Aesthetic Transgression as Public Legitimacy

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Artistic engagements with communities have theoretically been supported by reference to theories of participatory democracy and aspirations of empowerment (Kester 1995). Accordingly, Shelley Arnstein’s ’Ladder of Participation’ continues to provide a normative guideline for artistic community engagement in which the local citizens’ decision rights forms the ethical goal-standard (Bishop 2012). Within the field of art in public, community-oriented practices were launched as a ’new genre public art’ (Lacy 1994) or ’artin-the-public-interest’ (Raven 1993) to counter previous models of public art that, in comparison, were deemed undemocratic and self-serving of artistic autonomy (Kwon 2004). In other words, the public legitimacy of community practices have been argued to reside in the ethical standards of delegating decision power to the local participants.
This paper discusses a participatory public artwork in which the local participants were photographed for public display in intimate situations. They posed semi-nude, engaging in embraces and were in several other ways persuaded to perform outside of their comfort zone. However, my observations and interviews with the participants indicate that the transgressive experience of participating in the project forms part of its legitimacy for those that participated. A number of other issues also contributed to the project’s public legitimacy and as such ’aesthetic transgression’ did not in itself secure public legitimacy. However, it proves an interesting counter position to the ethical goal-standard in the ‘Ladder of Participation’. It indicates a need for a more nuanced understanding of the (aesthetic) experience of participatory art.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultures of Participation 2018 : Conference Abstracts
Number of pages1
Place of PublicationAarhus
PublisherAarhus Universitet
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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