With my time with IdeasFromElse[W]here starting with thoughts of relational aesthetics, of art in the doing of Kaprow[i]’s Happenings and Sennett[ii]’s collaborative co-operation, my thoughts now, after seeing two weeks of art being created and performed, rest on the notion of performativity.

Performativity can best be summed up by the words of a participant of the Homebaked[iii] project in Anfield, Liverpool. Homebaked is a local bakery brought back to life with the support of Liverpool Biennial[iv] and with the graft and tenacity of its team, artist Jeanne van Heeswijk[v] and most importantly, Anfield’s community. The initial idea was to use the as-was bakery space as an arts space but the voice of the community articulated its need for the bakery to come back, and so it was. One of the community members said this of the enterprise:

“Before I started this, if’you’d’ve asked me what art was, I would’ve just shrugged my shoulders, or said something like ‘it’s what you see on gallery walls’, but I get it now, I see it, the art is in what we’re doing. This is art.”

A performative art is one where boundaries of roles, people and place are collapsed and work is a contextual interaction of people, site, object and process. Performative art is constructive of new spatial configurations and emergent relations between users and the space, impacting public life[vi] that aims to “collapse the distinction between performer and audience, professional and amateur, production and reception” with the artists practice located on “collaboration, and the collective dimension of social experience”[vii].

This performative art is evental – temporal, gestural, mobile, irruptive and confronting[viii]. It is a socially-connected practice that operates as stealth and as site specific[ix][x]. It is a “new Situationism”[xi]. It is borne as a critical site-specific social practice beyond participation from a change in direction in how art and artists are being asked to define and operate within society and reflects some artists desires to be involved in a more social process[xii]. Social process becomes the practice, an “approach not an output”[xiii]. Participants from a “live body”[xiv], based on an ethos of interconnectedness and intersubjectivity realised through the articulation of community voices. In this relation of community and sociability, the role of art is to draw attention to issues and encourage reflexive reassessment via new thinking and emotions, acting thus as a catalyst for social change and collective meaning-making via inter-subjective encounters[xv] .

“…the artist does not pretend to be a facilitator of others but is explicitly self-reflexive about his/her role as motivator and manipulator”[xvi]

The participatory artist is not shy or anonymous about their expertism nor their agenda, a rethink of authorship for Bishop[xvii]; the artist’s expertism is as creative thinker, disruptor and/or negotiator[xviii]. A “negotiation and reciprocation” practice, in participatory arts the artist is the negotiator[xix][xx]and works in “radical relatedness” to others and is a connective, rational self, bringing people together via a subjective and differentiated experience from one person and instance to another[xxi]. Critical site-specific art incorporates context as critique of the artwork but also attempts to intervene in the site via the artwork. This is a blurring between site and art which leads to an increase in participation of art in wider cultural and social practice[xxii]. Short term nature of projects is key to practice: “The culture of temporary use and temporary installation can generate and encourage new activities in an easier, more direct way (even on the boundary of what can be done without permission) and can therefore make significant contributions to city life”[xxiii].

In this move beyond participation, engagement in art moves beyond that very participation to a performative encounter (Beech 2010 pp21-22) and it is this performative encounter that I have been witness to at the gallery and in the park.

Cara Courage, Thinker in Residence 

Image of The Perfect Crime, Laura Dee Milnes


[i] Kaprow, A., ‘Notes on the Elimination of the Audience’ (1966) in Bishop, C. (ed), Participation, Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press, London, 2006.

[ii] Sennett, R., Together: the ritual, pleasures and politics of cooperation, Allen Lane, London, 2012.

[iii] http://www.2up2down.org.uk/about/.

[iv] http://www.biennial.com/.

[v] http://www.jeanneworks.net/.

[vi] Yoon, M. J., ‘Projects at Play: Public Works’ in Back to the City: strategies for informal urban interventions, Lehmann, S. (ed, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2009.

[vii] Bishop, C., ‘Introduction – viewers as participants’ in Participation, Bishop, C. (ed), Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press, London, 2006.

[viii] Hannah, D., ‘Cities Event Space: Defying all Calculation’ in Back to the City: Strategies for Informal Intervention, Lehmann, S. (ed), Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2009.

[ix] Madyaningrum, M.E. and Sonn, C., ‘Exploring the Meaning of Participation in a Community Art Project: a case study on the Seeming Project’ in Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 21:358-370 (2011).

[x] Miles, M., ‘Critical Spaces: monuments and changes’ in The Practice of Public Art, Cartiere, C. and Willis, S. (eds), Routledge, New York City, 2008.

[xi] Doherty, C., Contemporary Art: from studio to situation, Black Dog, London, 2004.

[xii] McGonagle, D., ‘Foreword’ in Art of Negotiation, Butler, D. and Reiss, V. (eds), Cornerhouse Publications, Manchester, 2007.

[xiii] Hoskins, M W., ‘Opening the Door for Peoples Participation’ in The Art of Facilitating Participation: releasing the power of grassroots communication, White, S. (ed), Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1999.

[xiv] Rounthwaite, A., Cultural Participation by Group Material Between the ontology and the history of the participatory art event in Performance Research: a Journal of the Performing Arts, 16(4) pp 92-96 (2011).

[xv] Bishop, C., Artificial Hells: participatory art and the politics of spectatorship, Verson, London, 2012.

[xvi] Barok, D., On Participatory Art: interview with Claire Bishop, Interview made after workshop Monument to Transformation1 organised by Tranzit initiative in Prague July 2009. Available at: http://cz.tranzit.org/en/lecture_discussion/0/2009-07-10/workshop-monument-to-transformation-copy, 10th July 2009.

[xvii] 2006, ibid.

[xviii] Reiss, V., ‘Introduction’ in Art of Negotiation, Butler, D. and Reiss, V. (eds), Cornerhouse Publications, Manchester, 2007.

[xix] McGonagle, ibid, p6.

[xx] Kravagna, C., ‘Working on the community: models of participatory practice’ in The ‘do-it-yourself’ artwork: participation from Fluxus to new media, Dezeuze, A. (ed), Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2012.

[xxi] Grodach, C., Art spaces, public space and the link to community development in Community Development Journal, Vol 45 No 4 Oct 2010 pp 474-493.

[xxii] Deutsche, R., ‘Public Art and its Uses’ in Public Art: content, context and controversy, Seine, H F. and Webster, S. (eds), Iconeditions, New York, 1992.

[xxiii] Lehmann, S., ‘Hidden in the Urban Fabric: Art and Architecture, A Case Study of Collaboration in Interdisciplinary Contexts’ in Back to the City: Strategies for Informal Interventions, Lehmann, S. (ed), Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2009.

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