Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Art in the Community Tree - Annabel Metcalfe

Annabel Metcalfe, one of the Intercourse project volunteers, has been trying to get to the bottom of how she might define what participatory practice actually is. We invite you to read her blog post below and post your comments, thoughts, definitions...

The Art in the Community Tree: Participation – Public - Community

There is a rising trend emerging in contemporary art that has been showing itself in recent times, both at home and abroad. What we’re seeing is ideas that were fostered back in the 1960’s and 1970’s making a substantial return to artistic consciousness; much as art in that legendary cultural explosion began to engage its audience in different ways in the form of happenings (http://www.theartstory.org/movement-happenings.htm) and famously with works by the Fluxus movement (http://www.moma.org/collection/theme.php?theme_id=10457 ), we’re witnessing a change in the technological era that’s seeing art leaving the gallery once more, seeking participation as an art form in localization.

This may have been borne out of a combination of factors, the current nature of arts funding, the recession or the basic human desire to come together, but what is participation as an art form? For some, the differences may be unclear in the categorisation of participant art, public art, and community art. While they may be correctly perceived to be describing different branches of the same ‘art in the community’ tree, their respective distinctions are significant so it is important to outline what those differences are. To briefly summarise, in my opinion:

Public art is largely in the realm of commissions, and is usually created for site-specific spaces and intended to enhance the world. You’ll find public art everywhere, a famous example may be recognized in Anthony Gormley’s The Angel of the North (1998), (http://www.gateshead.gov.uk/Leisure%20and%20Culture/attractions/Angel/Home.aspx ) commissioned by Gateshead Council and still standing tall, on average it is seen by over 90,000 drivers on the A1 every day and is a testament to how a piece of art can become iconic once it is adopted within a very public place.

Community art then is mostly what you imagine taking place often in local community centres - workshops directed by artists may seek to involve groups of the public for the benefit of the community and overall social wellbeing; here in Cardiff there’s a number of organisations working on improving the community through art, one of which includes the Adamstown Arts Association (A3) (http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/content.asp?nav=2,2867,3591,2907,4979,5413 ) who have organised carnivals, exhibitions and even a recycled orchestra event in the local community and were just awarded a runner up prize in the Local Heroes awards for their achievements.

But in seeking a definition of participant art a range of problems are implied that must be addressed. How do you draw the boundaries between it and say, collaboration? Or differentiate between the creator and the audience; and in obscuring authorship what role does the artist or participant assume in the work - who claims the ownership? The key word is participation; the work is essentially co-authored with the participants themselves becoming part of the artwork and intrinsic to the creation, development and overall outcome of the project. These works of art are often interactive, theatrical or scenario based with the public invited to contribute to generate consequences or measure reactions. A great example can be found in The Living Currency, after Pierre Klossowski: Staged by Pierre Bal-Blanc, presented by the 6th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (http://www.thisistomorrow.info/viewarticle.aspx?artid=386 ).

But if we are to successfully include the public in the creation of art there are many moral and ethical dilemmas that must be considered, some of which that come to mind:

Where do you place this type of art?

Should the participant be aware at all times of their inclusion in a project, or is it acceptable to include an element of surprise?

How far can you push a situation in the name of art?

Where should one draw the line?

Can artists claim authorship of the work or just the idea?
Is it necessary to document or should it remain time-based to preserve the moment?

How do you measure the impact of the work in the community?
And many, many more…

The Intercourse project will bring artists together to challenge notions of participation, collaboration and documentation with their own unique and innovative approaches. In this journey we’ll be uncovering where those lines between participation/public/community become distorted and challenge the norm conception of art in public space.

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