Eyebeam Art & Technology Center
540 West 21st St, btw 10th & 11th
BBQ @ 6
a panel discussion moderated by: Astra Taylor
Presenters: Jodi Dean, Not An Alternative, John Hawke
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?
The panel is presented in association with the exhibition Re:Group: Beyond Models of Consensus<http://bit.ly/cVEs6Y>, curated and organized by Eyebeam, Not An Alternative, and Upgrade NY! For the full list of related programing, including panels and workshops: http://eyebeam.org/events/summer-school-2010
Astra Taylor is a writer and documentarian. Her films “Zizek!” and “Examined Life” screened in festivals, theaters, on television around the world. She was named one of the 25 New Faces to Watch in independent cinema by Filmmaker Magazine in 2006. Astra has also contributed to Monthly Review, Adbusters, Salon, Alternet, The Nation, Bomb Magazine and other outlets. http://hiddendriver.com
Jodi Dean is Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Erasmus Professor of the Humanities in the Faculty of Philosophy at Erasmus University. Her research and writing focus on the contemporary space or possibility of politics. She is the author or editor of nine books, including Zizek's Politics (2006), Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies (2009), and Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive (2010). http://jdeanicite.typepad.com
John Hawke is an artist whose work began in landscape painting—specifically the sited-ness of plein air painting, and has developed to model the landscape not as an optical organization of colors, but as a collection of vectors of interest. He has exhibited throughout the US, as well as in Lisbon, Chichester (UK), Oslo, and Milan. He has presented his work at the New Museum, PS.1, the New School’s Vera List Center, and at the College Art Association (LA, 2009). His current practice involves unauthorized collaborations as urban interventions. His work can be seen in the Re:Group: Beyond Models of Consensus show. http://www.johnhawke.com
Not An Alternative is a non-profit organization with a mission to produce, support, and popularize a practice of critically engaged cultural production that integrates art, activism, technology, and theory. The group questions and leverages the tools of advertising, marketing, public relations and spectacle-making, with an aim to affect popular understandings of events, symbols, and history. They are co-curators of the show Re:Group: Beyond Models of Consensus. http://notanalternative.net
RE:GROUP: BEYOND MODELS OF CONSENSUS
CURATORIAL STATEMENT #2
These days everyone – individuals, corporations, governments and DIY punks – idealizes participation. Many believe that when horizontal structures of participation replace top-down mechanisms of control, hierarchy and authoritarianism, this will eliminate apathy and disenfranchisement. While we acknowledge that distributed systems are proven and powerful tools for dismantling certain monolithic structures, we question an unalloyed faith in participation. As co-curators of the show we fought the temptation to simply celebrate the subversive
potential of networked collaborations. Instead, we sought to critically analyze the contours of this emergent ideology, and to re-evaluate refusal, non-engagement, antagonism, and disagreement as fundamental to a participatory framework.
We are all the time besieged to Participate! Choose! Vote! Share! Join! And Like! And yet, we are all, already, integrated into structures of participation (whether we “like” it or not). We worry that a veneer of engagement only obscures deep flaws in the participation paradigm. Too often, it seems, progressives believe that power operates exclusively from above, that command and control emanate from some centralized, closed authority. It is no wonder that many latch on to notions of openness, transparency, and participation as radical ends in themselves; however we must not fetishize process over product.
Participatory frameworks are not in and of themselves politically significant, nor is power limited to distant and impersonal structures. Power is diffuse and distributed, operating through us and on us; participation therefore can turn into a vector for dominant ideologies as easily as it can liberate.
If participatory frameworks are to have any meaningful political consequence or activist import, they must intervene on some object, to operate in service of an end. Conflict is a necessary result of such collaboration, and a key driving force within it. Current conversations around participation idealize harmony and unison, but we ask whether synthesizing perspectives and valorizing consensus might actually subsume dissenting viewpoints, through the tyranny of compromise and the rule of the lowest common denominator. From this view, we fear a disavowal of power rather than an honest discussion about it.
And so we pass on politesse, and draw a line in the sand. We aren’t interested in raising questions, exploring models of participation or experiments in collaboration. We take a position: that participationism plagues us. More than dismantling or distributing power, we’ve invisibilized and extended it. An intervention is in order, and we offer practices and programming that contribute to this conversation: foregrounding the contours and boundaries inherent in participation, the contradictions and conflicts in a fruitful collaboration.
Not An Alternative
The Change You Want To See Gallery