ESR 3 Blog July 2021: Maria Mkrtycheva

To me the highlight of July was the three-day workshop “Decoding Social Spaces” led by artist Christoph Schäfer; and I still continue to reflect on it.

While Christoph shared with us his methodology and tools and offered us a space in a hybrid artist-audience relationship, I was wondering: what is actually my reason for taking part in it?

I remembered a video in which artist Thomas Hirshhorn was hanging out at his Gramsci Monument together with the Bronx locals. People seemed happy, and one guy said to the camera: “This is the man! He is doing so much for the community!”. Unexpectedly, Thomas replied: “No, I don’t do something for the community, I do something for art and for understanding of art, this is my goal”[1].

In socially engaged art the role of the people – both the immediate participants and those who might become affected by the work indirectly and later in time – seems crucial as it is the driving force of the artistic project. But another crucial thing is not only what role people are offered but also with what roles – or goals and identities – they enter the project.

During the workshop I felt a little like this guy from the Bronx: happy but confused. The tasks seemed clear and fun but the sense of mission was missing. I was waiting for a moment in time when the artist would share not just the tools but the goals and would invite us to become a part of the bigger picture. When it did not happen, the level of frustration went up: I was not in the picture and I didn’t have my own picture.

In the same video another participant of Hirschhorn’s work says: “Thomas wanted me to translate Gramsci’s’ ‘Prison notes’ to Spanish, so I just put my retirement to the side and just began working with his art. And here I am today, two months later, enjoying myself every day and I feel a lot better.”[2].

Unfortunately, he did not define “a lot better”, but this is exactly how we all felt on the third day of the workshop (and I will take courage to say that Christoph seemed to share this feeling) on the third day of the workshop. It was a relief that the puzzle finally came together, and you could now see the whole thing, and define your role in relation to others.

To me this workshop was extremely valuable as it highlighted the importance of mediating the overall goals as well as of giving room to the participants to define their own goals and reasons for participation, even if their reason ends up being “to work on someone’s art”.

I will investigate this further in my research, but I guess that one of the issues that accessibility depends on is the lack of space for the audience so that they can search, develop and express their own personal interests in participation.


[2] Ibid.

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