Boel Christensen-Scheel is a professor of aesthetics and art theory. Currently she holds the position as the Dean of the Department of Art and Craft at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts. She has a Ph.D. in contemporary art and performance theory, and her area of expertise is widely linked to art's experiential, social and educational possibilities. She initiated the research group Art in Society at Oslo Met, and she is the main editor of Nordic Journal of Art and Research.
The Power of Participation
The arts in action symposium asks how we can maintain the integrity of art production, art education and research - while simultaneously act in globally responsible and ethical manners. This juxtapositioning, or counterpositioning of art’s freedom with art’s applicability, points to the classical discussion of autonomy. Which, in my opinion is still at work in the actual art field, perhaps particularly in relation to artists’ choices and training, but off course also in the premises for art production, and in the funding and justification of the art field itself.
As I see it, the field of participation in art shows these dilemmas in an exemplary way, and make visible the different stakes in these questions. Most art is made for a viewer, much art seeks a public, and some art requires or wishes for participation. During the 20th century participation has been part of the art discourse, as political involvement of a wider audience, as an investigation of the nature of art itself, and more recently as thorough developments of the role of the observer, of the public, and of the individual in the art work. The experience has become the material, as Dorothea von Hantelmann describes in her 2014 article.
Participation itself shows the need we have to engage, to involve, to take seriously, though also always awakening the doubt of the influence, the compromise and negotiation. On the other hand, participation holds the power of involving - to invite means to have an agency and agency obliges. This power of the invitation, the gift or the involvement has been described both by sociologist Marcel Mauss and later by art theoretician Claire Bishop. In this presentation I will dwell on some of these power perspectives as they are activated in a selection of contemporary art projects, showing the power of participation as ethically challenging and ethically potent at the same time.
Foto: Børre Høstland/Thomas Grønvoll