Causes of social fragmentation and participatory art
The Causes of Social Fragmentation
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, especially under the regime of late capitalism, some of the artistic groups expressed their concerns over the straggling society engaging their practice to respond to it. Before I look at those artistic responses in the following chapters, in this chapter I will be reviewing the primary causes of the changing inter-human relations within society.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and a couple of years later the reported End of the Cold War in 1991, was only a commencement of a new era of 'neoliberalism' or in other words an unrestrained type of capitalism. A brief definition of neoliberalism gives Elizabeth Marinez and Arnoldo Garcia on Global Exchange website. They pick out five main points: The rule of the market, Cutting public expenditure for social services, Deregulation, Privatization and Eliminating the concept of "the public good" or "community". The focus of all these matters is the favorable conditions for businesses, minimizing the government controls in order to allow a free and efficient marketplace, however at the same time it worked mostly against the working class people because of the reduced social security including subsidization. Eventually people were forced to take 'individual responsibility' as an exigency to survive. Former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher talking to Women's Own magazine (October 31 1987) emphasized: "There is no such thing as society". <Deer, 1988> In other words the denial of society's existence turns us into individuals constrained to operate in private space being responsible for our own welfare. Less and less responsibility for people's social security leads to the government dismantling the 'welfare state', which was a provision of services and security by the state, and a guarantee of minimum standards including minimum income <An Introduction to Social Policy>. These changing regulations within the government and the earlier mentioned phenomenon of the 20th century like privatization have contributed enormously to the growing gulf between people by urging competition. This started to flourish increasingly because of the mounting number of privatized companies and multi-national spread corporations, free enterprises and businesses within the boundaries of the western world. This tendency automatically disregarded the law of equality thereby dividing people into particular social groups.
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All these processes became the stimulus to the formation of consumer society, restructuring the focus from production to consumption. In the capitalist economy merchandise became the driving force to society thereby achieving "the total occupation of social life" (Bourriaud, 2002:113). "These economic changes - less real goods produced, more promises made through increasingly sophisticated advertising - and the dying gasps of capitalism are the 'real' roots of postmodernism and its attendant ideas, suggest the Marxist econo-historians". <Mizrach> Whereas despite the flourishing economy of the strongest countries, prosperity of the international corporations so the flowing wealth to the art world too "the greatest effect on art has not been on its economy but its rhetoric" (Stallabrass, 2004:9). This meant that some cultural barriers fell down as well. Increase of appearing biennials, art events, new contemporary art museums showed the influence of global changes and commotion. However, "the activities of these museums became steadily more commercial as they adopted corporate ideals, establishing alliances with business, bringing their products closer to commercial culture". (2004:10) It shows that our cultural, social, economical and political life is intertwined as well as dependent upon each other.
The fact of failing Democracy shows English economist and professor Noreena Herzt identifying it as: "social injustice, inequality and power asymmetries", (2002:271) however the cause of the degrading society lies in the power of managing the society as a puppet which lacks its autonomy being manipulated by others. A philosopher and writer Raoul Vaneigem put it, "the space of everyday life is encircled by every form of conditioning" (cited in Gardiner, 2000:107), he continues, "one of those measures is the commodity [...] the locus of social control" (p.108). Stephen Willats calls it a society as "a kind of inert raw material to be variously processed and regulated both spatially [...] and ideologically". (cited in Kester, 2004:91) In saying this he distinguishes the communities treated as the passive or the invertebrate. Normally the responsibility for all these actions is carried by the state, the bureaucratic apparatus. However increasing corruption is also the cause of Democracy failure. Hertz giving the example of increasing corruption within the State bodies disclaims the governor's power as fully functioning. Today philanthropists are keen to donate to various causes but usually with the intention to have an influence all over the world. Eventually the government does not interfere in this matter as it used to be seen as - "stepping in to curb their power" (2001:206). Therefore it is not surprising that the common people have even less power to make an impact. No wonder that the definitions: 'Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives' and 'The common people, considered as the primary source of political power' <The Free Dictionary> can be hardly considered as still having the same meaning today.
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Apparently this transitional time from one period to another, the shift from Industrialism to Information Age, made an enormous impact on the political, economic and social climate. This shift was the reason for not only the previously discussed causes like neoliberalism or consumerism leading to the social fragmentation and alienation but also the following. "The true basis of postmodern thought is the shift to a post-industrial economy. Many postmodernists would agree, suggesting that in the new economy, service and information will be more important commodities than goods or labor power in the new 'information society'" <Mizrach>. Another factor affecting the social struggle is mentioned in this emphasis by Mizrach elevating the importance of being able to understand and make out a new environment, where the dominance of the information unarguably is significant in order not to fall behind by going hand in glove with the new technological achievement allowing it to operate the new information flow, as without information this survival will not be possible. However art critic Nicolas Bourriaud talking about the development of communication tools as well as the mechanization of social functions marks it as a weak link in social exchanges, almost replacing them. He gives common examples such as automated telephone services replacing the human voice, cash machines not requiring human interaction for money transaction tasks. (2002) This only illustrates the non-stopping progress in technology development, in some aspects to the detriment of humankind, eventually turning against the man himself despite the great contribution for example to medicine and science.
Noreena Hertz in the Silent Takeover (2002) proves the fact, that technology has facilitated a production process by inventing manufacturing. In other words this is a switching from handicraft to high-tech. Indeed "technological advances have allowed machines to replace people" (p.61). However there is concern if the same technologies are replacing the human relationship too, in such a way exposing the struggle of our society. It is not a new idea but rather the ongoing issue of the technological invasion into our lives, which is supplanting not only our real needs but also our real values. Michael and Diane Medved present the shocking fact in the book Saving Childhood (1999): "The average American child will spend more time watching TV by the age of 5 than they will spend talking to their father in their lifetime" (p.19), which means the continuously growing detachment of children from their parents. Unwittingly potential relationships are being superseded by technology.
Another example of human interaction being replaced through technology is a well known restaurant 'Inamo' in Soho, which is exclusive because of a de-personalised process of ordering food. The interactive system does everything for the waiter in relation to taking the orders. Seemingly full of excitement customers enjoy taking the control into their hands. However in the end there is a lost connection in communication between customer and personnel. This is an indication of the hugely expanding intervention of technology into our everyday life, which is creating alienation by weakening the human relationships. This is one of the contributing factors for Bourriaud, whose ideas will be explored in the next chapters in more detail.
Looking at these the examples we see that today technology unarguably is one of the tools that patterns our lives. Another case of social concern and a consequence of technology consumption occurs not only as physical violence, but rather the 'electronic aggression' <Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)> spread in virtual space, where youths using new communication avenues such as text messaging, chat rooms, and social networking websites, can manipulate their anonymity and violate their peers. "Youth can use electronic media to embarrass, harass or threaten them" <CDC>. The intention of the violence against others often arises from a previously experienced clash with violence, no matter what source it comes from, whether it be a video game, internet or media. Researchers in their work "The influence of media violence on youth" confirm that "a variety of violent media is entering the home and inviting the active participation of young children - often with little parental supervision" <Anderson et al., 2003:105>. Eventually as a result "it permits media violence to be seen as one of the complex influences on the behavior of children and youth" <2003:105>. These manifestations of violence reveal a harmful atmosphere in the social climate rising from social fragmentation.
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Supporting the fact that violence is rapidly penetrating into our relationships, art critic Grant Kester defines it as a question herewith seeking the solution to the problem: "How do we reduce the violence and hatred that have so often marked human social interactions?". (2004:152) Instantly for a philosopher Gilles Deleuze "this question is directly related to processes of representation (of self to other, of the individual to the group, of image to object". (cited in Kester, p.152) Supporting that Claire Bishop discussing Nicolas Bourriaud theories summarizes that "all representation refers to values that can be transposed into society". (2006:162). Saying this Bishop asserts that no matter what we are representing, it will bring whether bad or good values which can be exposed to others. Therefore the next chapters will be discussing whether art can be that powerful tool capable to plant it's ethics into society and if it can resolve the social issues spread within society by refusing the tactics of ban but rather changing the established models, standards and values through the act of representing art as the model, also evaluating whether Deleuze's "long-standing interest in the therapeutic power of art" is considered to be right (cited in Kester, p.152)
Guy Debord and His Concept of 'The Society of Spectacle'
At the time of post-war capitalism, criticizing the modern society had formed the politico-cultural organization known as Situationist International operational between 1957-1972. The emergence of such organizations shows the validity of the existing issues within culture. Situationists focused on critique of Western culture as being the source of alienation, isolation and fragmentation within society. Their goal was "the creation of non-alienated 'situations' outside of the power structure of consumer capitalism". (Gardiner, 2000:107) In other words, they strongly believed in the potential of non-hierarchical and non-alienated society, which is contrary to deeply rooted capital society. They aimed "to achieve an 'authentic existence' through the establishment of non-commodified social relations, thereby overcoming the alienations and passivities induced by modern consumer capitalism". (p.103) They believed that through Cultural Revolution the every day life can be changed as consumer capitalism was occupying the place of social life. Every revolution is "a far-reaching and drastic change, especially in ideas, methods". <The Free Dictionary> However those revolutions can start in the institutional space bringing different attitudes and making statements.
Some of the projects of that era are quite controversial, using drastic measures to reach the public's attention. Like the collaborative project Imponderabilia (1977,fig.1, fig.2) by the artists Marina AbromoviÄ‡ and Ulay. Albeit uncomfortable, because of the nakedness throughout the performance, it was impossible to get in without avoiding physical participation. However the intention of this project was interpersonal relationships as well as the interest in the body and gender. The scenario of the project was: two naked artists are facing each other at a distance so museum visitors had to pass by choosing which of the artists to face. Everyone willing to come in has to overcome this discomfort thus no one stays passive. Once they passed through, they realized that they had been filmed. Further, they were confronted with this text on the wall: 'Imponderable. Such imponderable human factors as one's aesthetic sensitivity / the overriding importance of imponderables in determining human conduct.' Ironically, the documentaries of the performance show that most of the visitors faced the woman. The question arose, was it because the woman and her female form is unconsciously more appreciated, or alternatively, the back is turned to the man not because he is unappreciated but that he is the stronger sex, not to be challenged. Therefore he is to be avoided, without eye-to-eye contact to the point of turning one's back. These questions of domination, classes and gender advantage are all part of our society concerns.
One of the ways to throw off some Stereotypes, is "the readiness of the artists to forego their isolated, elevated, privileged position in relation to the audience" (Fieling et al., 2008:27). Fluxus was one of those movements having the goal of unifying the viewer and the artist, such as an act of a Fluxus project like Cut Piece (1964, fig.3) , first performed in 1964 by artist Yoko Ono. The artist herself says that the idea was based on a Buddhist allegory, in which Buddha sacrifices. In this event it juxtaposes to the scarification of the authorship, assimilating the author as equal to participant. Motionless position, permitting the robe to be cut piece by piece almost until the performer becomes nude is like contempt or condemnation of the performer herself to be executed for the sake of the creative process involving the audience. Undoubtedly the distance between the participant and the performer is very close and intimate, therefore it creates a tension and an awkward mood, as the work is open-ended without knowing the intended turns of the participator. However this happening is mutually liberating and destroying the barriers alienating people.
Evidently one of the consequences pertaining to alienation was widely discussed by Karl Marx in his Theory of Alienation (1844). His understanding of alienation was grounded in the material world, where the representative of the Situationist International, art critic, Guy Debord even more exacerbates from the perspective of the last age contemporary by using the concept of 'Spectacle' in his analysis 'The Society of Spectacle' (1967). He emphasized the exposed significance of the world stage for 'Spectacle' after production was superseded by consumption. It is no surprise that this process is involving commodity, media, advertisement which replaces human relationships, active participation, or as Debord calls it 'lived experience' (cited in Gardiner, 2000:107), so converting society into a dispersed and alienated world, where the experience of human relations are not straightaway conveyed any more, the focus is concentrated on materialism, where society is kept under control of pseudo-need, pseudo-enjoyment, pseudo-response. Judy Cox pinpoints that the mass production has a target "continually to seek to create new needs".
(1998) Gardiner asserts: "when the economy dominates all social life, the formation of authentic human needs is replaced by manufactured pseudo-needs", (p.109) mainly through the mass media and advertisement, thereby imprisoning people in the illusion world, where "the cycle of endless consumption requires that all leisure and everyday time be commodified and manipulated". (p.109)
At that time the Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica tried to combine leisure and creation in the early installation artworks Tropicália, Penetrables PN 2 'Purity is a myth' and PN 3 'Imagetical' (1966-7, fig.4) and Eden (1969, fig.5). The intention was the merging of the boundaries between art and everyday life encouraging the audience to participate in the environment creating a multisensoral experience. "The Tropicalistas (the artists of the art movement lasted for a few years) established an "anti-art" which was not focused on representation and the object but on creating situations and contexts for collective behavioral experiments" (Kunsthallewien website). The mixed-media installation Tropicália consisted of sand covering the art space floor, cabins, tropical plans, live birds and a television translating the singers considering themselves as part of the movement. The name itself associates with energ
y, refreshment, and the exotic. The space to walk through was part of "the pleasure in shrill spectacle". (Kunsthalle Wien) In the repressive time of Brazilian history it was fresh air to cultural life. The effect of active collaboration was so strong that the piece of art was an inspiration to the beginning of Tropicalism. However returning to the work, it created the pseudo-reality like Debord would say, which did not exist but made an impact on the further process of the country's rich cultural diversity. Oscar Wilde talking about modernity said 'art does not imitate life; life imitates art' (cited in Bishop, 2006:169). This expressly applies to this project.
However as society has confused the real values in the context where "'being' is equated with 'having' under consumer capitalism" (Gardiner, 2000:110). Art is not without a reason. Often it can do more than we can imagine through the little grasps of micro-utopias experienced in the artworks changing the patterns of our lives.
German writer Walter Benjamin has said: "The work of art should actively intervene in and provide a model for allowing viewers to be involved in the process of production: 'this apparatus is better, the more consumer it is able to turn into producers - that is, the more readers or spectators into collaborators". (cited in Bishop, 2004:12) This is what most of participatory art is striving to do. But the question arises as to if art can act, like the Freudian metaphor would express, as 'the 'therapist'' (Gardiner, 2000:120) which was used to characterize the therapeutic activities of Situationists. Therefore this chapter will be looking at the different approaches in participatory art and if art can be the way of solving social issues.
A very interesting reflection is raised by Félix Guattari a French institutional psychotherapist and philosopher: 'the only acceptable goal of human activities is the production of a subjectivity that constantly self-enriches its relationship with the world'. (cited in Bishop, 2006:169). The idea has found favour with contemporary artists who create and set-up life patterns with different pathways rather than particular objects, thus they use time as a raw material where bureaucrats instead are treating the communities as a raw material (Kester, 2004). No doubt this comparison shows the contrast between the different approaches. Here contemporary art practices suggest the production of subjectivity as the primarily aspect to recreate "the lost totality" in a collective attempt (Bishop, 2006:169) whereas the state as opposed to the artist is assimilating the community to an homogenous and inactive or even voiceless condition which has to be regulated by the state. By looking at this contrast, a man is seen as a subject or as an object depending on, who's hand holds the tool. Two different institutions - [artist and bureaucrat] - two different perceptions of the human-being. For this reason amalgamation can be considered merely as implementing therefore it remains as a concept of micro-utopia in art.
The project 7000 Oaks for Documenta 7 (1982-87, fig.6) by Joseph Beuys is a good example of a social sculpture to be participatory. This project had been started with the intention not to be ended for the ecological and "green" purposes. However the use of a tree in this project I find more symbolic than literal. A tree itself has symbolic meaning, especially the oak tree for example, "the oak is the mightiest of trees and symbolizes strength, courage [...] fulfillment" <Living Arts Originals>. However solidity and greatness as the features of the tree may become apparent only after time, as the tree grows, so certain processes require time until it consolidates. Therefore in this project time rather than the object [tree] is used as a raw material for a community to strengthen social connections using the planting of the oak tree as a tool only. This project is aimed more at gathering people together for the purpose, which amalgamates the people. Therefore to follow aspirations, the constancy to not stop planting trees is very important. This parallel shows that a certain objective has a way of bringing people together, even if it appeals only to one group of people like "Greens".
Eventually Joseph Beuys says: The context of art offers advantages when action involves circumventing social and bureaucratic hierarchies [...]. (cited in Kester, 2004:101) He confirms the fact of the inability of art to be fully functioning without refusing the appropriate authorities. Supporting the idea which is raised by Beuys, artist Rirkrit Tiravanija exposes this position by installing his work Untitled (tomorrow is another day) (1997, fig.7, fig.8) into the gallery space. The setting of his own flat in New York suggests that visitors to the gallery be involved into ritual works we do everyday like cooking, washing, hanging out in the living room etc. Tiravanija himself asserts this as "the unique combination of art and life offered an impressive experience of togetherness to everybody" (cited in Bishop, 2005:118) in a non-hierarchical sense.
His other works also have similar themes: 'parallel spaces' to the environments of our daily life. Cafes and dining rooms tend to be with the dominating theme of inclusion into social activities. It is like an attempt to resist or as Beuys says 'circumvent' the social hierarchies or castes of the deep-rooted system of capitalism by inviting to activate the audience in participation, in the whole process of the creation, whereas Kester identifies that as "embodiments of art's power to transcend institutional and cultural boundaries and to create a utopian space of free and open exchange". (p.105)
One of such projects was implemented by the artist Jay Koh within two months in 1995-6 in Thailand. His intention to use art as an "universal language" (Kester, 2004:104) in cultural exchanges was successfully fulfilled as a project called Excha
nging Thought. (fig.9) In order for the idea of cross-cultural to work there is necessary to acknowledge "the existing differences" considering the political and social context. (p.104) Continuing on from this project, the idea was to give the artworks of various international artists in exchange for the things and objects brought by townspeople of Chiang Mai in a marketplace, thus a strategic concept of dialogue was breaking different attitudes and cross cultural barriers using the professionals and the people dialoging on a one-on-one basis as "dialogical art is not only visual but also aural and tactile". (p.189) In other words it is like physical experience in all the senses.
Since art is no longer a narrative for art history to discuss the issues through the perspective of the objects, contemporary art is "to do with interactive, user-friendly and relational concepts" (Bourriaud, 2002:8). Some of the examples of such work are art installations by Cuban artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The artwork Untitled (Placebo) (1991, fig.10) invites the viewer to pick up some sweets off the floor covered by them, so engaging the audience to participate. The same artist allows the spectator freely to help themselves taking posters with them off the 'paper stacks' in his work Untitled (1989-90, fig.11). Stallabrass calls this 'democratic ideal', where the audience plays an important role having the voice for the valuable contribution in terms of its thoughts and actions over the artist. Nicolas Bourriaud claims that art that encourages social interactions is human and democratic however Stallabrass asserts that democracy existing only in art is a serious problem, he prolongs: "Governments [...] hope that socially interactive art will act as bandaging for the grave wounds." (2004:123), This argument of the willingness to implement democracy through art is the first indication of the lack of democracy in our every day environment.
Continuing on with the 'democratic' artworks, one of the earlier mentioned examples is the art installation of Tiravanija's apartment which is conceived as political because of "an idea of democracy", (Bish
op, 2005:119) which is seen in most of his works, capable of fabricating relationships. However Bishop argues against this conception as "recent political theorists have shown that inclusiveness does not automatically equate with democracy: instead, the public sphere remains democratic only insofar as its naturalised exclusions are taken into account and made open to contestation". (Bishop, 2005:119) This means that democracy is exposed only when the oppositional attitudes are brought into discussion. Referring back to the already mentioned Koh's observation of the acknowledgement of the existing differences, this can also be the beginning of democratic relations between individuals and cross-cultures. However the phenomenon of debate vanishes in Tiravanija's work as "the work speaks only to a community whose members have something in common: an interest in art or free food," continued Bishop (p.119). Apparently bringing different classes into the gallery space such as the poor and the intelligent person, does not necessarily lead to arbitrary debate for the existing differences.
Kester raises a different aspect for the argument against Bourriaurd's thesis, talking about Tiravanija's apartment reconstructed in the Kolnischer Kunstverein. He argues for the institutional-transgress work as the threat for the institution because of homeless people who cluster around the gallery. Udo Kittelmann supports the contradiction by making a remark about the earlier mentioned Tiravanija's work. The fears of the devastation of art-space where the space is inhabited did not prove but "the space lost its institutional function and finally turned into a free social space" (cited in Bishop, p.119). Again it is contradictory to the thesis of Bourriaud who upholds the idea of this art being human and democratic (Stallabras, 2004:121). This argument shows that today well established institutional space and strongly predominant hierarchical society are admitting changes very reluctantly.
Looking at the different projects in this chapter it is seen how artists approach and respond to todays environment.