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‘We are dealing with numerous attempts to question and transform the fundamental condition of how modern art functions – namely the radical separation of artists and their public.’
Boris Groys  A geneology of participatory Art

This project is an attempt to unite socially engaged/participatory work with an autonomous art practice using performance and digital media in a way that makes the art work the site of exchange.

‘We can no longer speak of old fashioned autonomy versus radical engagement since a dialectical pull between autonomy and heteronomy is itself constitutive of the aesthetic.’
Claire Bishop Artforum June 2006

The research will aim to capture and contextualise my knowledge from several years of participatory public art practice; further develop a way of working that challenges notions of authorship, and put creative concepts and aesthetic decisions at the centre of work which at the same time actively engages the viewer/participant.  It will include practical experimentation, an examination of the range of activity that is currently taking place, and an analysis of where that work sits within socially engaged/participatory practice.


In the context of this project, I will take the terms socially engaged, collaborative and participatory, to be different terms for community arts; the contexts may have widened, the political climate be less charged than that of the 60s and 70s, but essentially they are terms which are applied to a huge range of artistic practices that engage directly with ‘other people’.

For the past 10 to 15 years in this country, funding for art projects has majored on notions of social inclusion, target audiences and statistical information in an effort to utilize the arts in the service of society and the economy.  The drive to capitalize on the ability of artists to deliver social outcomes more cheaply than any economically regenerative scheme, gave rise to a situation where the art was of secondary importance to the aims of the stakeholders and participatory work became formulaic.

Despite this situation in Britain artists continue to seek ways to engage with audiences and perhaps because of this situation have begun to establish the engagement as the artwork itself, subverting government priorities and creating ad hoc inclusive social situations such as the flash mob activities of the live art group ‘The Laboratory of Insurectionary Imagination’. Much of the work in this area is akin to live art practices that use personal interaction as a method of engagement, often influenced by the legacy of Allan Kaprow and Fluxus.  Operating across artistic media artist run organisations such as Deveron Arts in Scotland, Allenheads Contemporary Arts in Northumberland, Isis Arts in Newcastle and Artangel in London work with art and social interaction and continue to expand the boundaries of artistic practice.

Internationally there has been a gradual acceptance of participatory and collaborative practices as part of the mainstream.  The polarization of contemporary art into community arts and the artistic mainstream that existed began to dissolve with a groundswell of artists like Adrian Piper, Andrea Fraser, Rikrit Tiravanija, Liam Gillick, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Santiago Sierra coming to the fore alongside critical developments by writers and critics such as Suzanne Lacy, Nicolas Bourriaud, Claire Bishop, Grant Kester, Suzy Gablik and Miwon Kwon.

Although there is now a general acceptance of the validity and range of ways of making artwork, there is a question mark over what lies between artistic autonomy and artistic social intervention, and it is this that I wish to interrogate through my research.

The structure of the research should be:
Year 1
Critical examination of seminal texts and current contributions.
Development of  competence in digital sound techniques.
Development of voice in live performance and recording/composition
Studio based development of new work.
Use of journal and visual documentation throughout.

Year 2
Work developed for at least two different public locations and situations.
Critical evaluation of work.
Use of journal and visual documentation throughout.
Series of interviews conducted with other artists engaged in collaborative practices.
Collation of documentation and research findings.
Work performed and exhibited to illustrate findings.
Written thesis produced

2nd and 3rd July 2010
Performance and installation piece – ‘Rice Writing’
The Heugh – North Cumbria

Beginning Summer 2010
Nomadic Village
An opportunity for me to engage with other artsits in a project which has peer learning, collaboration and sight specificity at its heart. with the possibility of community engagement too.

24th Sept – 1st Oct
Sound installation piece – ‘Green Fuse’
RENDER – Newcastle

18th Sept – 28th Nov
Rice Writing – development
SEDITION – Tullie House, Carlisle

21st – 25th Oct
Site specific sound interaction ‘What do you hear’
RESPONSE festival, Suffolk.

Jan 2011
‘What do you hear’ – development
25 Stratford Grove, Newcastle

Nov 2010 – June 2011
A series of three research residencies run by ISIS with a particular emphasis on artists whose work involves participation in some way.  The artists may be regional, national and international.  I would work with the artists as a case study of practice and we may carry out a small project together.

March 2011
An artists’ lab.  Working with a group of regionally based artists some of whom may be less experienced who work in some way with participation. This could be a day or a week.  This could be tied in with a festival such as Wunderbar where the works could be shown/carried out – discussions currently underway.

May 2011
A project which works with the results of the lab in a public context.  IISIS could facilitate the setting up.

Dissemination of research in a public setting.  A paper to be given at a conference or symposium etc and an exhibition of work by me and other artists who have been involved with the research – particularly the lab. This could coincide with the showing of RENDER and be exhibited in an empty space in Newcastle.


There is a long and distinguished history from 20th Century of artists who have worked in participatory ways from George Brecht and his first solo exhibition ‘Towards Events’ in the 1960’s , to Fluxus, Kapprow’s happenings, the community arts movement of the 70s ad 80s to the flood of artists working in a gallery context such as Rikrit Tir… and Liam Gillick in the 90s. Currently  many artists  and groups are involved in what is now termed a ‘socially engaged practice’.

This break away from the previous status quo which placed artists in a position separated from the public, is a rejection of the idea of artists as uniquely gifted and singled out to be the creators of culture and is often an attempt to work with and get alongside an audience or public to share experiences.  However one  an argue that a rejection of art as a solitary singular activity in favour of a collaborative action is too simplistic a solution to the democratisation of art making.

It is important at this stage to define what socially engaged participatory practice means in the context of this research.  There are many different practices which come under the banner of ‘socially engaged’ but there isn’t much art that isn’t socially engaged in some way.  It is the nature of the interaction which is important and it is this that I will try and describe.

In my experience of working with people to make art work (this is what I will call it at this stage) I have engaged in a huge range of different  interactions and these are mirrored in projects that have been carried out by others in the same time frame, but have at their heart the desire to open up the making of art to those who may not have access to it.  (what does this mean – they do have access to it, but not the professional sense of it – does that matter?maybe its not about access but about exposure.) Look at the social production of art.

. Quote theories by authors you have read – Baudrillard, Kester, Mi Kwon, Suzanne Lacy, Suzy Gablik, Claire Bishop etc. Moving from a position of putting my participatory practice in to context, analysing it and then moving on to an examination of where I am now.
Looking at hte history of the production of art – The Social Production of Art  – Janet  Wollf
Art as Expereince – Jphn Dewey

Not the artist as lone genius with a god given talent – a person connected with society – a plitcal stance which I have always adhered to and which was contrary to the way I was taught at undergraudate level which was skewed towards the gallery based or commission based selling artist.   Tried to get away from this as a concept and in so doing at times threw the baby out with the bath water losing the art in the interaction and becoming a public servant and still not losing the idea of artist as devinely inspired working on projects which have a creative hierarchy, anyway Working with people was considered peripheral to the real work and in my experience of art projects since has been the case in curatorial and commissining fields.  Want to carry out projects which have the enegagement of audience or public within them not as an add on to the artwork or as an end in itself.
Perfforrmance and digital media are ideally placed to be the media through which I achieve this.  In the work of  artists like allan Kapprow, perofrmance and everyday life are emeshed and this legacy has emerged in todays artists working in scoially engaged ways ( explain how and you must quote artists who have said this) the interactive possibilities in digital media which potentially allow audiences to both interact with work throgh a mediated interface and also away form the site of performance.- think about something using internet or locative media to bring people together – talk to the woman from Falmouth.
The work must be idea driven rather than product driven, however ideas can come from playing iwth materials, maybe I could get away from always having to come up with ideas and just play and make things, the ideas for them will come after that.  This could be quite a major change in the way I work.  The play being linked to everyday activities, the repetition that I like.  I could do this at the ISIS studio
I would like to work in some way with physical computing in performance so that the audience can have an affect on the work with out directly needing to participate.  works which inspire me are ones where the audience affect the work in profound or conceptual ways that are not immediately apparent.  Work where the sounds of the audience in the space change the ambience, At least I can se the possibilities of this way of working and its relevance to my practice.  Providing a site for an experience.  I like the idea that the behaviour of an object can be altered or the affect of its behaviour can alter something else – maybe, when it becomes relevant but not when it is just thinking up an idea just for the sake of it.  don’t want to develop tricks either – so that the audience are taken up with what is does rather than what it says/means.
interactive work has taken on a new meaning for me.  previously I owuld hae thought that interaction was more a way of an artist realising their work and making the public interact on their terms not with any sense of free will – I need to explain this better.  Now interaction such as in the giggel piece I did for pysial computing I see as much more of a communication with the actie involvement of the participant or viewer – a conversatin can take place which is meaningful.  I  can use this in my work effectively I think.

A range of case studies of artists and artists organisations who are working in  some way with public interaction in a way that you are sympathetic with – . Lazano- Hemmer, Janet Cardiff, Erwin Wurm, Lygia Clark, Andrea Fraser

Detail of how I will carry out the practice/research.
This will be practice as research lead.  Drawing on texts such as ‘Thinking Through art’ and my experience of conferences on this subject.  Look ar action research theory from course blog and your research guide.  Practice as Research text from NIck Wiliams too.

The piece of work will only become clear once the research has been carried out since it will be the result of the research.  I imagine the work will be a series of works which accumilatively point towards a solution which will be embodied in the final piece.   In terms of technology, I can see myself using some sort of physical computing devices in interactive performance. The content of the work is obviously unknown at this stage.  Rather than use eveal different types of digital media in one piece I would prefer to develop several pieces which illustrate this collectively.

The Watch; Culture and technology on your wrist.

The first true mechanical watches were incredibly expensive, technological marvels of their time. The mechanical pocket watch represented a engineering marvel, they required no pendulum like previous static timepieces, which enabled them to be moved and carried on a person.
The initial social implications of wearing or owning a pocket watch were huge. Of course one had to be very wealthy to even purchase one, but also the buyer would probably have had need for precise time on demand. The combination of wealth and a need for precise timing would have meant that the owners of watches would be important people, doing important business, almost certainly on a schedule.
It was this initial status of the first watch owners that endeared watches with the status symbol position they still hold today.
Despite the coming of quartz timed digital watches, able to tell time far more accurately and cheaply than any mechanical watch, people still buy expensive, Swiss hand made watches. Why? Status, Fashion, Expression of personality.
People purchase watches which are intentionally needlessly complex, based on mechanical designs. These being far more expensive, less accurate and more delicate than a simple Casio digital wristwatch. Current fashions in upmarket watches tend towards expressive complexity and the display of that complexity.


Even digital movement watches are beginning to partake in the trend towards complexity. The company Tokyo Flash is renowned in geek circles for its complex artistic patterns, often forgoing numeric displays and using binary encoding to represent time.

People do this, because they want to differentiate themselves from others, in order to stand out. Being that the origins of the status symbol position which watches hold in our culture was their technological complexity it is no wonder that the primary way to differentiate a watch is the technology of the piece itself. A watch is a representation of personality embodied in technology as much as it is a teller of time.