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Concept: Participatory Art

When thinking about participation, it can be helpful to realize that there are several distinct but related discussions of participation, depending on which field is being made participatory.

A good example is Participatory Art (see here for Participatory Design).

In her book Artificial Hells, British art historian Claire Bischop provides a useful working definition for the art tradition she investigates.

Her definition of participation is one in which

[…] people constitute the central artistic medium and material, in the manner of theatre and performance

She goes on:

The artist is conceived less as an individual producer of discrete objects than as a collaborator and producer of situations; the work of art as a finite, portable, commodifiable product is reconceived as an ongoing or long-term project with an unclear beginning and end; while the audience, previously conceived as a ‘viewer’ or ‘beholder’, is now repositioned as a co-producer or participant.

Participation is a transitional concept that describes the redistribution of responsibilities in cultural production. This does not mean responsibility is distributed equally. Participatry Art retains an asymmetrical power relationship between artist and participant.

Here’s a talk by Claire Bischop with numerous examples of participatory art projects:

Questions for futher discussion:

  • How does this approach to participation compare to approaches of Participatory Design oder participation in political processes?
  • How are playing a game and participating in an art project similar or different?
  • How does play factor into Participatory Art?
  • What game design techniques can you recognise in the projects that Bischop mentions in her talk? (e.g. narrative, rules…)
  • How does trust factor into Participatory Art?