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Aaron Lish Professor Michael Newman Art theory paper March 22, 2012 The why of participation-based art

In looking back at the history of art through the centuries, and even in looking at how much of contemporary American society thinks of art today, allowing for viewer involvement in the completion of a work of art does not fit with the idea of a masterpiece in a prestigious art museum. Where did this new thinking come from and what are the theories that support such work as being considered art? This is a very relevant question considering that major international art museums like the Guggenheim Museum in New York are hosting solo shows that are exclusively participation-based.1 Art historian and critic Claire Bishop suggests three primary reasons behind participatory art in the introductory essay Viewers as Producers for her book Participation (2006). Activation, or the active subject, is the first; Bishop suggests that by giving the viewer freedom and respect for their individual thinking they are more likely to reach their own conclusions about their social and political reality through their aesthetic engagement with the work (12). Continuing with the politically-based theorizing is the idea of a shared authorship as being more egalitarian and democratic than the creation of a work by a single artist (12). And finally, it is suggested that the creation of a community through collaboration is resisting against the idea that capitalism results in an isolation of the individual; participatory art works through a collective elaboration of meaning (12). We see great support for these statements in artist Tino Sehgals conversation-based works, which as sociologists Sutherland and Acord suggest, by allowing the viewer to participate openly, and by respecting their opinions the viewer gains a sense of empowerment (2007). Or as Sehgal states (Griffin 2005: para. 26) The viewer in my work is always confronted with himself or herself, his or her own presence in the situation, as something that matters, as something that influences and shapes the situation. However, if we review the literature further we find additional theories on why participatory art has become a main-stream form of art making in the past 40 years. One
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Tino Sehgal, at age 34, was the youngest artist to be given a solo show at the Guggenheim. It was held in the new Frank Lloyd Wright addition in 2010. The show consisted of The Kiss, a performance piece that was as much about how the audience reacted as it was about the performers, and This Progress, which was a conversationbased piece (Whitwham 2011).

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theory is that the use of participants in the art-making was in rebellion against the art institution. Sociologists Ian Sutherland and Sophia Krzys Acord in the Journal of Visual Practice (2007) suggest that the shift to include the viewer as a direct part of the art-making system was in response to the perception by many post-1960s artists that the gallery space was a place of elitism, a left-over of the artist as genius philosophy toward art and art-making. Similarly art historian Janet Kraynak poses one reason for the shift as being poststructuralist theories on authorship whereby the involvement of the viewer breaks down the aura that the individual work contains (2003: 24). Thus, both authors suggest that including the viewer as part of the artwork was a way to de-sanctify not only the art institution, but the artwork itself, as part of the newly developing philosophy that artworks are not objects with an inherent meaning imbued within them by their artist-genius creator who was a conduit to a higher knowledge. I wonder if participatory art is also a final break from the conscious and unconscious influences of religion on both how we view art, and on how art works within our culture. Building off of the above ideas, where art was previously treated as having a higher authority, we can look at where this concept came from the use of art by the church. The church and state, which were historically one in the same, were who art was made for hundreds and hundreds of years, and as such, art was used to communicate a sense of a higher power by showing the church-goers awe-inspiring sights. But as the position of the church within culture has shifted, as well as the role of art within culture has also shifted, there has slowly been a slipping away from an earlier way of thinking about what art is art is no longer treated as having either a direct link to god, or even having a connotation as being a product of a genius who was created by god, making the art indirectly the result of a higher power. With regards to participatory art, what better way to remove the hand of the artist, and as a result make a final break from the perception of art being made by a higher power, then to bring the everyday man and woman into the creative process. In continuing to look at cultural influences on why participatory art has become an accepted and flourishing form of art-making, artist and author Gustaf Almenberg suggests that increased interest in participatory art is a reflection of, or a response to, the economic and leisure aspects of our culture. Examples he cites include: the fact that economists and market researchers refer to the current economy as an experience economy; that we are moving into a Participation Age; the use of collaboration through crowd sourcing is quickly becoming a standard way of doing business; participation is an accepted way of management2; and the popularity of reality TV, which creates a perception of the everyday person as a collaborative part of television pop-culture (2010).

Situational leadership models are designed to involve the participant or employee in taking on greater and greater responsibility until they become an independent worker, and even a manager them self (Schermerhorn).

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In looking at artists and their artistic practice, we can also gain insights into additional theories that support the use of participatory art-making. Early writings on participation-based art from John Cage and the Fluxus artists show that chance was a critical component of their thinking and their project designs (Pellico 2008); and thus, looking for ways to employ chance in art-making must also be factored in as a possible reason for making participatory art. By turning over the artwork to the audience to complete, the artist is clearly allowing for chance in their creative process; the final product is out of the artists control. During this time there was also a move toward process-based art3, a form of art which relied heavily on chance and on the use of natural forces to complete the artwork. One could argue that participation-based art is actually a form of process art, only that it is the viewer acting on the artwork rather than natural forces like weathering or gravity. Placing participatory art within the context of modern art history, since Duchamp and the Dada-ists there has been a shift toward an aesthetic that is viewed as better or more true if it involves chance, or as Bishop writes shared production is also seen to entail the aesthetic benefits of greater risk and unpredictability (my italics; 2006: 12). Not only does the artist employ risk and unpredictability, but in participatory art the use of chance decrease the artists biases in the art making, allowing the viewers to speak through their completion of the work. This results in the work being a true reflection of the culture it is produced in and by. Thus, participatory work not only gains the aesthetic benefit of chance, but there is also the benefit of a more egalitarian mode of art-making as earlier suggested by Bishop. Additional philosophy on the why of participatory art also comes from the thinking of John Cage and others that art should be about experience rather than telling, and discovery rather than forced communication (Pellico 2008). This is echoed in the writing of Roland Barthes (1968), a literary theorist and philosopher, who felt that the meaning of a work was not dependent on the authors intention, but rather on the interpretation made by the viewer / reader; thus, he felt that the work must be separated from the author and given to the viewer to experience as its own, independent piece. Going a step further, beyond individual

In 1968 Robert Morris had a groundbreaking exhibition and essay defining the [process art] movement. Text from the Guggenheim Museum Website states that: Process artists were involved in issues attendant to the body, random occurrences, improvisation, and the liberating qualities of nontraditional materials such as wax, felt, and latex. Using these, they created eccentric forms in erratic or irregular arrangements produced by actions such as cutting, hanging, and dropping, or organic processes such as growth, condensation, freezing, or decomposition (Process Art). From a web-article in Arts and Culture Magazine it is stated that the materials are often left exposed to natural forces: gravity, time, weather, temperature, etc. (Process Art in Wikipedia.org)

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interpretation as the completion of the work to the physical participation in completing the work we find the quote from philosopher and author on perception and experience Alva Noe (2006: 4) stating that Experience isnt something that happens to us; its something we do. Noes statement builds from the writings of philosopher John Dewey who first published Art as Experience in 1934. In his seminal text on art and aesthetics Dewey suggests that intellectual thinking which arrives at a conclusion is an aesthetic act, that it is strictly intellectual art (1980: 38). The essential element for Dewey, however, is that there be movement, that the thinking must progress forward and reach the anticipation and cumulation that is the conclusion. He further states that the experience itself has a satisfying emotional quality because it possesses internal integration and fulfillment reached through ordered and organized movement. This artistic structure may be immediately felt. In so far, it is esthetic (1980: 38). This idea of the internal aesthetic moment as part of experiencing art is supported by Gustaf Almenbergs philosophy that art should be about giving the viewer the opportunity to experience the creative moment for them self. Through the use of creativity we can increase the flow of information from the unconscious to the conscious brain (Sutherland and Acord 2007). This is largely what is responsible for the artists intuition. By providing the viewer with the opportunity to have a creative moment, we may also be providing them with the opportunity to have an epiphany of a new idea, or a new way of thinking, sparked by the experience; and as Dewey states, this has a satisfying emotional quality. I wonder if this good feeling would possibly result in the viewer wanting to participate in more aesthetic experiences in the future, the same way that an artist keeps creating new work because of the satisfying emotional quality that comes with the creative act. This is possibly what Joseph Beuys was hoping for in his essay on participation I Am Searching for Field Character when he wrote This most modern art discipline Social Sculpture / Social Architecture will only reach fruition when every living person becomes a creator, a sculptor or architect of the social organism (1973). If everyone could experience this satisfying emotional quality and recognize that it is a result of their encounter with art, maybe the world could actually be changed through art. Further support for art that requires the viewer to complete comes from philosopher Umberto Eco in his essay The Poetics of the Open Work where he builds on Deweys notion of movement and the act of completion. Within the idea of open work, or work that allows for unlimited interpretations by the various viewers, Eco writes of what he refers to as works in movement. These are works that characteristically consist of unplanned or physically incomplete structural units (Eco 1962) of which someone other than the artist is expected to complete. Eco then writes In other words, the *artist+ offers theaddressee a work to be completed. He does not know the exact fashion in which his work will be concluded, but he is

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aware that once completed the work in question will still be his own. Eco suggests that this move toward open work is in parallel with the thinking in modern science and the openness which has lead to new research and new understandings of the universe. From this brief survey of the support for art which employs the viewer as an integral part of its completion, we can see a diverse range of theoretical underpinnings that span from philosophy and critical theory to art history that allow such work to be accepted as art. In fact, in an essay for the catalog of the show The Art of Participation, 1950 to Present (SFMOMA) titled A Genealogy of Participation, art critic and philosopher Boris Groys wrote A tendency toward collaborative, participatory practice is undeniably one of the main characteristics of contemporary art (2008: 19). Thus, not only is there theoretical support, but the art institution of critics, collectors, museums, etc. have also come to support participation-based art enough for it to become a hallmark of contemporary art practice. This has allowed the scope of artwork in which the viewer it directly involved in some way or another to become quite vast. In general terms, interactive art, participatory art, relational art, and some collaborative art are all areas being explored in contemporary art practice in which the viewer is a critical piece of the art-making process. Now it is up to those in the non-art world who question this as a valid artform to shift their way of thinking to accept that they can be a part of creating a masterpiece in a major art museum, or even out on the street! As involving viewer participation in the completion of an artwork is considered a response to the capitalist society we live in, I have created Untitled (Retail Pricing) in which the physical work is used as a framework, or theater set, to allow for an impromptu skit or dialog to occur between the viewer and myself (or gallery attendant). This borrows from Tino Sehgals conversation-based pieces which, as mentioned earlier, create an opportunity for the viewer to be respected as an integral part of the art experience. Further, as there is no correct interpretation of the work, it embraces Ecos thinking on works in movement and results in the viewer questioning whether they experienced the work correctly. There is also the opportunity for the viewer to use their imagination, or creativity, in how they respond to the challenge of negotiating the price of air which builds on Almenbergs philosophy that art should be about giving the viewer the opportunity to experience the creative moment for himself or herself. Further, by putting both the viewer and the artist at the same level as equals in the conversation, or by removing the artist completely and allowing a gallery attendant to stand in for the artist, there is an aligning with Barthes writing in The Death of the Author where he suggests that the great importance placed on the person of the author / artist is a capitalist way of thinking (1968).

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Thus, not only does Untitled (Retail Pricing) bring up questions about capitalism and the value of things4, but through empowering the viewer and creating a relational aesthetic this piece creates an experience which counters the isolation and de-humanizing effects of the spectacle in capitalist society (Debord 1967). The irony, however, is that although the conversation created between viewer and artist / attendant will likely be in some way about how the value of the air should be determined or how one can charge for air in a space that is open to the rest of the room, which will be more philosophical or abstract in nature, the basis of the conversation will still be transactional in that there is likely to be a negotiation of the price of the air. As a result, although there is a strong relational element to the piece as a result of the form of conversation, the conversation will still in a way be about a financial transaction, or a capitalist activity, of which relational activities are counter to! This borrows from Santiago Sierras standard practice of setting up oppositional forces in his work.

The set is a 3-D line drawing which contains the wall text By entering the space defined by this drawing, and for the period you remain there, you will be charged for the air you breathe. The rate of exchange is to be mutually agreed upon by the viewer and the artist prior to entry in Blue Highway font. Dimensions of block of wall text: 24 in high X 82 in wide. Dimensions of line drawing: variable, but must be larger than the block of text and must include at least one wall corner so as to allow a drawing to translate a space or volume in three dimensions.

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Works Cited Almenberg, Gustaf. Notes on Participatory Art: Toward a Manifesto Differentiating it from Open Work, Interactive Art and Relational Art. Central Milton Keynes, Britain: Author House, 2010. Print. Barthes, Roland. The Death of the Author. 1968. Participation. Ed. Claire Bishop. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. 41-45. Print. Beuys, Joseph. I Am Searching for Field Character. 1972. Participation. Ed. Claire Bishop. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. 125-126. Print. Bishop, Claire, ed. Viewers as Producers. Participation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. 10-17. Print. Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. 1967. Trans. Ken Knabb. Canberra: Treason Press, 2002. Web. Dewey, John. Art as Experience. 1934. New York: Perigee Books and Putnam Publishing, 1980. Print. Eco, Umberto. The Poetics of the Open Work. 1962. Participation. Ed. Claire Bishop. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. 20-40. Print. Groys, Boris. A Genealogy of Participation. The Art of Participation, 1950 to Present. Catalog. Ed. Rudolph Frieling. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Thames & Hudson Publishing, 2008. Print. Pellico, Melissa. John Cage. The Art of Participation, 1950 to Present. Catalog. Ed. Rudolph Frieling. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Thames & Hudson Publishing, 2008. Print. Process Art. Guggenheim.org. Guggenheim Museum n.d. Web. 18 March 2012. Process Art. Wikipedia.org. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2011. Kraynak, Janet. Dependent Participation: Bruce Naumans Environments. Grey Room 10 (2003): 22-45. Print. Noe, Alva. Experiences Without the Head. http://philosophy.wisc.edu/shapiro/Phil951/Noe.pdf 24 May 2004. Web. 17 Aug 2011.

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Schermerhorn, John. Situational Leadership: Conversations with Paul Hersey. Situational.com. The Center for Leadership Studies n.d. Web. 18 March 2012. Sutherland, Ian and Sophia Krzys Acord. Thinking with art: from situated knowledge to experiential knowing. Journal of Visual Practice 6 (2007): 125-140. Print. Whitwham, Alice. Review: Tino Sehgal, The Kiss. Bombsite.com. Bomblog 22 Feb 2010. Web. 16 Aug 2011.