Dr Spiros Panigirakis is an artist and educator that is based in Melbourne, Australia. In 2011 he completed a practice-driven PhD in the Faculty of Art and Design and Architecture at Monash University. Entitled Studio Conditions, the research was a site-driven art project that explored how institutional structures and subjective identities frame one another. As a visual artist Panigirakis works with groups in both a curatorial and collaborative capacity. He is interested in how presentational devices and frameworks influence the construction of meaning and form. He is represented by Sarah Scout gallery.
The exposition, A Work on Progress, is a highly reflexive and rigorous account of the theoretical context the production could be placed in. The author frames the project intelligently and is honest in regards to the project’s successes and failures. The exposition’s reflexive quality is to be commended. As an academic framing of a project it’s close to outstanding. However, I think there is something incongruent about the quality of this text and the quality of the artwork.
As highly versed as the author is on this theoretical context, it is curious why he has chosen to rely on Bourriaud’s problematic discourse to frame the project. The author is very clear on the issues and debates that have plagued this text over the last nine years but he still persists with Bourriaud’s relevance to theatre practices. Stewart Martin’s ‘Critique of Relational Aesthetics’ offers the most lucid account of the problems (and naïve quality) of Bourriaud’s framing. Again the author is well-versed on this rebuttal. While academic theatre discourse might not be familiar with practices that utilise the everyday sociability in their production — within all sectors of the visual art’s field — academic, gallery-based, magazine cultures etc. the parameters of the argument are well-trodden and on the whole art discourse has moved on. This is not to say that privileging of social relations within art practices has disappeared — the framing of them however by Bourriaud has.
A more relevant frame for this practice, based as it is in theatre, is the framing developed by Jacques Rancière in The Emancipated Spectator. Again the author notes this text, but does not give it the attention it requires. It offers a work like A Work on Progress a more interesting grounding in the social contexts of theatre and more broadly the politics of aesthetic experience. If I were to make any suggestion it would be to incorporate Rancière into the exposition in a more thorough manner.
Whilst the exegetic text is rigorous contextualisation of A Work on Progress — using a broad theoretical field to assess the work’s critical potential — the ‘artwork’ itself had some issues that I want to comment on.
A Work on Progress played with (or was resistant to) the rhetoric of the fixed and stable form but in some ways became a predictable venture. The work needs to be in perpetual production. For this to be an effective research practise — I would envisage that presentation of this work at Arches centre would be the first iteration of many — the author would then have the opportunity to shift the material boundaries that determine the use and content of the work. Otherwise A Work on Progress becomes a work with a distinct beginning and end, conservative, in relation to the temporal experimentation alluded to in the title.
As sophisticated and reflexive as the exposition is, this quality seemed lacking in the staging of the work. For example, having a guitar in the space or a certain costume etc. dictates a certain outcome. Similarly, the author utilised a particular language form of theatre, choosing some forms over others to be open to an audience. The user (audience/spectator/interlocutor) did not have an infinite variety of equipment at his or her disposal, so material decisions were made based on how comfortable they would be in their use in the space. The fallacy that the practices framed in Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics privilege sociability over more object-driven form is perpetuated here. Sociability is facilitated by material conditions set up by the artist, otherwise it becomes a performance practice transposed to the space of the gallery (Tino Seghal comes to mind here). Bourriard’s framing of sociability ignores the very important spatial/sculptural conditions of these practices. Something that Nancy Spector notes in her curatorial premise of theanyspacewhatever which reframed Bourriaud’s set-artists in an alternative curatorial frame.
A Work on Progress is framed as different to the works set up by artists working within a post-Cage lineage. Where notions of the professional are dispensed with, in order to privilege the production of the so-called amateur. The production is set up as an experiment so that producer/consumer or audience/performer binaries collapse. But this experiment is compromised when key facilitators of the production involve themselves in the production. Regardless of the reflexive nature of this account within the exposition — the author admitting to the problematic qualities of this engagement — it undermines the project to a large degree. A key artistic precedent that is missed both in terms of the discourse surrounding Relational Aesthetics and A Work on Progress is the projects that were part of Fluxus and more particularly the Happenings of Allan Kaprow. Kaprow’s Push Pull (1963), and his projects more generally, gave voice to the practices of the everyday in a way that A Work on Progress seems naïve of.
The readability of the submission is excellent. It is clear, well organised and well referenced. All academic conventions are adhered to and the navigation of the production in conjunction to the exposition is clear and well executed. A Work on Progress highlights for me the issues in relation to creative research. It seems that regardless of the weakness of the artistic enterprise on offer — we, as artists and academics — validate this via 1. The sophistication of the theoretical context the researcher places on the work and 2. The reflexive account of failure.
I have no problem with the exposition, it is in many ways impressive. But the artistic production is what differentiates our research from art history/theory and cultural studies.
I think this project needs to be restaged repeatedly as not a one-off experiment but as a research project that incorporates the reflexivity found in the exposition and for it to have some effect on the production of the work itself. The further elaboration of the project would experiment with participants and the material parameters given to them.
Admittedly I am reading all aspects of this research within the frame of visual-arts practice. This is an appropriate frame as the author is using this context to frame a project that he also regards as theatre.