Tate learning research centre
seminar march 14, 2016
Notes from the seminar on participatory art
and ethics held on March 14, 2016.
Running notes of issues raised, mostly
taken by Pat Thomson and at the end,
Helena Hunter. Additional post event points
by Pat for some clarification.
Introducing Pat as notetaker
• I’m a Doctor. Well actually I’m a Professor
too, so even more trustworthy.
• I know what I’m doing. I’ve done this before. I
write books about research methods. I teach
people how to do research.
• I’m just taking notes. You can see what I’m
doing. You’ll get a chance to comment at the
end of the day.
Pointing to the power of translation and interpretation and translation
and the usual justification of experience, expertise, position and
Emily explained that the seminar had arisen from a previous seminar on
ethnography and particularly a discussion about the potential for aestheticising
a colonial project. So at this seminar we hoped for:
• Surfacing some key issues
• Identify challenges and
• Strategies that respond to challenges
• Feedback might be hard
• But our goal is open discussion, generous, critical
• Ethics – no fixed parameters? Maximisation of common
good? A wise course of action?
• Who decides? Against what criteria? Juggling desires…
• Barby introduced her work Baldwin’s Nigger Reloaded and showed a film
clip with James Baldwin talking about white liberalism.
• Who participates? On whose terms? Whose
• Inclusion and diversity as a colonial project…
• An anti-recognition project that deconstructs the
practices that oppress?
• Ethics – do no harm – feel safe, safe space?
Ethics – do good, do right – uncomfortable for
• Ros addressed the practices of youth participation
• Getting over ‘participation’: The ethics of
cultural entitlement – changing galleries to
become critical zones of interchange.
Equalising power via youth led
institutional fightback via rules to maintain
control/power. Ethical protocols can be
used to take control/power.
• Stephen reported on the work of the Tate Liverpool Circuit programme.
• An example of strategy –
• The problem – the role of staff influence in
participatory programming. The role of “old
hands” – already influenced.
• Strategy - Change usual processes of
participation and institutional mind set. Work
separately first before coming together with
staff. Post-it as equaliser. All ideas discussed.
Change location/space. Use game/play.
• Sam talked about the politics of Guest + host (institution)
• Shift away from institutional critique to generative
counter and alt practices. But often still dependent on
host institution. Change practice – eg a bakery as art?
– is this institutional activism?
• Strategy example – Bruguera’s school in her house.
Antagonistic curriculum. Lines connected to past
institutions. Affiliations to mainstream (parasitic).
Exhibited as art work.
• Whose work was this – authorship? Participants as
material? Who is able to step back/shut down,
governance – consequences? Duration – how long
does something last, who decides?
• Key questions of ownership and authorship, power
Discussion: Table 1
• Cultural identity, age, disability – who is in the
room - think broadly
• We are part of the problem
• Whiteness is invisible to itself
• Cultural capital as a lack rather than difference –
goes to where value is placed
• Which room are we all in – what is it – people in
power need to give up power and make room
• Recognition is not enough, guessing what is
needed is no good, need to make space for
• There are professional networks in this room. How
to bring people in. Problems with doing this on a
projects basis – no sustainability. Importance of alt
spaces, partnering might be important. Permeating
organisational structures is tricky.
• Participatory research – who gets to evaluate?
Self evaluate and self author. Research is not
pristine, there’s mess, reflexivity needed and
honesty about complications together with
• Remaining in relationships of difference,
need vulnerability, doubt, be ready to fail - but
fallout. Pressure to perform.
• Institutional frameworks – arts educators
complicit – work with/against. Artists as mirror
for participants. Arts educators often self
delude about ‘doing good’? Need to consider
• Vultures making a living out of other people?
• Separate individual from institution?
• Evaluation – how to capture experiences?
How to make time to digest them? Who is
• Ethics as barrier - must be safety, overcome
lack of trust, use moments used for reflection
• Ethics go beyond paperwork – in practice.
• Institutions burden young people with
responsibility for change.
• Ethics and morals. Is further definition useful?
Institutional structures as a trap? Ethics of
redistribution on neoliberal terms – how to change
structures and get beyond ‘innovation’. Economic
pyramids in institutions.
• Political project to change structures – working
alone enables action but doesn’t shift institutions
or discourses (eg diversity) which are pervasive.
• Need a turn from ethics to politics. New ethics of
measurement, self audit need to be part of
• Hosts – providing venue and money or a
critical relationship? How to host different
relationships and discussions?
Interdependencies need to be identified.
• Learning Departments often host projects –
but lower in institutional hierarchy.
• Need long term, research at start to track
navigate/negotiate institutional practice
• Avoid rebranding conversations, but make
actual changes in institution
• Who validates ‘work’, how?
• How to break down hierarchies?
• People as material is highly problematic.
• What is valued by young people versus by the
• Agency inter and intra institutions, responsibility
• How to critique institution – and a question of
institutional appropriation or change
• How do we ever get to criticise the rule book? Internal
colonialisms and difficult conversations – how, where
to what ends.
• Authorship, ownership and power. Who decides who is
guest and host? Resources caught up in Authorship,
ownership and power.
• Challenges – participatory work can be disabling to
people trying to work with it.
• Ethics as process not tick forms, Transparency = not
only monitoring but a continual negotiation
• Who decides positionality of participants?
• Words are important, definitions important as they
• Care isn’t enough, ethics is the interface between
desires, conversations and actions.
Whole group plenary
• Permeable boundaries to institutions and selves are
needed – othering is implicit in language used in this
seminar. Need a collective sense of we together.
• Difference can disappear over time via thinking/doing
together. But how to stop using the terms?
• Checking privilege – facing the truth and having
• Need to think about conflicts – language is only one
aspect, need processes so we can go through
conversations, find a safe place.
• Transparency and trust takes time.
• Pratap showed a clip of his film Justine
• Documentary making is based on informed consent (legal and
• How to work with someone who can’t give consent? How to allow
her to be seen in her own terms.
• Work with assent/dissent
• Whose ethics count? Ethics should be enabling not constraining.
• Documentary/art. A potential divergence? Social responsibility v
• “To work here means not knowing.” Levinas – reflecting the gaze of
another, in the interchange in lived experience lies ethics.
• Uncomfortable idea - living off the suffering of others?
• Ethical and artistic integrity, working in the interstices of the two.
• Steve showed a clip of the work of Blast Theory in Venice - he works
with BT as a computer scientist.
• Tech resource to help artists realise vision, research and
generalise. Leads to ethical concerns.
• Artistic provocations. Control and the machine? The user may
not be in control. Relationships of surveillance, isolation,
voyeurism, force intimacy with strangers?
• Ethics of art (consent is problematic, court jester and trickster
to raise challenges) and research worlds – (people as
subjects and data, consent, little on discussion after the
• Ethical debate afterwards rather than consent first?
Alice showed a clip illustrating the importance of a mother’s response to a
• Arts based research – but institutional paperwork – does it provide more
trust? Opens the door to research, but then moment by moment ethical
• Listening as basis for ongoing ethical practice. Lost voices and
impoverished research if we don’t listen
• Expanded listening through materials – which materials? Fluid, changeable,
play, apply, articulate on/through it. Clay, pastel, ink, marks on solid, soft to
carve, found, natural (peat), paint, print making – repetition, things on inside
and outside. Material as megaphone. (brush v pencil) Material also has a
voice, need to know how to work materials
• Making things buys participants time for consideration. Materials are part of
the conversation, materiality can add enhanced meaning. Attentive way of
being with, shared language. Materials have agency. A way of being with.
• Visual conversation. Shared memory/experience. Expect to see change in
vitality. Artful listening.
• Value of cross-disciplinary conversations.
Predominance of medical models difficult
in arts and humanities – who decides what
• Purpose of art work – (Pratap’s film lived
experience) presented to funder - creates
• Artwork (Sierra) – what does assent mean in context where social
conditions shape response ( eg poverty)
• Where do ethics diverge from aesthetic?
• Artist as anthropologist – a temporary role, how do usual ethics apply?
• Artistic research in cross disciplinary settings, a response that may not
conform to medical standards. Muddy. Artist can be a useful tool.
• Need to find the assent/dissent position.
• Artist doesn’t have to leap through ethical hoops – so what are safety nets
around arts research projects. Art often taken to produce well being – also
flip side, when can it be damaging?
• Distinction between medical and artistic ethics is valid – but more serious
work needed on artistic. AHRC to fund workshop?
• Long term projects, managing relationships when funding runs out and
artists goes home.
• Ethics and politics can clash. There isn’t a general
notion of ethics.
• Artistic freedom v ethical behaviour.
• If participants agree and can leave at any time then no
• In workshop, making an image of reality can be
• Tension when researching emergent art forms.
Independence in ability to make ethical considerations.
• Life span of a work – not token ethics, but as
emergent process throughout the life span. Can’t
delegate ethics to a piece of paper
• Research design in the arts. Ethics as
• What it means to be you/me can be different
if digital. Online can change relations and
ethics lightly or profoundly.
• Locus of responsibility is problematic. Sold-
on data v artistic use of data. Disruptive
technique – rather than build consensus
might be better to counter. Does technology
confer power in itself – make you feel
• People as materials, people might be not
want to use materials, the body is material,
• There is listening before event, power
inherent in listening, listening as a group v
individuals, time taken to work is important
• Can materials disrupt?
• Materials – depends on the people you re
working with, can be literate with materials or
not. More important to listen first. Materials
are expressive of what? Skills based.
Different in art therapy context and another
situation? Hierarchies of material in art world
eg place of narrative. Materials always
• Listening – what do we mean by this?
Relational, iterative, reflexive process
Tensions in the seminar around:
• comfort and discomfort, safety and
provocation – is this a case of doing no harm
versus doing good?
• exploitation – in whose interest particular
practices are being mounted
• terminology/discourse: othering, difference,
• Research v artistic freedom
• Discourse and power relations: listening and
having conversations: difficulty of language. There
is no outside of discourse. We are all implicated
• We didn’t talk a lot about knowledge - the ethics of
knowledge and ownership: who owns the
knowledge and FOR WHOM???????
• We talked about funding – but not in relation to
funding for your original contribution – this is often
not just yours but reliant on many others, How is
this ethically acknowledged – the myth of the sole
researcher and the lone artist.
• There are ethical issues when working with the
unsymathetic and corrupt – eg Joshua
Oppenheim, Renzo Martins – with an e (both
documentary film makers)
• We haven’t dealt with confidentiality and
anonymity which would always arise first in
research conversations – why not here, that’s
• When do you have to tell someone what you are
doing – how far do you have ot go to tell people
what you are doing?
• Is it possible to ask the ’right?’ questions???
• Different ethical responses in different places and
paths, need to acknowledge specificities.
• Ethics ‘protect’ you and your practice/research.
Need to work wisely and well.
• We make ethical decisions constantly –all the
time-what are those decisions? Some research
suggests that rapid decisions can be pragmatic
rather than principled. We need ot stop to see the
cumulative effects of small ethical decisions –
moments of critical reflection