I’m currently reading Nicholas Bourriard’s Relational Aesthetics and Claire Bishop’s collection of essays on participatory art Participation and whilst I’ve admittedly been far too busy organising the show to, er, get very far with either of these wonderful books, some of the issues they raise and their discussions of participatory art as a non-political tool have made me consider how the Caged Bird Sings project has progressed and grown.
Now – before you yawn and move that mouse thinking that this is one of those ‘and I was never the same again after I watched Avatar – we could live like the Naa’vi’ style posts, well, I can’t promise that it won’t get a little squirmy. About half way down I start gushing about my friends and collaborators (partners in crime – if you will) like I’ve downed a gallon of Buckfast Tonic, but I am excited about the concepts of participatory art and I believe that it’s the way forward, an all-inclusive, non-elitist art that tries to truly involve people and offers an art with fluid perspectives as opposed to your Byzantine monotheistic mono-views, Enlightenment ‘hey you ever wonder if there’s a bit more to this God thing than they’re letting on’ polyga-views and even your surrealist ‘I’m gonna blow your mind right outta this frame’ wtf views.
Both ‘Relational Aesthetics’ and ‘Participation’ focus on the role of the audience in participatory art. From raucous Dadaist happenings
to Brecht’s theatre, from symphonies where movements can be mixed and matched to the audience’s taste, to Rikrit Tiravanija’s Pad Thai where he invites his audience to eat the art; audiences have become an active part of the artwork, no longer the passive consumers of spectacle. Originally these ideas were used as a wake-up call to political action, but today it is focussed more on strengthening community, using art as a new model for collective experience, or as Bourriard states ‘Art was intended to prepare and announce a future world: today it is modelling possible universes’. I think participatory art in this context is invaluable, but I think it is a little myopic to focus solely on the audience’s participation and role in these artworks.
Caged Bird sings was started by three people who are passionate about art and since then it has grown, if not exponentionally (yet…), then at least steadily and it continues to do so; but what has constantly amazed and inspired me throughout the project so far is how many people have been willing to put forward their talents and time towards our collective goal. Friends who have been handled around the shady design-intern ring many a time have set aside their cynicism to create graphics for a grass roots project that appreciates their flair; people who don’t even have websites to advertise have created artwork and helped us for the sheer love of doing it; photographers and models have taken the day out of their weekend for a mere hot chocolate; friends have proffered potential endorsements and sponsorships; artists have offered to drive work to us in their vans, help with installation, advertise in whichever way possible and offer encouragement with the grace and patience of saints as we, the determined but novice curators assemble the components of our debut show, somewhat shakily at times.
Admittedly, this is a two way street, and if these collaborators scratch Caged Bird Sings’ back, it scratches theirs, but having people put their collective faith into this project – whether it’s an artist you admire agreeing to take part even though you thought they would never consider it, discovering new artists or getting a sponsor to sign on against the recessiony odds – has made my day many a time over the past few months.
Now, Caged Bird Sings may not strictly fall into the category of participatory art, we don’t invite you to take the art with you, select where the art goes or eat the art, but I believe that participation doesn’t start with the audience, it starts with a group of people who have an idea which from the beginning involves other, as yet unknown people; which relies on the kindness of strangers like a demented gothic heroine; and starts out with the audacious assumption that if you start something others will come including the audience – and here we are, every aspect of Caged Bird Sings is a collective effort, with no specific financial gain in view, just a wish to dazzle people with great art (and other talents), raise a dialogue about our theme and hopefully, by writing posts like this and laying the framework bare, create a show model which others can consider as a sum of many parts – an idea which lies at the route of much participatory art.
So, to summarise, participatory art from both sides of the fence (audience and artist) is the way forward because it’s an honest and earnest method, which encourages talent, enthusiasm and a distinct lack of wankerdom, which can only be a good thing. And if you have made it through this long post, here’s your reward – because one day I will be able to do this…(may be slightly NSFW). Now, to Richmond Park in my Naa’vi costume…