Participatory art can be seen as easy. It is easy for an artist to create work within the gallery in the hope of engaging communities. What’s difficult though is actually getting communities to participate (especially if the communities are not the usual art audience). There is one challenge for the artist and a whole other for the person who’s job it is to dial a community. It’s harder because often that person wants to make sure these community groups have a thoughtful experience. I know because for Peter Robinson’s solo exhibition SYNTAX currently showing at Artspace I’m that person.
As the Education Intern it’s one of my jobs to engage and connect with different groups. I create opportunities offsite and on that try to instigate ripples of connecting the ‘non art audience’ to the gallery. It’s not easy and I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. To be honest I was a bit apprehensive when I learnt that I would need to invite groups to be involved in Peter’s work. Why would they be interested and who has the most to gain out of this experience?
The exhibition consists of two works; Resource room a space that is filled with various experiments and materials Peter has worked with over the years and Syntax Systems, a work that is co-authored by different invited community groups. So far I’ve facilitated six installations by different community groups and I feel every installation has been successful so far. This success is in part because the artist has been a part of each workshop, coming to talk about his practice and how Syntax Systems came about (an artist giving an extensive amount of time to their audience in a gallery is pretty rare). All of the participating audiences are acknowledged as artists with their names listed before entry to the gallery with an image of their installation. Most importantly this work hasn’t handed over creative power to just any audience, it has allowed for new audiences to have power over an art audience who expects to be able to participate.
Every single group that we have worked with has expressed gratitude for thinking of and including them. Regardless of the physical qualities, the work lies in the process of inclusion and collaboration. People are having a good time, that’s all that matters to me. It’s amazing what happens when people are made the priority.
Image credit: Syntax Systems, 2015. Felt, dimensions variable. Contributing Artists: June 29, 10am – July 6 11am. Papakura High School Year 11 Painting class
Lily Viliamu, Deejarn Manapori, Amanda William, Waiafa Elia, Pearl Aholelei, Milika Warwick, George Bell, Reagan Patuwai, Thomas Shepard, Wayne Faafualeapai, Joel Brown, Vaiarii Tuhoe, Kate Lobb
Photo credit: Artspace