Neusiedler, Alice: I need a bald man – Participatory art projects as arenas of engagement

Recently much hope has been placed into participatory art projects to motivate social change. Interaction has increasingly become an artistic practice of critique since the “social turn” (Bishop 2006). Nevertheless, the transformative or inclusive potential of participative artistic practices has also been questioned (Bishop 2012; Bell 2017; Jancovich 2017). While a shift of art’s valuation processes has been observed, being increasingly international (Buchholz 2013; Quemin 2015) and based on external criteria (Wuggenig 2016), a participatory turn in cultural policy strategies has been stated (Virolainen 2016).
Through interviews and group discussions with artists and participants, as well as observations of work processes, and focusing on practice (Bourdieu 1998; Reckwitz 2016), I aim at reconstructing what kind of social practices, social roles and patterns of meaning, e.g. regarding discursive in- and exclusion of involved participants, emerge within participatory art projects.

My project will be based on the analyses of exemplary cases, addressing multiple participatory practices: a dance performance with professional and non-professional participants, a feminist theatre collective working with adolescents, and a socially engaged art project addressing living conditions of migrants. Strategies to include actors into artistic work, artists’ goals as well as participants expectations differ widely in those projects. Whereas some of the analyzed projects explicitly follow political agendas, others don’t refer to social conditions or do so implicitly. Both sides, however, navigate through challenges of artistic work organization, as participatory art projects demand from the artists to include actors into art production, who are usually not part of this process and are often not artists themselves.

Related to the necessary openness in the work organization, my presentation will unfold two claims: I assume that (1) within those projects, specific narratives of the involved actors (“artists” and “participants”) are invoked; those narratives of both, the artists and the participants, have an iterative character and are related to potential practices (e.g. the framing of participants as “experts”); (2) that participatory art projects interlink several field logics. This can trigger conflicts but also assist the potential of these projects.