Claire Bishop: Artificial Hells

Friday, 8 February, 7pm – 9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Eva Ruschkowski
Suggested donation £2, booking via Eventbrite

DOWNLOAD Claire Bishop (2012). Artificial Hells. Verso Books.

Jeremy Deller and Mike Figgis [2001] The Battle of Orgreave.
Jeremy Deller and Mike Figgis [2001] The Battle of Orgreave.

Since the 1990s, participatory and collaborative art has seen immense growth in artistic interest, a development later baptised as The Social Turn. Often based on the ideas of Guy Debord and his criticism of the spectacle, advocates of participatory art see collaborative practice as a potential remedy for our, by capitalism alienated society and its wounded social bond.

London-based art-critic and writer Claire Bishop critically analyses this movement in her book “Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship” (2012) putting the discourse into a historical and political context. We will be discussing the first chapter, “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents”, in which Bishop explores further the ideas she first formulated in a same-named essay, published six years earlier in Artforum.

Bishop diagnoses contemporary art criticism with a “hardened critical orthodoxy” (p. 18). With the increasing popularity of participatory art, Bishop says, followed The Ethical Turn in criticism which does not measure the work by its artistic value, but prioritises quantifiable social outcomes. Examined through an ethical lens, the process of social inclusion weighs more than the artistic product – the artwork becomes undistinguishable of the community art tradition. “There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond” (p. 13). Based on concepts of Jacques Rancière, Bishop pleads for art practice that holds the tension of aesthetics and political value and for an art criticism that does not fall back into mantras of sociological value.

The radicality of participatory art is also questioned in Bishop’s text which highlights links to the cultural policy and rhetoric shaped by New Labour. In these policies, creativity is supported not for the sake of artistic experimentation and research but is often used in an agenda that uses social inclusion to render social inequality in a cosmetic rather than structural way. According to Bishop, these measures do not aim to raise consciousness of the structural conditions of people’s daily existence, but „will only help people to accept them” (p. 14).

Please join us for the 33rd session of Symposium book club to discuss this rich text and the relation of art, criticism, politics and social change. Please book your ticket via Eventbrite (see link above).