Session 7: Aesthetics, Culture and Politics

2nd Global Conference


Friday 12th March – Sunday 14th March 2010
Salzburg, Austria

The Sacrifice Made by Audiences: The Complicit Discomfort of Viewing Performance Art
Angela Bartram and Mary O’Neill
University of Lincoln, United Kingdom

A standard ‘Ethical Approval’ forms issued by British Universities asks researchers to consider ‘a risk assessment of the project based on the vulnerability of participants, the extent to which it is likely to be harmful and whether there will be significant discomfort’ (University of Lincoln 2008). This paper will examine the consequence of imposing a scientific standard of behaviour on a practice that is in some cases defined by the vulnerability of participants, be that either the artist or the audience, and the possibility of harm to them if there is an opportunity for ‘significant discomfort’.

This jointly authored paper will explore the discomfort created by performance practice in terms of an ethical sacrifice; in sacrifice something is given up for a greater gain. The paper will discuss if comfort is sacrificed for the greater gain of the sensuous knowledge offered by performance works that may make the audience feel uncomfortable. In Life in Fragments: Essays in Postmodern Morality, Zygmunt Bauman described humans as fundamentally moral beings, which he distances from the notion of goodness. Rather than being connected to the debate about the ‘essential goodness’ of humans he suggests that to be moral is ‘to exercise one’s freedom of authorship and/or actorship as a choice between good and evil.’

Discomfort can be brought into the reception of performance practice that makes bodily fluids visual and tangible. Art practice that includes the release and transfer of bodily fluids produces anxieties, and raises questions of health and welfare, safety and conduct. This sees the individual experiences what Bataille called ‘impotent horror’ as they negotiate the implied danger of the experience. This paper will make specific reference to Bartram’s performance work and its relationship to the audience, which uses saliva and the impact of its displacement at its core.

Inter-artistic Identities Within the Socio-political Space
Bello Benischauer and Elisabeth M Eitelberger
ART IN PROCESS, Fremantle, Australia

ART IN PROCESS is a partnership based in Fremantle, Australia. In our work we explore relationships between humanity, technology and the natural environment in a socio-political context. The work attempts to illuminate problematic issues inherent in multiculturalism, globalisation and mass-consumption. It further addresses notions about how we fit into certain places, what impact we have on our surroundings and what impact the surroundings have on us. Artistic outcomes are based on certain explorations through on-site projects (residencies, travel) as well as on a reflection of our own living environment and circumstances.

Projects constitute a critical engagement with a number of issues specific to Western, consumer culture and behaviour: our intent is to instigate a change of thinking, a shifting of accommodated world conception within the viewer/participant, in continuously looking for an open dialogue with the public (i.e. through Art-Interventions, Performances and exhibitions with audio-visual and mixed media installations).

The paper will focus on presenting running projects as well as a compilation of past work based on specific aesthetics concerning socio-political issues, especially the 2009 international project series called Intervention, developed in Salzburg/Austria, Evora/Portugal and Kumasi/Ghana about tapping local resources.

The paper will reveal how the frame of Art applies in the social context of the audience and life itself, how artistic practice should engage with the general public.

Questions to be answered: What does it mean to make artistic comments on our world, what triggers them? Why has it become a crutial responsibility for an artist once again to serve as the public voice to the extent to educate and inform the public about issues/ethics that otherwise would go unnoticed or even ignored? This should initiate a thriving discussion about how artists should communicate their ethical ideals in engaging with the broader community through public and participatory projects.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)

‘Ways of Peeing’: Traces of Modernity In the Public Lavatory
Eray Çaylı
Konstfack, Stockholm University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Experience Design Group, Sweden

In his seminal text ‘Ways of Seeing’, Berger opens up for debate the prevalent cultural aesthetics of the West. As he puts the spotlight on the hidden ideologies of the visual, he suggests that “when an image is presented as a work of art, the way people look at it is affected by a whole series of learnt assumptions….concerning Beauty, Truth, Genius, Civilization, Form, Status, Taste, etc.” (1977:11). Can one posit that the same holds valid not only for images but also for three dimensional artefacts? For sure: when Marcel Duchamp created his Fountain, what he really endeavored was to address, through a three dimensional artefact, the very issue raised by Berger. He wanted to see if he would be permitted to ‘elevate’ the everyday—embodied by a urinal—to the fine-art scene. Today, his work is largely defined as modern art.

Today, after Fountain almost a century has passed which has witnessed, on the one hand, the evolution of modern art into a well-established institution; and on the other, the everyday continuing to be a central issue for movements such as the Surrealists and the Situationists. How about then, instead of pushing upwards the everyday into premises defined by being modern, looking for tokens of modernity in the everyday—and, through analyzing an embodiment that is akin to that of Duchamp’s urinal, too: the public lavatory. As a relatively unexplored area from the everyday public realm, it comprises arcane yet familiar ingredients as ‘food for thought’. It is probably the most public of all realms, home to the relief of humankind’s inevitable need; yet, the behavioral qualities of one’s experience in the washroom suggest that civilization has rendered it probably the most personally private of all public settings.

While the public toilet seems to have been reduced by Western modernity to a vulgar setting where one is supposed to be finished with his/her deed as fast as possible; due to being the-private-within-the-public, it has ironically emerged as an oasis that provides the modern human with opportunities of brief getaways from the routines of the everyday. Whereas, in other contexts where multiple—as opposed to only a single—modernities are in play, the public toilet has long been subject to various types of social conflict. What follows from here on is a discussion of how these various tokens of modernity can be traced in the everyday realm of the public toilet, drawing mainly upon perspectives that concern the ecology of design as well as case examples from my native Turkey. Here is a fantastic intersection of pragmatics, aesthetics, politics, semiology, ideology, theology and sociology—and what not—all congregated by a realm as ‘banal’ as the public lavatory.