A Damn Tricky Balance: Aesthetics and Ethics (part 1)
Obviously, the main point that Bishop was trying to make was that in recent collaborative/communal art and intervention, aesthetics are often sacrificed in the name of the ethical, as if the two couldn't exist together. It seems she is arguing that in the effort to democratize and with the value placed on wide participation and consideration of all participants, the finished products are watered down aesthetically. Somehow there are potential layers of meaning and import stripped away. I can certainly see where this is often the case. Since ideas of the artist as genius have fallen out of fashion (not that I think we should return to them), it seems that some artists downplay their unique aesthetic impulses and intellects in some strange attempt to apologize for them. It seems that when making "socially engaged" art, especially when it involves participants/collaborators with no real experience or understanding of the art world, paws are velveted and there is a conscious attempt to not make anything too weird or to make sure there is no potential to offend any person or group. While this may result in smoother collaborations and a steadier guarantee for funding, does it also result in weaker art? Damn, this is tricky for me.
I like the example of "The Battle of Orgreave" by Deller, a piece I remember from a past class. In the end, this 2001 "re-enactment" was epic, complex, and may have even pointed to more of a gray area in group behaviors than the original event did. In this piece, Deller can be seen commenting on a number of issues including the role of historical re-enactment societies in shaping public memory and on issues of authorial control. Since many of the original "participants" were still alive at the time of the artwork, Deller incorporated several of them into the piece, often playing on opposite sides compared to the original skirmish (miners as policemen and police as miners). All this was allowed to play out as a sort of controlled chaos where I'm quite sure many of the participants were not privy to all of the aesthetic issues being discussed or to the "true" vision of the artist and his controlling partners. And yet, if I remember correctly, the overall response to this event was positive; possibly this was helped by the presences of beer tents set up for use by the participants. Deller's piece hovered in a strange place between an authored work and a collective one. The fact that he allowed that ambiguity as well as others that his piece brought up seems to stand in contrast to the kind of work that Bishop is referring to. Does socially engaged art have to be democratic? I don't believe so. I don't think it is unethical to use a body of people to execute personal ideas and aesthetics as long as they are willing to do so. And this is even if they don't fully understand the intricacies of those personal interests. I don't see what Deller did as some kind of trickery to get a bunch of people to execute one of his ideas.
I feel like I'm rambling and I still haven't gotten to the second part of the question, so I will continue this in a bit...