With such complexity, it is therefore perhaps impossible to cohesively and comprehensively know the whole system, especially if that system seems to flow smoothly. Often, we don’t even notice there is a system: we rarely think of the infrastructure of an underground transport system when trains run on time and we arrive at our chosen stations. ‘Good working infrastructure is transparent to use.’(3) What we do notice, however, is when there are gaps in that infrastructure – when trains are too crowded, or where one carriage doesn’t quite match up with a station’s platform, or where things don’t quite run on time. We notice when accidents occur. The following explores those ‘accidents’ of a participatory art system.
In the process of doing the residency, I found it incredibly difficult to verbalise the accidents and failures of the project. As Donald Schon suggests (paraphrased by Moon): ‘Professionals are not necessarily able to describe the basis on which they act. [P]rofessional development is to make this “knowing-in-action” explicit so that it can be the subject of further reflection and conscious development.’(4) In this regard, this text is an attempt to understand those ‘accidents’ and make explicit my ‘knowing’ to aid professional development – both for myself but also for the field as a whole. It takes the form of a ‘practitioner’s critical reflection’(5) and sees my particular experience as a microcosm of the practice in general, allowing us – as a loose affiliation of those engaged in this type of work – to take stock of how we’re working with people, why we choose this way of working, and to what end. The aim is not to be unduly critical or lay blame on specific people, but rather to encourage the field as a whole to reflect on the various ethical pitfalls that can occur when participatory projects are insufficiently planned. It is relevant to the fields of cultural policy (i.e. government/organisations), cultural management (i.e. arts organisations/institutions) and cultural production (i.e. artists/communities) as it concerns the infrastructure that ties those fields together; the places where these notions meet and merge.
3 – Neumann, L.J. and S.L. Star (1996). ‘Making Infrastructure: The Dream of A Common Language’. In PDC’96 Proceedings of the Participatory Design Conference. J. Blomberg, F. Kensing and E.A. Dykstra-Erickson (eds.). Cambridge, MA, 13-15 November, pp. 231-240. (p. 231).
4 – As paraphrased by Moon, J. (2000). Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.
5 – Ibid.