Embracing Complexity

FIONA WHELAN TALKS ABOUT THE ONGOING PROJECT ‘NATURAL HISTORY OF HOPE’ AND EXAMINES SOME OF ITS HISTORICAL ROOTS AND TENSIONS.

In a 2012 lecture, Tom Finkerpearl used Monty Python’s popular 1979 satirical film The Life of Brian to illustrate a point about a crisis in the art world. [1] At an angry confrontation between the People’s Front of Judea, which the character of Brian had joined, and another activist group, the Campaign for a Free Galilee, Brian calls out to suggest that they should in fact be fighting their common enemy: the Romans. Finkerpearl uses this comedy moment to highlight a tendency in the art world to become consumed in ideological arguments pitting one form of creative approach against another at the cost of a collective fight.

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The Art of Inclusion

For the September/October issue of the Visual Artists’ News Sheet, I’m focusing on forms of participation and collaboration. This concern stems from a continued insistence in my own practice as a curator in a local authority on interrogating the work of artists working in social, participatory contexts. We are thinking of participation as progressive – as preferable to elitism, exclusion and bureaucracy, for instance – but we need to think of the value of participation as completely dependent upon the value of the project in which one participates. It tells us a lot about how art and artists are being routinely interrogated. And I think this is extremely flawed. In order to delve deeper into the conundrum of participatory practice, I sent the following text to each of the invited contributors as a provocation: “People in the art world seem to have subscribed wholesale to the idea that participation or collaboration is an athletic sport in which artists must compete for their form of participation to be deeper, stronger, faster, longer and purer. The ideal form of participation or collaboration then hangs over every project that even hints at participation. This is not true of the experience of the spectator, who remains outside the work.

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