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Participatory Art and Territories of the Self

see also:

Project Base and Christine Borland

Port City

Multichannel at ArtSway

Disrupting Narratives

Participatory art emerged out of conceptual art, systems art and process art in the 60's/70's. Programmable rules to enable the participant to engage with the work in a practical sense. This relinquishing of a part of authorial control reflects the increasing influence of technology and it's inventions.

Participant skill is sometimes important, and this presents the question of: 'how much of a participant are you?' Socially and culturally, the question resonates in a context where the adult population is used to the effects of television and film and a fairly passive spectatorship. However they are now becoming used to the internet and participatory choice and contribution.

Participation seems to be increasingly popular and something to be expected by the gallery visitor. This year Project Base organised a series of exhibitions in Cornwall, which were participatory and socially engaging. Christine Borland demystified medical practises in her exhibition "With Practice". This offered the public the opportunity of sewing artificial wounds.

Participation is an extension and realization of the self. It is as though artists want to 'treat' society, to cure its ills. After all, it is the job of the artist to anticipate cultural and social developments, and to address these so that society can adapt. Art can provide a "supple segmentarity" to the way life is lived.

Kayle Brandon and Heath Bunting's "The Avon Canoe Pilot", is very loosely participatory. A booklet which describes their research findings into this activity, it encourages the reader to participate by either becoming a canoe pilot, helping to clear a slipway, or signing a petition for a swimming area in the Bristol Docks.

Some participant skill is required, on access: "Carry extra lengths of rope, these will aid you in lowering, or hauling the vessel out of high-banked places (the distance between water and bank is relative to the tide timetable determined by various gods)."

Although place specific, and about local culture, it is also the culture of networking which helps to negotiate a territory of the self, encouraging the public to participate in the realization of culture.

This is in a climate where Charlotte Ginsborg documents "The Mirroring Cure", in her film of that name. The design manager of a building project in London suffers from an illness which makes him feel unbalanced. He finds that by copying the behaviours of work colleagues he feels better.

At the screening of the work Ginsborg said how the documentary develops through the participation of the subjects of the work.

The film demonstrates how a sense of isolation can be 'cured' through a kind of virtual networking. It is the psychic space of the workplace that is explored. Ginsborg creates a scenario where communication is possible from a distance. This is a kind of network of the self, where a mapping of potential relationships helps to reassure.

This network of the self is something which Mark Amerika explores. He is interested in the self as a multiplicity in continuous post-production. It is the constant flow of data and information which helps create this effect. He makes it possible to intuit the self in a constantly fluctuating territory.

Participation requires agency, as does networking, and these are the cures. These cures are becoming more significant because of the nature of the culture we live in.

Sarah Thompson 11/11/07