Wednesday, October 21, 2009
So Bu Jilah went to the mall, huh?
Ha! I love it ... after ranting on about the beautiful dissonance of Bu Jilah choosing to spend her "day off" working instead of "being a tourist", she ends up taking the day off after all (or at least part of it) and heading to the mall. As Amy put it so articulately ... put that in your participatory pipe and smoke it!
In a funny sort of a way though, I love it for the same reasons that I loved it when I thought Bu Jilah was going to do something entirely different ... for that sense of being confounded ... for the unexpected. I love it because opening up your practice to the participation and agency of others means the continual disruption of the idea of artist-as-author/creator. It's not that you surrender your own sense of creative agency ... (as Claire Bishop would put it, participatory practice should not require that artists surrender their own desire) ... but that you're are never able to fall into a complacency about it.
This is going to be a really jumbled post. Very brief, too. I will try and wrestle back some time later on today to write a proper response, but for the moment, some random thoughts...
Firstly, the fact that Bu Jilah went to the mall brings me back to one of the things Amy and I used to speak about a lot, which is the sort of enabling power of the idea of "art" and "artists". The label of "artist" gives this licence, it seems, to act out, and act up, and transgress the bounds of the expected in ways that I think we've yet to fully explore. Perhaps more excitingly, though, is that "art" allows you to extend that license to other people. I'm so intrigued and tantalised by the possibilities of using this license to create the possibilities for encounters / meetings / situations that would otherwise go unrealised.
Sort of related to this point, I've thinking about questions of ethics and agency and engagement, and all that stuff I've been waffling on about before. Participatory practice needs to have such a clear sense of its own ethics because it can so easily be exploitative. And for me, the core of that ethics has to be a deep respect for the agency of others, and a willingness to surrender your own authorial control. But there's also a balancing act that goes on, because while I would contend that it's totally unacceptable to exploit people's discomfort or unease (or pain, more broadly) in order to make art out of it, what makes art so important is also its ability to provoke and challenge and confront, and all those things. Perhaps, then, that's also one of the strengths of employing that artistic licence... you offer people the possibility of using that license to put themselves in situations might be slightly unusual, uncomfortable, foreign. It's a gentle provocation ... an invitation and not an order.
The big challenge for me, though, in thinking about how we develop this work from here ... is how we document it? You could take a really hard-core line of saying that the encounter and the experience is the art, and there's no possibility of recreating that out of the contingent time and space in which it occurred. On one level, I agree ... the encounter is the art. But I think the encounter is also generative in and of itself ... it creates the possibility for more creation. Documentation, then, but also potentially more than just documentation. I don't think that either of us would be satisfied with leaving the "art" in the moment. I want the possibility of creative exchange and communication beyond that.
Paraphrasing Anna Tsing again, in the constant pull between the universal and the particular, we find ourselves time and time again having to begin in the middle of things...
But, how to do this? I have no idea. Or more accurately, many ideas but none that seem satisfactory. I'm really drawn to collaborating with other artists, and drawing them in to document our encounters, but also to respond to it in their own way. I love, as well, having participants documenting and commenting on their own experiences. Amy, those photos Bu Jilah took were so stunning, and so intriguing and suggestive. It was the fact that she took them ... that they represented what she was seeing, and privileging in that experience. So i'd like to explore that more. But I also want to explore the idea of taking what came out of the experience and using it as material for generating new work ... reflections on the encounter ... or the encounter as inspiration. Stories, installations, more encounters?