Adele Patrick (Q&A)

When do artistic interventions run the risk of aestheticising dissent and create the risk of an indignity of speaking for others?

Adele Patrick, Womens’ Library, Glasgow

Adele Patrick (core group): I just want to return to the model of Park Fiction for a moment. I want to ask a little bit more about the ethics involved in what seems to be a form of aestheticisation of dissent that is taking place in this particular type of setting. Maybe there is not an answer to this, or maybe there are people in the room who have their own perspective on this.

Grant Kester: What?  The aestheticisation of the dissent?

Adele Patrick: Yes, the forms of dissent. How might you speak about the agency of a group that calls itself ‘Park Fiction’ in relation to these other residents in this particular setting? They are almost authoring of forms of dissent and claiming it simultaneously as art. There seems to be a lot of tension in this kind of project between acting outside of the power of the planner or the power of the corporates within a group that is, in itself, speaking on behalf of another group. I’m not familiar with this project, but it may well be the case that there has been some sort of negotiation, some sort of consensus, absolute consensus within this group.  But, nevertheless, we were speaking there about children’s participation and minority ethnic groups and so forth.

I feel there are problems in the conflating an individual artist and artists’ groups with the notion of the community in terms of how that plays out in the longer term. Is there an absolutely wonderful Holy Grail of how we get new communities generated in a really fantastic way. I’m just a little bit anxious about that.  What do you have to say about that?

Grant Kester: Yes, this is a criticism that I actually developed in the evangelical aesthetics essay about 15 years ago, drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s work in Aesthetic Evangelists: the Rhetoric of Empowerment and Conversion in contemporary Community Art Afterimage (January 1995). It involves what Bourdieu calls ‘the fetish of the delegate’, or what Foucault describes as ‘the indignity of speaking for others’.  This is a necessary point of tension in a lot of these practices. For what it is worth, in terms of framing Park Fiction, the members have lived and worked in the Hafenstrasse for years and were not seen as outsiders to that community. From what I understand it’s not a community that you could walk into and impose your will on very easily – as an artist.
You don’t want to slip into some sort of vulgarized Gramsci-ian notion of the ‘organic intellectual’ since every community is bifurcated, divided and discontinuous and no one can claim a wholly unproblematic authority as it’s representative.
What I find in the most productive work is an acknowledgement of the ethical dilemma of delegation in speaking and the delineation of community. But it’s also necessary to recognize that you can never fully purify discourse in that way, ethically purify it.  Maybe Suzanne can talk about this.

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