A Figment of your Participation: New September Art Festival
On September 29, a New York-born art festival FIGMENT is going to sprout up in Yards Park, based around interactivity and participation. There is an open call for installations, performances/events, and activities/games now through August 15, it is free to submit, free to participate, free to attend.
“FIGMENT is about participation. Precisely because it requires interaction between the art, the artist, and the viewer, participatory art can be a vehicle for personal and social transformation. The passive viewer is made active, contributing to the creation, understanding and very definition of the art. These activities bring together artists and community members in ways that build relationships and encourage individual creativity. We believe visitors of all ages and backgrounds have something to offer, and invite them to participate in installation art, costuming, interactive performance, games, activities, workshops, and anything else the mind can envision .” (taken directly from the website)
FIGMENT is the weekend before the second (e)merge art fair, which will be October 4-7. While not exactly conceived in reaction to (e)merge like But Is It Art and other satellite festivals that popped up last year, FIGMENT’s structure opposes the more formal and commercial (e)merge. FIGMENT is predicated on eleven principles: Participation, Decommodification, Inclusion, Self-expression, Self-reliance, Giving, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Immediacy, and Gratitude. This list is going to be familiar to anyone versed in Burner ideology, with very slight wording changes and the addition of “gratitude” to the “Ten Principles” of Burning Man. Before finding the FIGMENT principles on the website, this festival smelled to me of Burners. There is emphasis on open-ended format over guiding subject or content, on expansive inclusion with a mission to produce real-life alternative social and political scenarios, however temporary.
Ours is one of six FIGMENT festivals happening this year, also in Jackson, MS, Detroit, New York City, Boston, and Pittsburgh. The first FIGMENT took place in 2007 on Governor’s Island, which had just been opened to the public in 2004. Since then, FIGMENT has rapidly expanded and developed, and seeks to continue to grow.
Interactive and participatory art works are often appealing to a wide audience because the act of participation itself is an entryway to understanding the piece, unlike some more disengaged and esoteric contemporary art that can be alienating. It’s something like the difference between looking at a picture of a peach and eating a peach; they are such different experiences that it’s hard to judge them on the same terms, yet given the two options which do you suppose would be more popular? In a public context, these kinds of works have the opportunity to be gateway-art, a non-threatening encounter that may encourage audiences to seek more, perhaps harder, art experiences.
Claire Bishop’s very recent Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship examines the history of participatory art and how we do, and don’t, talk about and judge these works. She opens the introduction with an apt quotation from artist Dan Graham, “All artists are alike. They dream of doing something that’s more social, more collaborative, and more real than art.” Because FIGMENT is operating on an open call, the quality of the work shown is contingent on the submissions received. I wonder if there are enough artists working in interactive forms in DC, familiar with this quietly-growing project, and willing to participate to make FIGMENT as successful in its inaugural year in DC as it was on Governor’s Island, which saw about five times the expected turn-out. I encourage anyone thinking about participatory or interactive art to use this as an opportunity to create new work and realize new projects.
(first posted on dcperformanceart.tumblr.com on 8/8/2012)
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