Accepted Paper:

Happy interactivity or hidden distinction: contact zones in the field of contemporary art   


Judith Laister (University of Graz)

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyses contemporary artistic practices which actively include people as subjects of art production who were so far only present as objects of representation. Therefore the postcolonial concept of the “contact zone” will be confronted with Pierre Bourdieu´s concept of the power relations of the social space.

Paper long abstract:

Looking at artistic practices in the course of recent art biennales, festivals and public art projects, we can identify a tendency for including people actively in the process of art production and reception who were so far not present as subjects within the field of contemporary art. Although working with them in separated areas such as art education, art mediation, community art or art therapy since decades, they are nowadays revaluated as emancipated spectators or equal collaborators. Thus the field of contemporary art is transformed into a "contact zone" (Mary Pratt, James Clifford) where people with different social and cultural backgrounds negotiate different forms, values and interests. So, for example, artists collaborate with the inhabitants of a social housing block in marginalised urban areas to exhibit the process to the art audience on site, rural Chinese are invited to the documenta of Kassel or homeless people from different European cities meet for a conference in the course of an Austrian art festival, being accomodated in a first class hotel.

Taking significant participatory art projects as examples, the paper traces the causes of their increased prominence within the legitimized field of contemporary art. Based both on the postcolonial concept of the "contact zone" and Pierre Bourdieu´s theory of the social space, it examines the notion of this longing for mutual exchange. Are ideas of "happy interactivity" (Nicolas Bourriaud) a useful tool of networking as empowerment or do they rather euphemise the powerful distinctions of the social space?

Panel W010
Looking, seeing and being seen: connecting and controlling through visual representation