What's Wrong With Participation and Interactivity?

Jul 19, 2010

Ok, that's admittedly an unfair and leading question.  However, with the rise and now seeming ubiquity of participatory strategies for art, activism, business, marketing, etc.; questioning and critiquing this new economy of ideas and labor is timely and relevant. 

Participationism and the Limits of Collaboration - Presentation from Not An Alternative on Vimeo.

This is the objective at "Re:Group: Beyond Models of Consensus," an exhibition which examines models of participation and participation as a model in art and activism.  Presented by Not An Alternative, Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, and Upgrade NY!, it runs from June 10th through August 7th. 

From the organizers of the exhibition:
Today everyone sings the praises of participation: leading academics hail active audiences who remix commercial culture, established curators wax poetic about relational aesthetics, web 2.0 executives and marketing experts applaud openness and connectivity, conservative economists have discovered the benefits of collaboration. Interactivity, access, engagement are the highest ideals of the new order, ideals taken by many to be synonymous with democracy. Participation is perceived as politics, and vice versa.

The fantasy of participation is a powerful one, postulating, as it does, the invitation and inclusion of everyone, everywhere. The Internet, we are told, makes this dream a reality, erasing borders and distinctions, smoothing out differences and hierarchies. We are all equal now, because we believe everyone’s voice can be heard. Political theorist Jodi Dean calls this “communicative capitalism,” an ideological formation that fetishizes speech, opinion, and participation.

With participation now a dominant paradigm, structuring social interaction, art, activism, the architecture of the city, and the economy, we are all integrated into participatory structures whether we want to be or not. How are artists and activists navigating the participation paradigm, mapping the limits of collaboration, and modeling participatory forms of critical engagement?

If you are in New York, be sure to check out one of their many events and artists exhibitions.  If you're are not New York-abled, keep an eye on the organizers' websites and they will no doubt post a great deal of discussion and documentation on line.

Have other tips about participationism or issues related to socially interactive practice that we should know about? Send them to us at npac.artists@gmail.com

Tags: Eyebeam, participation, relational aesthetics, Not An Alternative, Upgrade NY!

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