... Mainstream contemporary art simultaneously disavows and depends on the digital revolution, even—especially—when this art declines to speak overtly about the conditions of living in and through new media.
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Last week, Corinne Segal interviewed Claire Bishop, author of Artificial Hells, for the Boston Review. In the course of their conversation, Bishop speaks to the lack of a critical language to describe “participatory art” as it is currently manifested here and in the UK, a void she attempted to fill with her book:
Social practice’s identification with ethics and politics should lead us to ask what’s prompting its allergy to the aesthetic. I’ve already mentioned the art market as a system with which many artists do not identify; this represents a bigger problem, which is a widespread dissatisfaction with free market capitalism and the inequality and disempowerment it produces. I think social practice also says something about our relationship to technology. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that social practice arises simultaneously with the digital revolution. Face-to-face relationships are becoming important as we spend more and more time online.
Bishop also discusses her larger aim “to question the use of political art as a substitute for political engagement” and emphasizes the relationship between media attention and political impact– as, she notes, can be seen in the case of Pussy Riot.
“Ideally,” she says, “we should always read art dually, in relation to its artistic context and its political context…This isn’t relativism, but a call for historical specificity.”
Visit the Boston Review to read the article in full.
Claire Bishop, author of Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, writes for the Guardian this week on the history and current popularity of participatory art. Bishop contextualises where Tino Sehgal’s latest work These Associations, which opened to the public this week as the 13th Unilever Commission in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery in London.
How, then, do we judge the value of participation versus that of a painting? Everyone who looks at a painting sees more or less the same thing. What the painting actually means to a viewer may depend on an infinite number of variables, from the power structures operating within the representational system to the street-vendor goat curry wending its way through her intestinal track, but the picture doesn't change.On the other hand, Tino Sehgal's This Progress (2010)—in which "interpreters" ranging from childhood to old age engage museum-goers in semi-scripted dialogues about the meaning of progress — provides a highly subjective experience, with the form of the work changing dramatically depending on how you respond to the interpreters. And in the case of many exhibitions of participatory work—for example, the archive of Paul Chan's 2007 outdoor production of Waiting for Godot in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, on view at MoMA last year—what we see is documentation of something experienced elsewhere by other people. As a result, we tend to resort to solipsism (how the work made me feel) or speculation (how the work effects people in theory).
For Ms. Bishop, one way out of this conundrum can be found in art that concentrates on negation rather than providing precious moments of individual fulfillment or models for democracy. The paragon is Santiago Sierra, a Spanish artist who is renowned for stripping away the pieties of participatory art in favor of brutal displays of wage labor. Mr. Sierra is best known for 250cm Line Tattooed on Six Paid People (1999), which features six out-of-work young laborers standing shoulder to shoulder in a gallery, the eponymous line spanning their backs. At first the piece may seem repugnant, ethically and physically. But then you wonder how much the workers were paid, even as you watch them, and sense them monitoring you. Were they paid by Mr. Sierra? As part of his fee? Were they paid much more than their normal wage? Enough to make this exploitation worthwhile, even pleasurable? And is this much more exploitative, or banal, than the work they do otherwise? How does it compare to the work anyone does, the exploitative situations in which people place themselves for money? Is it any different categorically?
Visit the New York Observer to read the review in full.