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Curating Participatory Art as Means for Social Change by Suzana Milevska, Ph.D. in Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths College London, curator and theorist of visual culture

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After 15 years of researching in the topic, when discourse about participatory art just started,  Suzana Milevska with this lecture is sharing her experience and introduce a critical prism through which we can discuss our (or audience, or society’s) expectations from curating participatory art project. What does it means to curate participatory art? Is it an instrument for social change?  What are the promises and how do we measure the results of this projects. 


Some of the main questions:

-What kind of socio-political conditions and structures call for, allowing or prevent the participatory art projects in order to fulfill the given promises about social change? 

-Which p.project are capable of fulfilling such promises?

- How one can even hope to fulfill such promises to make social change through participatory art?

We face contradictions in practices, frustration during curating projects. Crucial contradictions of participatory art practicing and realisation of the project in the context of neoliberal cultural movements

The main Aim of the seminar is to unravel why and how the “Promise” of social changes fails, or is partly unfulfilled and becomes “infelicitous” performative speech acts in the neoliberal socio-political and economic context.

There is a big difference between the potentialities of participatory art practices and realization/fulfillment of their aims – Are they unsuccessful and belong to the junkyard of the infelicitous speech acts?  

Its important to stress that what one says and what one does it depends on the context and circumstances and subsequently the context can substantially affect the fulfillment of the promise ( (John A. Austin, How to Do Things With Words).  The context can substantially affect the fulfillment of the promise. And curators, artists that are invited and general context are not always in the same line. The participatory art project is still persistent to evaluation especially because artist’s curators and socio-political positions are sometimes in line but sometimes they can collide.

Part. Art project is based on some theoretical key terms: being with (Jean Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural), coexistence, co-essentiality, composability, recuperation, self-organization, community art and relational aesthetics vs. participatory art. This concept are based/dependent on commitment.

The commitment of the ”I DO” statement is conditional, we need to meet a certain condition in order for the project to be successful.

The idea of the aporia (irresolvable internal contradiction) of WE (Jean Luc Nancy) is not unified, and we need to be aware of the limitations of the WE and conditions under which this WE is formed. In curating participatory art this WE is always something fragile, not universal and not fixed. But there is also contradiction in this Nancys idea, because “being” always entail “with”.


The lecturer shares these dilemmas and criticize because she believes in participatory art, emphasising that we should not lose hope in the practice, but with one distinction that the expectations should not be for participatory art to take place of society vacuum, and do the job of the government institutions – promise for social change.  

The question whether it is possible to substantially change the society with art that is produced by the very same art institutions and structures that are created by that way???

So the main paradox comes from the promise of social change.

Main premise and warning:  general societal context and contradictions often lead to preventing the transformative potentials of participatory and activist art from being acted out and from having a concrete impact on the democratisation of society. Such art practices often are derailed and turn into completely opposite direction from their initial intention. The relevance of the role of the curator needs to be evaluated exactly in this terms (ethics, rightness...)

Institutional critique and participatory art (if such a position is possible at all):   Targets of the participatory art are hierarchy and hegemony, authority and centralisation, elitism and exclusion, autonomy, and they are still relevant and noble that’s why we should not give up of the potentialities but how to make them successful? Because on the other hand terms like inclusion, invitation, who invites who, organising, budgeting are concerns to be dealt with from the side of artists and curators. These are often complex relations and decisions, responsibilities. In the end, there are downfalls such as emergence of new hierarchies, patronising, exploitation of labour, uncredited authorship and “forgotten” credits.

In the third part of the session Suzana showcased some examples of art participatory practices:

Tadej Pogacar, World congress of sexual workers and New parasitism, 2001; Monapoly- human trade game, 2004; CODE: RED – Tirana

Tanja Ostojic, Looking for a husband with EU passport, 2001-2005; Integration project, 2003

Sasho Stanojkovic, To whom it may concern, 2005

Chto Delat, face to face with the monument, 2014

Alfred Ullrich, Lendfahrerplatz (Crazy water wheel) 2009 -2013

Tal Adler, Voluntary participation, 2014

Indicative for all of these projects is that they all take a long period of time and are more of processes than projects.


The aim of participatory art are discussions; to bring as many questions as possible and give platform to communities to answer. In curating participatory art projects we need to be very self-critical in order to be able to make participatory artwork, we need to be cautious, take responsibility and give credit (collective authorship). Participatory art projects, can’t be measured only by their success, we must not forget ethical principles (basic human principles).

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