'The Ghosts of Participation Past', a review of Claire Bishop's Artificial Hells

Berry, Josephine. 2012. 'The Ghosts of Participation Past', a review of Claire Bishop's Artificial Hells. Mute, [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Nearly 400 pages long, bearing an arresting title and featuring a picture of a mounted policeman directing a crowd inside the Tate Modern, Claire Bishop's latest book seems to demand our full attention. With participation as its key subject, this impressive survey of its developmental role within art practice is set to be a key reference text for some time to come. But what does this buzzword 'participation' really mean after all? Is it a euphemism that sells the obligation to cooperate, to play along? Is it a moral imperative, a condition of the social? Is it just a way of emphasising the necessarily plural nature of activity in general? Can it describe the active contemplation of something without any expressive extension, or does it demand the extension of thought outwards, the connection of thought to action? This loose concept, used as a thread to connect some of the most uncompromising art of the 20th and early 21st century in Bishop's Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, remains all too elusive. As does the implication of its title, for Bishop is in no simple sense condemning what has by now become a default virtue of 'progressive art', as one might infer. Instead, Artificial Hells, which takes its name from an essay by André Breton dissecting a disappointing Dada action in a Paris churchyard in 1921, opens up the aesthetic politics of art works that depend upon more or less active audiences to a wide, but sometimes vague, horizon of consideration.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


2 October 2012Published

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Date Deposited:

14 Jul 2015 13:24

Last Modified:

07 Nov 2019 16:20



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