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This book presents a study that undertakes an examination of participatory practices in contemporary theatre, performance and the visual arts, setting these against the broader social and political horizons of civic participation. It reconsiders the status of participation, with particular emphasis on participatory art both beyond a judgement of its social qualities as well as the confines of format and devising. The book attempts a cross-disciplinary discussion of participation, bringing together examples from the field of applied and community theatre, performance art and participatory visual arts. Gestures of participation in performance indicate possibilities for reconfiguring civic participation in public spaces in unexpected ways. Thus, less emphasis is laid on direct opposition and instead seeking a variety of modes of resisting co-optation, through unsolicited, vicarious or delicate gestures of participation. The book examines the question of institutional critique in relation to participatory art. It moves on to address the relationship between participatory art and the concept of 'impact'. A close examination of one workshop setting using the methodological framework of the 'theatre of the oppressed' in the context of a political party-led initiative follows. The book follows two conceptually inspired performance projects Where We Are Not? and If I Could Take Your Place? Finally, it emphasizes on how common-sense assumptions around audience participation in theatre and performance theory are called into question by the artwork's foregrounding of sleep as a mode of participation.
This chapter undertakes an examination of participatory practices in contemporary theatre, performance and the visual arts, setting these against the broader social and political horizons of civic participation. It is concerned with the ways in which artistic or cultural thought-practices participate in the social bases they emerge from or respond to, in the unorthodox reformulation of participation. The chapter discusses three main domains of participatory art: applied or community-based performance, immersive performance and contemporary visual art. The legacy of participation in the visual arts reveals a kind of entanglement between artistic and social-political spheres. The chapter argues that participatory practices are best appreciated in the register of the gestural. It suggests that the concept of gesture might be a rewarding way of theorizing participatory practices at the crossroads of the visual and performing arts. Finally, the chapter also presents an outline of this book.
In the context of contemporary art, the concept of 'institutional critique' refers to the scrutiny of the power of institutions through artistic means. This chapter focuses on the challenges and conundrums of institutional critique from the vantage point of participatory practices. It examines the formation of participatory art as a genre, specifically community-based, applied art, as emergent from the critique of mainstream art institutions. The chapter examines their disciplinary configurations within the arts. The history of participatory theatre practices across the world testifies to an institutional critique in a combination of gestures of fleeing from, forging new and transforming existing relationships to institutions. The chapter also examines the institutional affiliations and entanglements of participatory projects, and how they operate within or against their supporting institutions in different ways. The disciplinary variations of participatory art demonstrate how nomenclature is a contextual practice.
This chapter investigates the assumptions around impact in relation to participatory art, as well as the critical and methodological challenges of thinking them together. It focuses on a number of debates in theatre and performance scholarship pertaining to assessing and evaluating impact in relation to the question of participation. The chapter offers a number of points of orientation and aspects to take into consideration when undertaking a study of theatre's impact. Two characteristics of Teatro Siluetas are pertinent in relation to the question of impact and participation: the choice of the organizational form of a collective and the foregrounding of a lesbian subjectivity in the artistic practice. The chapter describes the problem of aggregation that is the relationship between participatory art and its social impact in terms of a spectrum of various levels of intensity of participation.
This chapter suggests that the concept of the 'gesture' is more accurate than the 'act', as the concerned moments are not legible in terms of intentional, full-fledged signifying acts, but as minor, small movements in the larger frame of theatrical action. Sherry Arnstein argues that purely tokenistic forms of citizen participation can at worst lead to non-participation. The gestures of unsolicited participation in the workshop seek to remain illegible to the established discursive procedures of participatory theatre, they resist formalization without necessarily opposing it, and can thus often not even be recognized as resistant. The chapter includes various domains of the arts, wherein participation has become a debated topic, such as community-based or applied theatre and performance, immersive performance and the visual arts. The gestures of participation in the workshop can be regarded as both internal and external to the rules of spoken language.
The idea for the performance project Where We Are Not (2009) by the Amsterdam-based Lebanese artist Lina Issa emerged out of the artist's own legal situation at the time. Audience participation consists at the simplest level in being or becoming aware that one is invited to be a witness to or a part of a conversation and an intimately shared experience between Issa and Cordero. Tracy Davis argues that the condition for theatricality as an artistic and social phenomenon is the audience's awareness and consciousness of being spectators. The physical gestures are never only individual expressions, they are always also the performative montage of a social habitude, of the inequalities and the violence inherent to them. The word 'potentially' needs to be emphasized, for it would be fallacious to hastily conclude that the participatory gesture is a radical performative per se.
Audience participation consists of the deceptively simple act of around twenty people pitching tents on the site, spending the night there and leaving the next morning after sharing breakfast together. Participation is a central concept to Nomad City Passage, which explores lived experiences of urban spaces, asking how the sites of a city are experienced by its inhabitants. The curatorial concept of the documentation in 'Normality' emphasizes participation in spatial terms. 'Normality' is a collage of images and ambient sounds from the camping sites in Linz. Access to such documents, given the absence of an opportunity to participate directly in the event, provides a rich archive for analysing various aspects of people's participation in the artwork and the artwork's participation in public life. The participation is presented as the positively connoted response to two interconnected problems: to the absence of autonomous artistic value and to the commercialization of modern art.
This chapter argues that participatory art practices need to be understood in conjunction with the anxieties and contradictions that accompany them. The analysis of participatory art and the conceptualization of participation in and through art thereby become intertwined in complex ways. The interpretation of participatory practices through the register of the gestural is to rethink participation while accommodating its contradictions and disquietudes. In mapping out the concept, gesture recurs as a foil to four interconnected realms: language, the body, the image and the act. The gestures of language are inseparable from imagery, they bring forth images, hint at grasping language through a different, non-discursive dimension. At the same time gestures are themselves dynamized images, they introduce observable movement into an image, with a beginning and an end. In its mediation between the body and language, the chapter identifies the notion of the gesture aptly captures the paradoxes of participatory art.