Critical Tactics in Participatory Art
Participatory art (also called socially engaged art or community-based art) uses artistic tactics to work towards the creation of participation within a community. As a theatre practitioner and researcher, I have worked with prison theatre projects, both in prison and especially outside with formally incarcerated people on probation and/or in post-release. This experience made me question the critical role that we—artists, artist educators, and workshop facilitators—play when embarking on these journeys. How do we position ourselves in the group work? How does the dynamic between us and them function? Does this binary division actually exist? And how do we evaluate our work in terms of benefits for the specific group of people we engage with?
By reflecting on my personal artistic and research experience in Italy, I highlight some criticalities of participatory art and suggest some practice-based reflections on the possibility of contributing to building empowering tools through the use of critical tactics. Critical because they incorporate the needs and specificities of the accompanying artistic tasks; yet, at the same time, daring to question and problematise the very field in which they operate. In doing so, critical tactics can represent a radical perspective on participatory art, fostering the encompassing of theories, reflections, and experiences that do not come directly from the field of art but can enrich it nonetheless. I refer to these tactics as the three A’s: accessibility, to look into how we can make participatory art projects accessible and open to everyone; agency, to highlight the need for ownership from the participants’ point-of-view; and articulation, to insist on the need for co-creation to avoid falling into the trap of representation.
Keywords: Participatory art; critical tactics; artist educator; prison theatre; accessibility; agency; articulation.