PUBLIC PEDAGOGIES INSTITUTE GEELONG SYMPOSIUM
June 8 2018
The full-day schedule included a program of speakers who are currently working in the field of community-based learning and art projects. The event featured a range of presentations exploring projects taking place in the Geelong area.
The Rogue Academy hosted Dr Cameron Bishop and Dr Anne Wilson to discuss projects including Treatment project at the Western Treatment Plant, which has had two iterations over the past 4 years; Sounding Histories – where artist mined the historical fabric of the Mission to Seafarers Building and organisation to develop a range of projects that had pedagogical outcomes.
The political theorist Chantal Mouffe suggests that public space has become ‘too consensual’ proffering the notion of a more ‘agonistic’ space – a space where there is the capacity for ‘friendly conflict’. Social and participatory involvement of communities as audiences are Increasingly part of public art projects – where participants are often implicated as ‘co-producers’. The problem exists, however, that the collaborative strategies used by many of these public art projects lack criticality – as artworks.
In the same way, art historian and critic Claire Bishop argues that ‘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. While [Bishop say she is and I quote] ‘broadly sympathetic to that ambition, [She argues] that it is also crucial to discuss, analyze, and compare such work critically as art.’ Claire Bishop, The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents, Artforum 44, 178 (2005).
These blurred values raise inherent questions about how to evaluate the artwork and how to assess the level and quality of people’s engagement in public art in relation to the intention of the artist. This then implicates the organisers, funders and supporters of public art projects in this lack of evaluation.
What is often termed ‘New Public art’ operates on a sense of ‘free-play’ and a degree of independent agency. Public art projects are inclined to lose this sense of autonomy when they become politicised to support vested interests in order to justify public policy. All too often public art reveals a corruption of the artists intentions, particularly those that are sponsored by government agencies and other regimes that have specific quotas, financial, welfare or other political agendas. The complexity of producing work within the public realm at the remit of public policy often does so to the detriment of the ‘intention’ of the artist.
In order to maintain a form of integrity and criticality, which are important in any rigorous artistic practice – these works need to address a criterion that challenges, disturbs, disrupts and disfigures what it is we already understand of, and within, our public space. These frictions are what we at the Rogue Academy would describe as ‘useful tensions’ and, due to the unpredictable nature of human behaviour in these projects, these tensions are often not discovered until after the projects are over and have had the luxury of reflection. This stands counter to the ‘box ticking’ agencies that support such projects. They prefer to know the ethical, social and political implications of a work upfront, in order to mitigate their association with complications that might arise.
To engage with this idea of reflection on counter practice within public art projects in this symposium discussion, the Rogue Academy are hosting Deakin Public Art’s Dr Cameron Bishop, who is developing the third in a trilogy of large-scale major public art projects at the Western Treatment plant at Werribee and artist Amanda Shone and her involvement in the last project. They will be in conversation with artist, curator and Deakin Lecturer, Dr Anne Wilson, who made use of the Mission to Seafarers building in a project called Sounding Histories. Her aim was to engender new understandings about what one can learn from creative interventions into loaded, historical public spaces. As a critical strategy for artists and curators, both these projects drew on public space in conversation with the concept of the artist-as-experimenter. Together, they will also discuss the idea of ‘failure’ in a joint project called the Ground Plane Opera for Mountain to Mouth festival in Geelong this year.