Autonomy, Participation, And
Claire Pentecost calls in to question our accepted understanding of autonomy as an artist. Her suggestion is that the majority of artists seek to develop their individuality and identity within the white walls of institutionalized gallery spaces in a way such that the perceived state of autonomy is no more than acceptance into that institutionalized group, thus nulling the assumed state of autonomy. The act of autonomy is just participatory in a larger established setting. She then proposes the idea of autonomy as a truly new or separate entity which encourages participation in ways that contribute to a community and work outside of white-wall spaces. Essentially the argument seems to be of “autonomy as status” vs “autonomy as contribution.”
I think it’s an excellent point to consider. The revolt against an established hierarchy in art is nothing new - every movement in art is in some way this very reaction. But artists and, for lack of a better word, technologists are converging more and more, allowing for greater contribution - be it as action or statement - to the world. In this manner the gallery space will naturally give way to public space or personal devices as a location for experience and feedback. It does go back to questioning the artist’s initial approach to art - are you setting out to create an object to be inspected or an experience to for others participate in?
Going back to Jeremijenko & Bratton’s article, it’s easy to reference the “data-smog” works that Bratton speaks of, where these otherwise beautiful works that look as if are interfaces but are really just beautiful displays of information, gallery worthy works. But the whole process can be opened up to participation - where is the data coming from, how is it being parsed, how does the visualization make sense of the data, and who gains from the information the work portrays? If the data is of concern to the artist, how do they address where the work is seen and who it impacts or informs?
I think it’s easy to get caught up in the technology and process of creating informative data work. I know I do it. But addressing some of the simple questions that Pentecost poses at the end of the article are excellent ways to help guide a project before you even start.
“What is the artist participating in and how?
What is the invitation to others and at what point in the process is it issued?
Has the paradigm of the aesthetic encounter been redefined?
What seems to be the objective of the participation: is it to enhance the prestige of an artist or
cultural institution or does it aspire toward a substantive experience for participants in their
What are the possible outcomes of the participation?
Is it likely to change our relationship to participation itself?
If autonomy is the object, what do you want to do with your autonomy?”
Strauss & Faud-Luke propose slowing down the entire design process in order to fully explore the context and implications of an object. “This process of careful and continuous (self-) questioning challenges the designer to reach for the core of design and her/his role as a designer.” (p. 3) They break the design process into a series of points to contemplate: reveal, expand, reflect, engage, participate, & evolve. Each of these points is a method for the designer to consider or reconsider an object in context of its intended, implied, or perceived use in relation to the entire process involved in its creation, its reflection upon that process, and its reflection upon the user (or the user upon it?).
I can’t help but think that this is what design is supposed to be, and that maybe it’s not a paradigm shift but a call for recognition of wide-spread design practices as “fast”, “rapid”, or “immediate” design. I don’t think that this is a striking new revelation in terms of design process, more so it is a reminder that we as consumers often inform the design process in terms of rapidly changing desires (not necessarily needs), which in turn informs again the consumer, and this cycle of a high output, quick turn around production just becomes the standard as we progress into ever tightening turns of the spiral until it is just design for now. So I will append my previous terms with “now” design.
I am reminded of The Long Now Foundation, a group that is dedicated to spreading the idea of long-term thinking. They have developed a mechanical clock that will run without electricity or maintenance for 10,000 years and a chime mechanism for it which will toll once an hour without ever repeating the same pattern. Included in the assembly is a “rosetta disc” which has engraved upon it every known language as an archive of communication in human history. It is unfortunate that we need such projects to re-inform humanity of the idea of long-term thinking, but we are better to have it than not. So too with the idea of “slow design”, and with a continuation of such thinking and action we may stand more of a chance of understanding all design as “slow design” without the need to emphasize “slow”.