European Commission - 7th Framework Programme European Museums and Libraries in/of the age of migrations last updated: February 2015

Symposium: Whose Participation? Spaces of Interaction in Contemporary Art and Architecture

16 - 17 December 2011

Zurich, Switzerland | Cabaret Voltaire


In the wake of the revolutionary unrest of the late 1960s, the idea of participatory art and architecture has lost its utopian connotations to become a complex debate about the active role of the spectator—and dweller—in space. Models critical of technocratic social planning have seen in interactive art and architecture the latest mode of authoritarian control (Foucault, Bourdieu); others, taking their cue from reuse and reorientation of spaces and artifacts, have seen in cooperative or ‘relational’ aesthetics the only viable politics in an era of global capitalism (de Certeau, Bourriaud). The nerve of the debate lies in the equation of sociality and space. The first camp sees social life as strongly determined or produced by space, while the second sees spaces as malleable, adaptable, fundamentally produced by social actors. It is this causal nexus between space and social life that, above all, we wish to draw attention to and put into question.

Concretely, the question might be addressed by reconsidering the traditional relations posited between producer, object, and addressee. Is power exerted in only one direction or could we describe these relationships as complex networks of interaction? Is space formed once and for all, or is it the changeable product of changeable patterns of use? Is the aesthetic always equivalent to the political, or might an aesthetically authoritarian space be conducive to social emancipation? How does the mediatization of urban space challenge concepts of participation and audience? We seek to question one-sided models, which presume perfectly passive or perfectly autonomous participants. This should, in turn, lead to more plausible accounts of the relationship between space, object and democracy.


Organizer: Chair Prof. Ursprung


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