Performed Realness: On participatory Art and its Ethics
In my study, Performed Realness: On participatory Art and its Ethics, I address questions stemming from my artistic practice and concerning participatory art, the split between documentary and fiction, performed realness, the ethics of the abovementioned, and authorship. I discuss these topics in dialogue with other artists’ artworks and with theories. Nevertheless, my intent is not to execute a comprehensive study on works, that have the same traits as mine. Works with moving image, my own and other artists’, which leave me to wonder and perplex me were a starting point of my research. – Is this true? Are these people performing or are they just being themselves in front of the camera? Can one be in front of the camera without performing?
In this thesis, I also address the role of an artist conducting research. The work of an artist-researcher is often a balancing act between autobiographical and scholarly text. All artistic research does by no means concern the researcher’s own artistic production. In my work as an artist conducting research, I act in a double role: On one hand, when I conduct research, I consider the artwork with an outsider’s eyes; on the other, I use maker’s knowledge, which cannot be seen in the result. Art historians Katve-Kaisa Kontturi and Hanna Johansson write about similar methods, of doing research with art. The research springs from a dialogue with artwork. The method of writing vulnerably, which anthropologist Ruth Behar elaborates on—the relation between personal stories and ethnography, in which the vulnerable observer writes him/herself into the text—is also suitable for artistic research.
My research has followed the stages of my piece Story Café (2004–2011). The piece is divided into stages: a participatory café, in which I record on video stories that the participants tell; installations of the recorded stories; and dramatizations that are based on them. The aim of the café part was to collect stories from the participators. I have used the stories to in various ways dramatize works with moving images. The meetings in the café part of Story Café resemble participatory and social artwork. On account of Story Café, an inquiry into theories on participatory art and participatory artworks is emphasized in my research. I address questions that originate from the work in relation to, for example, curator Nicolas Bourriaud’s definition of relational aesthetics, art researcher Miwon Kwon’s discussion on nomadic site-specific work, and art historian Grant Kester’s dialogical aesthetics. I also consider critic and curator Claire Bishop’s critique on relation aesthetics and art researcher Shannon Jackson’s analysis of the abovementioned. I present other artists who create participatory works, such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Minna Heikinaho, because their work includes topics similar to mine.
How do the power relations between the artist and the participant manifest themselves, and how is authorship divided in participatory work? Who is the author if the audience’s contribution helps to produce a piece? I examine what kind of ethical questions an artist-researcher faces in his/her work. My artistic work is based on ethical principles with similarities to philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas’ thoughts of meeting the other. Filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha’s films and texts have influenced the handling of ethical questions in my thesis and in my artwork. I address ethical meetings in my analyses of my piece, Story Café, and of other artists’ work, such as Santiago Sierra’s pieces; Renzo Marten’s film Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (2009); and Miriam Bäckström’s film Kira Carpelan (2007). Kira Carpelan and Episode III: Enjoy Poverty blur the boundary between fiction and documentary in an interesting way.
I consider the dividing line between documentary and fiction through an analysis of my own and other artists’ work. I examine the split between them in works that include moving images. What is performance? How much direction, scriptwriting, framing and maker’s viewpoint does a documentary piece contain? I refer to filmmaker Susanna Helke’s research on style in documentary film and film theoretician Stella Bruzzi’s definition of performative documentary film, and I include the concept of a played documentary [documentarie joué], which philosopher François Niney uses for documentary film, into the context of art. I also discuss the relation of docufiction to my works and the works I have chosen to study. The variation between performing and realness plays a role in ethical scrutiny: I distinguish appearing in fiction from appearing in a recording. Nonetheless, the difference is not always clear.
In my study, Performed Realness: On participatory Art and its Ethics, I discuss gender performativity by means of gender theorist Judith Butler’s definition. Several of my dramatized works explore gender. Gender performance may form a vital part of a piece’s theme, as in There is a Lot of Joy, too (2005), in which a youth is concerned with his gender. Dramatized moving image pieces based on recordings from Story Café deal with girls’ aggression in its various forms in my solo show, The Cage (2013).
My thesis has followed the phases and topics that arose in my artistic practice. However, my artistic practice has proceeded in a different vein from the research, more organically and intuitively. A short tale that I have recorded in the meandering Story Café becomes a moving image; a verbally narrated character becomes flesh anew in a fictive world. In some of the of the works that I analyse, the split is explicit; a crevasse exists between the performed and the given depiction of reality. By contrast, in others, it is rather a drift, where the border between realness and performance is not clear.