Curation of autonomy : participatory art's potential to enunciate alternative social forms

Kontopoulou, Anna Alkistis (2016) Curation of autonomy : participatory art's potential to enunciate alternative social forms. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis provides a dialectical conception of relational aesthetics, the state of art given definition by Nicolas Bourriaud’s text Relational Aesthetics (2002), by focusing on the ‘value form of participation’ and the ways in which this gets subsumed into capitalist circuits, to fit its purpose within ‘culture’. One of the original contributions of this research project within the field of political art, or art that aims to be political, is its in-depth critique of relational art’s political economy from the perspective of an engaged practice. The thesis also provides insights into the role of the curator as the interlocutor of this exchange. As part of this analysis I examine the changes in the formal character of this relation of domination, by analysing the ways in which the classic opposition between autonomous art and the culture industry has mutated today. The thesis supplements its Marxist analysis with Jacques Lacan’s theories of discourse to examine the particularities of how art practices are subsumed into University discourse, and in order to further analyse how artistsstudents’ struggle with subjection to the value form is determined by the capitalist economy. By combining the Marxist and Lacanian perspectives I conceptualise the artist-student as the subject or social embodiment of surplus value and surplus jouissance. My research interest is guided by my own position as a ‘transversal’ practitioner and by my desire to ‘curate’ a relative kind of autonomy that manages to de-link the symbolic from value and re-distribute the surplus of participation back to social movements and the communities that support them. The thesis thus is also informed by my commitment to organising educational and curatorial initiatives that imagine a dialogue between organising and art, as guided by practices of political or militant listening processes exemplified, for example, by the political aesthetic collaboration Ultra-Red, found in the fields of grassroots organising and specific forms of political education, as discussed by Paulo Freire. Hence another contribution to the field of social practice art is my concern as a researcher-practitioner to press current discourse on relational art further, from a critique of contradictory social processes to an embodying of critical agencies.

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