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Participatory Art

Olafur Eliasson
Den blinde passager / fog walk, 2010
Courtesy of the artist

Participatory art directly engages with the audience in the process of creation, making the audience collaborators. With its origins in the futurist and dada performances of the early 20th century, participatory art is usually designed to provoke the public. Marcel Duchamp, a leading figure in the Dada movement, argued that both the artist and the viewer are necessary for the completion of a work of art.

Olafur Eliasson’s works often engage with environmental issues, making his work relevant to contemporary society; advocating that “without the viewer, there is nothing”. In his exhibition In Real Life (Jul 2019 - Jan 2020) at Tate Modern, Eliasson explored the connection between the human and the environment. In Den blinde passager / fog walk (2010), a corridor was filled with fog that represented air pollution while the audience were not able to see beyond one to two meters, and the Moss Wall (1994) brought nature inside with the earthy smell of a forest; the work could also be touched by the audience and feel the texture.

Sometimes audiences participate in interactive artworks involuntarily, including John Cage’s 4’33” (1952); a “silent music” that was first performed by the pianist David Tudor in New York. The audience in the concert hall sat down without knowing that nothing will be played, except Tudor will quietly sit in front of the piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds while opening and closing the keyboard cover to indicate the beginning and the end of the piece. Instead of music, the hall was filled with noise made by the audience; from coughing, to the sound of fidgeting while the rain dropped on the roof, challenging the notion and the hierarchy of music.

Many artists continue to utilize this approach, such as Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, whose creations include large-scale sculptures and installations constructed from discarded metal, copper wire, and bottle caps. Anatsui's works serve to highlight the intrinsic value and potential of what is often considered waste or debris. Betye Saar has also been an active participant in the assemblage movement since the 1960s, utilizing found objects and cultural artifacts in her artwork to explore a range of themes, including race, gender, and spirituality. Through her use of assemblage, Saar brings together disparate elements to create a cohesive and profound artistic expression.

The rise of the movement from the 1990s with its root in the aspiration toward social change, participatory art is ever evolving. Art no longer only holds aesthetic values, but offers people the ability to connect with the world, and a chance to make individual political contributions.

Koo Jeong A
resonance , 2020
620 x 810 x 170 cm (244 x 319 x 67 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
*Installation view of one of Koo’s skatepark installations, in her solo exhibition at PKM Gallery, Seoul in 2020.

“All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.”

Marcel Duchamp

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