State Craft: Participatory Arts and Conflict, Beyond the Administered World.

The aim of this practice-led PhD research project is to explore the role of conflict in participatory artworks carried out in a policy-related context. The key question is – how is conflict important for socially engaged practice?

I configure the research around three key themes that are posed below with additional research questions:

  • Physicality: How can physicality be used a “generative metaphor” for critique?

  • Role of the Artist: What is the role of the artist within participatory practices, and how can he/she create and/or encourage agency within the participants?

  • Policy: As the main ‘producer’ of participatory art projects, how can conflict impact (and be impacted by) cultural policy?

This research works on the hypothesis that conflict can reveal a plurality of voices, engender debate, add to public knowledge, entrench alliances, and be the tool by which groups and individuals navigate their interrelationships. It is this tension between the positive attributes of conflict and its absence within policy that lies at the core of my research.

I collaborate with policy makers/implementers (i.e. local authorities) to develop projects that will allow me to examine the central themes of my research:

  • Physicality: Within my discursive text and within my practice, I would like to exploring how participatory projects that involve a heightened notion of physicality (such as Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, 1971) can induce an alternative language of critique to other less-successful forms of didactic and pedagogic attempts at criticality.

  • The Role of The Artist: Artists such as Autur Zmejewski and Christoph Schlingensief problematize participatory projects by complicating the role of the artist within the production of work – Is the work for certain people? By certain people? With certain people? Does the artist create more agency for participants or less? And how is the work framed within an “art institution?”

  • Policy: As local authorities fund more socially engaged projects they increasingly become “producers” of art projects with specific outcomes in order to justify their funding. As such, there is a specific remit that limits the outreach/participatory projects to those specific outcomes, creating a feedback loop that does not allow for criticality. By basing myself within council settings and policy-implementers (i.e., Local Authority run galleries & museums) I explore how conflict can intervene into these loops and offer criticality.

To develop this unique research, I will work on residency-like situations with local authorities to create original works of different scales/intentions that explore the interface between policy and conflict.I will primarily employ a strategy of “Participation Action” both with policy makers/implementers as well as communities, reinforced with feedback and interviews pre- and post- each project. A key text here is Sophie Hope’s Participating in the Wrong Way which will keep these methodologies relevant to the subject area.

Further information on this research can be found at: