INTERNATIONAL AWARD FOR PARTICIPATORY ART

The Argentine collective Etcetera… was announced winner of the second edition of the Prizeby members of the international jury: Julia Draganović, curator of the award, Alfredo Jaar, one of the most influential artists of the international contemporary art scene, Rudolf Frieling, curator of the Department of Media Arts at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art , Bert Theis, artist and curator, co-founder of out-Office for Urban Transformation and Isola Art Center, Milan and Luigi Benedetti, Director General of the Legislative Assembly of the Emilia-Romagna region.

INTERNATIONAL AWARD FOR PARTICIPATORY ART

BY JULIA DRAGANOVIĆ AND CLAUDIA LÖFFELHOLZ, CURATORS OF INTERNATIONAL AWARD FOR PARTICIPATORY ART.

The International Award for Participatory Art was founded in 2009 in Bologna – towards the end of a period that saw media mogul Silvio Berlusconi as the Prime Minister of Italy. The Italian citizens had slipped more in more into a state of general doubt and tiredness regarding democracy as a form of government and towards any kind of representational systems per se.

For us as curators it was a great opportunity, but also an enormous challenge to develop an award for socially engaged artistic practices for various reasons. Beside the International Award for Participatory Art there are no opportunities of funding socially engaged practices in Italy (as there are in general almost no funding programs for art in the public sphere in Italy). Furthermore, the idea of an award for this kind of initiatives was unique at that time (the Annenberg Award started only one year later).

The first challenge we had to face was to satisfy the necessity to look for answers for a series of questions, which we felt urgently at the time of the formulation of the project and which we still believe to be of major importance for the Italian context. What moved us were questions like “what creates a sense of belonging to a community?” and “how are freedom, creativity and responsibilities redistributed in a working “alternative” community?” and, last but not least, “how can one raise the awareness for the common good in general?”. These questions are not necessarily inherent to each socially engaged practice. We decided to use the term “participatory” in spite of the international discussion, which questions the concept of participation, for the above reason: in long conversations with all kinds of stakeholders we had noticed an enormous lack and, at the same time, the longing for shared experiences which, in Italian was expressed as lack of possibilities to participate. The questions how to reach out and select candidates for the award was and still is a riddle that we try to solve with a try and error approach and the method of searching and selecting appropriate candidates has to be adjusted from edition to edition and remains a work in progress.

Our proposal was to design the award with a double feature: on one hand we wanted to grant recognition to artists for their entire career of successful and unique interventions in the social realm and, on the other hand, we wanted to invite the winning artist to realize a project in the Region Emilia-Romagna. This second part of the award was understood as a kind of payback to the citizens of the region who are financing the project: by being involved in the realization of the winning project they share the prize with the artists. For this reason the award consists in a prize money that the winning artists receives and can deliberately use for their own purposes, and in a budget dedicated to the realization of the project. Being foreigners in Italy helps and complicates our roles as curators in this occasion: we share a major part of the everyday life in Italy with the participants in the projects, but we are not integrated in any life-long network of families, friends and colleagues and, therefore, share the necessity to create new networks with the visiting artists. Being partly outsiders and insiders at the same time is a precarious position, but facilitates our tasks as mediators. Still, curating a participatory art project that is supposed to develop an innovative relationship between the artist and the “audience”, is a challenge in itself, as the curator acts like a third agent in an experiment with an unknown outcome. Understanding ourselves mainly as interlocutors and facilitators for everybody involved in a project that should activate the audience to become participants, as curators we constantly have to ask ourselves where to intervene, where to ask questions, where to respond – basically: where to speak and act and where to wait in silence, in order not to take a role that should be covered by someone- else.

Working with Etcetera… on C.R.I.S.I. turned out to be relatively effortless, as they requested total autonomy during their research period as well as in the execution stage of the project. Being observers was a new role for us and it was not easy to get used to this apparent passivity, as we tried to find answers to the above questions, which led us to develop the award project. Loreto Garin Guzman ’s and Federico Zukerfeld’s generosity in sharing the knowledge acquired during their Bologna period with us and the audience in the present publication is very much appreciated. We are sure that C.R.I.S.I. and the social ready mades presented by Grupo Etcetera will be precious and fruitful objects not only for our research still in the years to come.

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