outcomes of the experience. It does not have a primary focus which initiates decisions and natural reactions from participants. Lastly it really encourages thought about the significance of experience, how it is determined, and how our own conditioning leads to varying outcomes.