Chapter XI.

From Participatory to Collaborative

  Citizens celebrating in the Polis of Tócsa - 2016, Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary

Citizens celebrating in the Polis of Tócsa - 2016, Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary

 

I did not want to approach my process as an extension of already existing artistic disciplines. There is a lot of interest from the visual, performing and cinematic arts regarding Rituals and the Magic Circle, however, what comes out of it hardly undo the already pre-existing historical apparatus inherent to the art-world. The object-subject polarity, the need for interpretation, the narcissistic position of the artist-maker as the sole author of their work, and a lack of creative agency provided for the ‘spectators’ all lead up to an asymmetrical power-structure, creating what we can the Fourth Wall. Attempts to break that Wall are, of course, present since the last century, however due to the politics of how visual, performing and cinematic arts are experienced in the west conditions institutions, makers, and spectators to still perpetuate its presence.

This results in artworks branded as participatory (and immersive or interactive, to some degree…) that while promises itself to involve audience members to co-create the experience, in practice no transparency, space and agency is provided that would truly enable them to creatively steer and calibrate the artwork beyond a finite number of possible outcomes, already readymade in advance by the artist. At the end of the day participants of a participatory artwork rarely get to create the artwork themselves, keeping the scepter of authorship in the artists’ and institutions’ hands. The notion of participatory pre-supposes an already established structure of experience to participate in, not the creation of one. Often times the artwork itself is already created, and the invitation for participants to actively engage with it is only a superficial, nominal gesture.

To put in in an analogy: In my reading, participatory art is when the artist makes a house and the audience is allowed to wander around in it any way they want. This can to some extent break traditions on linearity and introduce some game-mechanics that can yield in different permutations of outcomes, however at the end of the day it’s still the artist who owns the house, and the audience is nothing more than mere guests, visitors – Unable to break down or build new walls. There are the artworks where participants usually leave with the experience of 'being part in the artists' work', rather than being an active creating agent of an experience that is truly theirs.

Regardless, I’ll still refer people in Transformation Games as participants, for the lack of better word. 
Though suggestions for something new and better are very welcome.

  participants playing 'Covenant', a Transformation Game for Strangers, by Áron Birtalan - The Hague, NL, 2017

participants playing 'Covenant', a Transformation Game for Strangers, by Áron Birtalan - The Hague, NL, 2017

In order to truly emancipate ourselves from the object-subject polarity, I’d like to propose not breaking any walls, but rather not having them in the first place. There is, should and will be experiences and forms of art that separate performers and non-performers. But next to such asymmetrical kind of experiences, a new, symmetrical one needs to be established. Following the analogy of the house, a symmetrical or collaborative experience is the one when the house is designed, built and explored together, from the ground up, involving all present. The artist still has a vital role, to facilitate this process: provide the tools, skills, possible blueprints and safety instructions prior and during the building of the house. However, these are there not as tools and instructions to the author (of authoritativeness), but to invite, to condition and outline the possibility of new structures, processes, and experiences to arise.

There are limitations to what extent can a Facilitator control and steer its participants' experience. No two experiences are alike, thus the Facilitators (and the designer, writer, or guide of the experience) eventually has to suspend their desire to author and own the experiences of their Game - and potentially the authorship of the artwork. This shift from my work, to our work, or rather the work, is the POV through which Transformation Games, Ludic Societies and all collaborative artistic and political practices should be perceived through.