ISEA2009 – ‘Participation’

Helena Schniewind hosted a roundtable discussion on the Friday of ISEA 2009 – “Was I Supposed to Feel like I was a Part of that?” Strategies towards Engaged, Embodied Audiences in Participatory Electronic Artworks.

3 starting points were  “Participation” “Collaboration” and “Interactivity” and this led to several vital discussions and debates:

What is the territory between ‘participation’ to ‘collaboration’?  What about shared authorship? (and authority?)

I discussed the pre-Re-Dock project ‘MusicSEEN‘ which involved a group of Big Issue vendors, learning video production skills (composition, multi camera shooting, editing) and then working as a team to film performances by live bands in Liverpool.

Many of the individuals involved would not usually be permitted to enter these music venues – trust was required, and was built.  There was a spirit of teamwork and responsibility to the project.  Individuals had begun as participants in a video training programme, and had progressed through the collaboration to be creators of 3 short video pieces. A great SUCCESS!

BUT, at the end, neither ourselves, nor the Big Issue were able to support the individuals personal development in the area of video production any further – FRUSTRATION…   Important: manage expectations carefully – honesty.

In any collaboration – How do we ensure the longevity of the relationship?  Is this desirable? Pat Badani reminded us that, in some instances, there is a richness in the ephemeral nature of artworks – the moment.  Must remember that, working with people, in the public sphere also brings additional special responsibility – an ethical dimension – which does not occur in object based work.

Implicit hierarchy of art making:
1. (Artist / Director / Choreographer / Author etc.)
2. (artwork / performance / film / piece etc.)
3. ( audience / participant / Joe Public – whoever that is 🙂

Jeremy Beaudry warned of the ‘Tyranny of Structurelessness’ – Not only is it vital that participants subscribe but also that there is EXPLICIT transparency of process: Explain – “we have no interest in replicating the implicit power structure outlined above – instead, we are interested in new possibilities of collaboration – handing over authorship / ownership…

Caution.  Who are WE to give permission? In validating an individual’s action, through our status as artists – giving ‘licence’ – What actions are we inadvertently censoring? Are we to be evangelists of ‘culture’?  Is OUR CULTURE better than YOUR CULTURE?  Who are we making ‘OTHER’?

Now – Interactivity (and Technology!  This is ISEA!)  Can there be ‘interactive technology’?  In discussion with Mark Coniglio, developer of ISADORA, last September, he suggested not – at least in the sense that it is often used. ‘Interactive Artworks,’ ‘Interactive Display’ – aren’t these merely ‘re-active?’ – and responsive to our input through the analogue-digital sensor?  Conversation however, is interactive…

IMO In demonstrating creative possibilities of consumer electronics, there exist possibilities for empowering and emboldening ‘a public,’ upon whom bottom-rung technologies are inflicted.

As agents, working with (new) technology we return to our original premise: manage expectations carefully.  There are crucial issues relating access, compatibility and control when sharing technologies. The threshold of expectation is: THIS WILL WORK.

IT MUST WORK – so test first!… This testing must be balanced with the knowledge that ‘failure’ can bring unexpected outcomes – “What if people let us down?”  – if we eliminate all failures we eliminate possibilities (and sometimes the best things can come from mis-use of technology!)  Don’t lose the energy which comes from risk!

Finally, in developing technological work – a simple rule:a simpler Interface = a more complex interaction + possibility for emergent behaviour.

Break this rule with caution!