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Representation and power: a critical reflection.

Douglas, Anne


Anne Douglas


The thematic area - Power and Representation emerged in our discussions with Suzanne Lacy as an issue that framed tensions within the Oakland projects' specifically, as well having relevance beyond Oakland. These tensions included the artist's role in relation to that of participants as well as the relationship of the artist and participants to hierarchies of value when the work became part of institutional frameworks such as a gallery exhibition. Seminar 2 was an opportunity to explore these issues from two perspectives - that of the artist (Suzanne) and that of the gallery director (Tom Trevor as director of Arnolfini with contributions from Francis McKee, as director of CCA, Glasgow). Authority can be viewed as a relationship between those who lead and those who invest in or concede the leadership of others in recognition of their expertise or organisational position. At one point in the discussion it was noted that we tended to associate power as object, as something to accept or reject rather than a process we actively engage in constructing and developing. In this alternative reading, power can be the energy to negotiate authority in different ways and through different forms, energy channelled through different kinds of conduits. The recent curatorial work of Tom at the Arnolfini (such as Recording Iraq April 2007 ) and Suzanne within the Oakland projects (in particular Expectations 1997 , the project at the heart of Seminar 2) reveal a shifting pattern of authority. In writing this reflection I felt the need to go back to first principles and to look at Kaprow's thinking in the 70s at the point in time when he offered a significant and articulate challenge to institutionalised forms of authority in art through the notion of the unartist. Kaprow defined the artist's emergence in public as a source of new energy (and power) in culture that mitigated against the entropy of the establishment. Tom Trevor and Francis McKee acknowledged this entropy within their own experiences of directing galleries and were actively seeking ways of radicalising their respective organisations. Throughout our discussions in Seminar 2, I had a strong feeling that we were somehow successfully bringing art as experience to the foreground of the discussion (rather than focusing on the different agendas that drive opportunities for art to happen). The tendency in public art is to seek justification in relation to economic, political or social remits. While understanding the relationship of public art to these remits is crucially important, it is also important to remind ourselves of what art 'is' in a specific sense. In part this foregrounding occurred in a very 'artlike' way. None of the key contributors were quite where the conventional discourse would have placed them. Suzanne was insistent on her right as an artist to work in galleries if she so chooses. (Many would view social engagement and gallery practice as mutually exclusive.) Tom equally insisted on the possibility of opening up the institution of the gallery as a social space of shared and dynamic meaning making. Francis valued the unique opportunity he had been given at CCA's point of collapse to redefine the gallery as a project space rather than an exhibition space, to explore and conceptualise the artist in a networked, digital, open source world. So our key players framed degrees of uncertainty that kept us thinking.


DOUGLAS, A. 2007. Representation and power: a critical reflection. In Proceedings of the 2nd Working in public seminar: representation and power, 22-23 May 2007, Glasgow, UK [online]. Available from

Presentation Conference Type Other
Conference Name 2nd Working in public seminar
Conference Location Glasgow, UK
Start Date May 22, 2007
End Date May 23, 2007
Deposit Date Aug 25, 2009
Publicly Available Date Aug 25, 2009
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