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Bishop, C

2011 Participation and spectacle: Where are we now, Living as form: Socially engaged
art from, 2011, Lecture for Creative Times Living as Form

Cooper Union, New York, May 2011

exhibition, September 24

October 16 2011. .

[consultado 08-09-2015]
Is spectacle, so often invoked as the entity that participatory art opposes itself to,
both artistically and politically. examining artists motivations for turning to social
participation claim: contemporary capitalism produces passive subjects with very little
agency or empowerment.
Guy Debords indictment of the alienating and divisive effects of
capitalism in The Society of the Spectacle (1967) strike to the heart of why
participation is important as a project: it re-humanizes a society rendered
numb and fragmented by the repressive instrumentality of capitalist
production. (1)
artistic practice can no longer revolve around the construction of objects to be
consumed by a passive bystander. Instead, there must be an art of action, interfacing
with reality, taking stepshowever smallto repair the social bond.
Spectacle has a particular, almost unique status within art history and criticism,
because it directly raises the question of visuality, and because it has incomparable
political pedigree (thanks to the Situationist International).2
for Rosalind Krauss writing on the late capitalist museum,
for Hal Foster it denotes the triumph of corporate branding;
for Benjamin Buchloh it refers to an uncritical use of new technology
In short, spectacle today connotes a wide range of ideasfrom size, scale, and visual
pleasure to corporate investment and populist programming. And yet, for Debord,
spectacle does not describe the characteristics of a work of art or architecture, but is
a definition of social relations under capitalism (but also under totalitarian regimes).
Individual subjects experience society as atomized and fragmented because social
experience is mediated by images.. (1)
about a nascent consumer culture in the 60s, with its tidal wave of seductive imagery.
Cita a Baudrillard essay The Precession of Simulacra: We are no longer in the
society of the spectacle which the situationists talked about, nor in the specific
types of alienation and repression which this implied. The medium itself is no
longer identifiable as such, and the merging of the medium and the message
(McLuhan) is the first great formula of this new age.3
More recently, Boris Groys has suggested that in todays culture of selfexhibitionism (in Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, which he provocatively compares to
the text/image compositions of conceptual art) we have a spectacle without
spectators: the artist needs a spectator who can overlook the immeasurable
quantity of artistic production and formulate an aesthetic judgment that would single
out this particular artist from the mass of other artists. Now, it is obvious that such a
spectator does not exist Boris Groys, Comrades of Time, e-flux journal, December
11, 2009, available at
Participatory art in the strictest sense forecloses the traditional idea of spectatorship
and suggests a new understanding of art without audiences, one in which everyone is
a producer. At the same time, the existence of an audience is ineliminable, since it is
impossible for everyone in the world to participate in
every Project (p2)

dominant narrative of the history of socially engaged, participatory art across

the twentieth century is one in which the activation of the audience is positioned
against its mythic counterpart, passive spectatorial consumption (p2)
cita a BORIS art must be directed against contemplation, against spectatorship,
against the passivity of the masses paralyzed by the spectacle of
modern life.5 Boris Groys, Comrades of Time, e-flux journal, December 11, 2009,
available at (last accessed September 3, 2010 This desire to
activate the audience in participatory art is at the same time a drive to
emancipate it from a state of alienation induced by the dominant ideological
orderbe this consumer capitalism, totalitarian socialism, or military
dictatorship participatory art aims to restore and realize a communal, collective
space of shared social engagement either through constructivist gestures of social
impact, which refute the injustice of the world by proposing an alternative, or through
a nihilist redoubling of alienation, which negates the worlds injustice and illogicality
on its own terms. In both instances, the work seeks to forge a collective, co-authoring,
participatory social body, but one does this affirmatively (through utopian realization),
the other indirectly (through the negation of negation) (p2)
CUBISMO, DADAIn the postwar period, critique of consumer capitalism Art was
disguised by life in order to sustain itself as a place of nonalienation
Emphasizing process rather than end result, and basing their judgments on ethical
criteria (about how and whom they work with) rather than on the character of their
artistic outcomes, the community arts movement found itself subject to
manipulationand eventually instrumentalizationby the state. (P 3)
The tension between equality and quality, between participation and spectatorship,
and between art and real life. These conflicts indicate that social and artistic
judgments do not easily merge; indeed, they seem to demand different criteria (P4)
art is understood continually to throw established systems of value into question,
including morality; devising new languages with which to represent and question
social contradiction is more important
The social discourse accuses the artistic discourse of amorality and
inefficacy, because it is insufficient merely to reveal, reduplicate, or reflect
upon the world; what matters is social change. (p4)
Arts relationship to the social is either underpinned by morality or it is
underpinned by freedom.6 Tony Bennett phrases the same problem differently:
art history as a bourgeois, idealist discipline is in permanent conflict with Marxism as
an anti-bourgeois, materialist revolution in existing disciplines. There is no possibility
of reconciling the two. See Tony Bennett, Formalism and Marxism (London: Methuen,
1979), 805. (p4)
Boltanski and Chiapellos artistic and social critiques of capitalism.
The artistic critique, rooted in nineteenth-century bohemianism, draws upon two
sources of indignation towards capitalism: on the one hand, disenchantment and
inauthenticity, and on the other, oppression. The artistic critique, they explain,
foregrounds the loss of meaning and, in particular, the loss of the sense of what is
beautiful and valuable, which derives from standardization and generalized
commodification, affecting not only everyday objects but also artworks ... and human
beings. artistic critique advocates the freedom of artists, their rejection of any
contamination of aesthetics by ethics, their refusal of any form of subjection in time
and space and, in its extreme form, any kind of work.7 Luc Boltanski and ve
Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso, 2005), 378. (p4-5)
The social critique, by contrast, draws on different sources of indignation towards
capitalism: the egoism of private interests, and the growing poverty of the working

classes in a society of unprecedented wealth. This social critique necessarily rejects

the moral neutrality, individualism, and egotism of artists. (p5)
In our own times, its resurgence accompanies the consequences of the collapse of
really existing communism in 1989, the apparent absence of a viable left alternative,
the emergence of contemporary post-political consensus, and the near total
marketization of art and education.9 . participation in the West now has more to
do with the populist agendas of neoliberal governments [9 For a clear summary of
post-politics see Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies (Durham, NC:
Duke University Press, 2009), 13. She presents two positions: post-politics as an ideal
of consensus, inclusion, and administration that must be rejected (Chantal Mouffe,
Jacques Rancire) and post-politics as a description of the contemporary exclusion or
foreclosure of the political (Slavoj iek). (p5)
As this ground has shifted over the course of the twentieth century, so the identity of
participants has been reimagined at each historical moment: from a crowd (1910s),
to the masses (1920s), to the people (late 1960s/1970s), to the excluded (1980s),
to community (1990s), to todays volunteers whose participation is continuous with
a culture of reality television and social networking as a shift from an audience
that demands a role (expressed as hostility towards avant-garde artists who
keep control of the proscenium), to an audience that enjoys its
subordination to strange experiences devised for them by an artist, to an
audience that is encouraged to be a co-producer of the work we might also
see it as a story of their ever-increasing voluntary subordination to the artists will, and
of the commodification of human bodies in a service economy (since voluntary
participation is also unpaid labor). (p5)
In a world where everyone can air their views to everyone we are faced not
with mass empowerment but with an endless stream of banal egos. Far from
being oppositional to spectacle, participation has now entirely merged with
it. (p6)
Felix Guattaris paradigm of transversality offers one such way of thinking through
these artistic operations: he leaves art as a category in its place, but insists upon its
constant flight into and across other disciplines, putting both art and the social into
question, even while simultaneously reaffirming art as a universe of value.
Jacques Rancire offers another: the aesthetic regime is constitutively contradictory,
shuttling between autonomy and heteronomy (the aesthetic experience is effective
inasmuch as it is the experience of that and12). He argues that in art and education
alike, there needs to be a mediating objecta spectacle that stands between the idea
of the artist and the feeling and interpretation of the spectator: This spectacle is a
third thing, to which both parts can refer but which prevents any kind of equal or
undistorted transmission. It is a mediation between them. [] The same thing which
links them must separate them.13 In different ways, Rancire and Guattari offer
alternative frameworks for thinking the artistic and the social simultaneously; for both,
art and the social are not to be reconciled or collapsed, but sustained in continual
Jacques Rancire, The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes: Employments of
Autonomy and
Heteronomy, New Left Review, 14, MarchApril 2002, 133.
13 Rancire, Emancipated Spectator, lecture in Frankfurt.
Sobre como muchos studios de hechos artisticos q implican la participacion utilizan la
Ladder of Particiaption Sherry Arnstein, A Ladder of Citizen Participation, Journal of
the American Institute of Planners, 35:4, July 1969, 21624. para medir la eficacia de
la practica artistic Pero este modelo si bien sirve para medir las dif formas de
participacion civica, no alcanza para corresponder a la complejidad del gesto artistico.

The artist relies upon the participants creative exploitation of the situation
that he/she offers, just as participants require the artists cue and direction.
This relationship is a continual play of mutual tension, recognition, and
dependency more akin to the collectively negotiated dynamic of stand-up
comedy, or to BDSM sex, than to a ladder of progressively more virtuous
political forms. (p7)
art is both grounded in and suspends reality, and does this via a mediating object or
third term
The Uses of Democracy (1992), Jacques Rancire notes that participation
in what we normally refer to as democratic regimes is usually reduced to a
question of filling up the spaces left empty by power. Genuine participation,
he argues, is something different: the invention of an unpredictable
subject who momentarily occupies the street, the factory, or the museum
rather than a fixed space of allocated participation whose counter-power is
dependent on the dominant order.19 Jacques Rancire,
The Uses of Democracy, in Rancire, On the Shores of Politics (London: Verso, 2007),
60.) (p9)
At a certain point, art has to hand over to other institutions if social change is to be
achieved: it is not enough to keep producing activist art.
[en este sentido NO SERIA ARTE ACTIVISTA]
My point, again, is not to criticize specific artists but to see the whole rise of social
practice since 1989 as symptomatic. That the political and critical have become
shibboleths of advanced art signals a lack of faith both in the intrinsic value of art as a
dealienating human endeavor (since art today is so intertwined with market systems
globally) and in democratic political processes .. . We need to recognize art as a form
of experimental activity overlapping with the world, whose negativity may lend
support towards a political project (without bearing the sole responsibility for devising
and implementing it), andmore radically we need to support the progressive
transformation of existing institutions through the transversal encroachment of ideas
whose boldness is related to (and at times greater than) that of artistic imagination.22
By using people as a medium, participatory art has always had a double
ontological status: it is both an event in the world, and at one remove from
it. As such, it has the capacity to communicate on two levelsto participants
and to spectatorsthe paradoxes that are repressed in everyday discourse,
and to elicit perverse, disturbing, and pleasurable experiences that enlarge
our capacity to imagine the world and our relations anew. But to reach the
second level requires a mediating third terman object, image, story, film,
even a spectaclethat permits this experience to have a purchase on the
public imaginary. Participatory art is not a privileged political medium, nor a
ready-made solution to a society of the spectacle, but is as uncertain and
precarious as democracy itself; neither are legitimated in advance but need
continually to be performed and tested in every specific context. (P11)