Lisa Bielawa — Participation

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Lisa Bielawa

Lisa Bielawa is a singer and composer whose work centers on community partnerships, artistic collaborations, and literary sources.

Although the etymological origin of the word participate is straightforward, with Latin roots pars (part) and capere (take)—to take part—it seems that the organic open-endedness of this verb has taken it through at least one other now archaic meaning, which is “to have or possess.” The example given in the Oxford English Dictionary is “both members participate of harmony,” which I find quite apt as a starting point for a meditation on what it means in current artistic practice to participate in a work of art. To what extent do those who engage with an artwork at any stage of its development “possess” something in the process or as a result of that encounter? If someone is taking “part,” does that mean that he or she is part of a whole? If so, what is that whole, and is it all contained in the artwork? Or does it exceed the artwork, including the results of its being in the world and among the people who encounter it?

Recent art discourse emphasizes the value of broadening and diversifying the act of “participation” in artistic encounters. Increased transparency of the artistic process can often provoke discussion of new ways for people to participate in funding, building, performing, influencing, or discussing the work; meanwhile its process of coming-to-be is documented, often online. The desire for increased transparency is often understood as part of a demystification of the artist, which is in turn part of a larger cultural movement that seeks to dismantle classic Western hierarchies between artist and receiver and between art and the world around it. Many artists believe that opportunities to “participate” in the process of art making can have a valuable effect on the society in which the artwork comes to be.

Consider, for instance, the large-scale collaborative projects of Christo and Jeanne-Claude in California, Paris, Berlin, and elsewhere. Christo rejects the notion that the meetings and permits and interactions with stakeholders are encumbrances to art-making; rather he insists that all these relationships are an integral part of the artistic process. We could in turn say that the large number of volunteers who come together to help build his various projects are “participating.” This reframing of what constitutes artistic process thus becomes an invitation to view many relational transactions as artistic participation.

Crowd-sourcing content is another increasingly popular form of enhanced participation in process. In 2006, when I was working on my piece Chance Encounter for performance in transient public spaces, I encouraged those who followed the project blog online to contribute dialogue that they had overheard in such settings. Many of these overheard snippets became part of the libretto of the piece. The use of social media in artistic process and documentation has become much more robust since 2006, and such systems of participation are often an integral part of an artist’s overall project design.

A new emphasis on participation in music is also beginning to overturn traditional notions of what “access” and “outreach” mean. Increasingly, arts-in-education programs (primarily those that are artist-driven) devise and curate new ways to engage students (of whatever age) to participate in the co-creation of what they hear. (Björk’s web-based composition apps for kids are a great example.)

The world of classical music presupposes two defined strata or poles of participation: some people (musicians) participate by playing or singing the music a composer has written, and others (listeners/audience) participate by hearing and receiving. Both of these classes of participants may be enriched by the thoughts and feelings resulting from their relation to the music performed. At the same time, musical instruments require training, and music itself is an entire language that requires serious study; hence polarities of artist and amateur, musician and listener, have been difficult to break down. This tension has stimulated a renaissance among contemporary composers (including myself) of “serious” artworks providing dedicated roles for students, amateurs, and unskilled or lay noisemakers. A great example is the Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino’s 1997 piece Cerchio tagliato dei suoni (Cutting the circle of sounds), incorporating one hundred amateur flutists. (The US premiere was in 2012, at the Guggenheim Museum, and the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA presented it in April 2015.) My own Airfield Broadcast compositions (2013) incorporate hundreds of student and amateur musicians who are prepared through a workshop process in which music is created expressly for them, at whatever level they can participate.

Other composers explore these tensions through more conceptual means. Some composers seek to reimagine their own relationship, through the musical work itself, to the musicians who play it. Others seek primarily to reimagine the relationship between the musical performance and its audience/listeners.

Most famously, John Cage invited us to reimagine both these relationships in his iconic 4'33" (1952), in which the traditional hierarchical roles within musical performance are laid bare precisely through maintaining the vessel (performer[s] with instruments, on a stage, with musical scores in front of them, and listeners poised to hear the performance) while removing its contents entirely. How are the various participants in this ritual “taking part”?

As sea changes in media delivery systems work their way into audience-performer relationships, we artists find ourselves making work that acknowledges ever-evolving means for audience participation. It is precisely at this node—in this case, at the intersection of episodic serial media and opera that my collaborators, director Charles Otte and librettist Erik Ehn, and I find ourselves in our work-in-progress, Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, which is the first-ever opera created expressly for episodic release via multi-platform media. Who and where is the audience for this work? Those invited “audience” members at the shoots themselves behold the ballet of Steadicam operators, myself and sometimes up to two others conducting (sometimes behind the camera, sometimes on camera), and singers who deliver their performances directly to the camera. Is their participation lesser, or greater, than that of those who view the finished edit? Or is the greatest participation perhaps enjoyed by those who spelunk through KCET’s rich editorial content, including a “Behind the Scenes” segment that has garnered one of the largest numbers of clicks? Is there really any “behind” to these scenes? Ways to participate multiply, and content leaps to fulfill this relationship.

In addition, the format of Vireo itself allows for extremely broad participation by a wide range of musical groups and performers, many of them young people, because each episode is a discrete shoot in an entirely different location. A thrifty cast of thousands, to satisfy the expansive artistic appetites of opera-lovers and binge-watchers alike. (In fact, one might call opera-goers the original binge-watchers.)

Finally, often prophetic in his welcoming stance toward always-greater audience access, John Zorn’s breadth of creative output ranges from sound-based improv through precisely notated orchestral works, and his works are at home on classical, rock, and jazz festival stages. His Cobra (1984), often described as one of the seminal “game pieces” of our time, requires hands-on personal instruction, using cards and gestures that determine ways for assembled musicians to participate in the creation and manipulation of sonic material. The work’s widespread popularity has unlocked a whole world of new ways for musicians at any level to participate in the creation of a musical performance, inspiring a generation to think more creatively about participation.


For Further Reference

Christo and Jeanne-Claude. www.christojeanneclaude.net.

Chance Encounter, 2007–. Composed by Lisa Bielawa; co-conceived by Bielawa and Susan Narucki. www.lisabielawa.net/chance-encounter and www.chance-encounter.org.

Airfield Broadcasts, 2013 (Tempelhof Broadcast in Berlin; Crissy Broadcast in San Francisco). Composed by Lisa Bielawa. www.airfieldbroadcasts.org.

Björk, Biophilia and residency at the New York Hall of Science, with workshops for children.

Silvestro Sciarrino, Cerchio tagliato dei suoni (Cutting the circle of sounds), 1997.

Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, a project of Grand Central Art Center, CSUF, and KCET. Composed by Lisa Bielawa; libretto by Erik Ehn; directed by Charles Otte, featuring 16-year-old soprano Rowen Sabala. www.operavireo.org.

John Cage, 4'33", 1952.

John Zorn, Cobra, 1984.

See Also

Ephemerality — Lisa Bielawa

Experience Economy — Ralph Rugoff

Improvisation — Ralph Lemon

Lisa Bielawa, Crissy Broadcast (part of Airfield Broadcasts), San Francisco, 2013. Photo: James Block.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo, Italy, 2014–16. From the evening of June 15 to the evening of June 17, teams unfurl 100,000 square meters of shimmering dahlia-yellow fabric on the piers and pedestrian streets in Sulzano and Peschiera Maraglio. Photo: Wolfgang Volz. © 2016 Christo.

John Cage, two pages from 4'33" (original version, in proportional notation), 1952/1953. Ink on paper, 11 x 8 1/2" each sheet. Acquired by The Museum of Modern Art through the generosity of Henry Kravis in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. © 1993 Henmar Press Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission of C. F. Peters Corporation. Photo © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

Lisa Bielawa, Chance Encounter, premiered 2007. Co-conceived with Susan Narucki. Photo: Corey Brennan, 2010, Rome.

Paul Chan, Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, 2007. Photo: Frank Aymami. Courtesy of Creative Time.

Andrea Fraser, Projection, 2008. Still from a 2-channel HD video projection installation. © Andrea Fraser. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nagel Draxler.

David Levine, Bystanders, 2015. Installation view, Gallery TPW, Toronto. Performer: William Ellis. Photo: Guntar Kravis.

VALIE EXPORT, TAPP und TASTKINO (Tap and touch cinema), 1968. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Bildrecht, Vienna. Photo © Werner Schulz.

My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Broke People’s Baroque Peoples’ Theater, 2010. Courtesy of Alexandro Segade.

Richard Maxwell, Neutral Hero, 2012. The Kitchen, New York. From left: Janet Coleman, Bob Feldman, Lakpa Bhutia, Andie Springer, Jean Ann Garrish. Photo © Paula Court.

Miguel Gutierrez and Tarek Halaby in Gutierrez's Last Meadow, 2009. Dance Theater Workshop, New York, September 2009. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Mac Wellman, Muazzez, 2014. Performer: Steve Mellor. Chocolate Factory Theater, Queens, New York (a co-presentation with PS 122). Photo: Brian Rogers.

Janine Antoni, Yours Truly, 2010. Ink on paper, 5 7/8 x 8 1/2”. © Janine Antoni. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Yvonne Rainer, score for “Trio B: Running,” from The Mind Is a Muscle, 1966–68. Graphite and ink on paper, 8 5/16 x 7 5/16". The Getty Research Institute. © Yvonne Rainer.

Susan Leigh Foster, The Ballerina’s Phallic Pointe, 2011, a performed lecture in the series Susan Foster! Susan Foster! Three Performed Lectures, produced by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and performed at the Philadelphia Live Arts Studio, 2011. Photo: Jorge Cousineau.

Opening performance of the exhibition “Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2008. Brown improvises movements across a large piece of paper on the Medtronic Gallery floor, holding charcoal and pastel between her fingers and toes, drawing extemporarily. Photo: Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Allora & Calzadilla, Sediments Sentiments (Figures of Speech), 2007. Mixed-media installation with live performance and pre-recorded sound track, dimensions variable. © Allora & Calzadilla. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Martha Rosler, Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Lucinda Childs, Pastime (1963), 2012, performed by Childs at Danspace as part of Platform 2012: "Judson Now." Photo © Ian Douglas.

Siobhan Davies and Helka Kaski, Manual, 2013. Photo © Alan Dimmick. Courtesy of Glasgow Life.

“Performance Now,” curated by RoseLee Goldberg. Installation view, Kraków Theatrical Reminiscences, Poland, 2014. Photo: Michal Ramus. Courtesy of Independent Curators International (ICI).

Steve Paxton, Intravenous Lecture (1970), 2012. Performed by Stephen Petronio with Nicholas Sciscione. Part of Platform 2012: “Judson Now,” curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Installation view, “Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham—Robert Raschenberg,” curated by Darsie Alexander at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2011. Photo: Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Chief Dalcour and the Serenity Peace Birds in “Public Practice: An Anti-Violence Community Ceremony,” curated by Delaney Martin and Claire Tancons for New Orleans Airlift, October 25, 2014. Photo: Josh Brasted.

Ain Gordon and David Gordon, The Family Business, premiered 1993. Performers: David Gordon, Ain Gordon, Valda Setterfield. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein. Courtesy of the photographer and Pick Up Performance Co(s).

Hotel Modern, Kamp, 2005. Photo: Herman Helle.

Janine Antoni, Anna Halprin, and Stephen Petronio, Rope Dance, 2015. Photo © Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of the artists and The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia.

Sarah Michelson, Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer, 2012 Whitney Biennial, February 26, 2012. Photo © Paula Court. Performers: Eleanor Hullihan and Nicole Mannarino.

Ralph Lemon, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?, 2009. Archival print from original film. © Ralph Lemon.

Pope.L, The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street (Whitney version), 2001. © Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photo: Lydia Grey.

Iannis Xenakis, Terretektorh, Distribution of Musicians, 1965. Collection famille Xenakis. Courtesy of the Iannis Xenakis Archives. © Iannis Xenakis.

Lisa Bielawa, Chance Encounter, premiered 2007. Co-conceived with Susan Narucki. Photo: Corey Brennan, 2010, Rome.

Claudia La Rocco, 173-177 [or, Facebook Is Inescapable], 2013. Headlands Center for the Arts. Courtesy of José Carlos Teixeira.

Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal, Palermo, Palermo, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1991. Photo: Maarten Vanden Abeele.

Tomás Saraceno, Observatory, Air-Port-City, 2008. In “Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture,” curated by Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery, London. Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York.

Christian Marclay, Chalkboard, 2010, paint and chalk, 210 x 1,045 inches. Installation view, “Christian Marclay: Festival,” 2010, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Collection of the artist; courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Christian Marclay.

Steven Schick at the “Peacock” in the Paul Dresher Ensemble Production of Schick Machine, 2009, by Paul Dresher, Steven Schick, and Rinde Eckert. Mondavi Center, UC Davis, Davis, CA. Photo: Cheung Chi Wai.

Ralph Lemon in An All Day Event: The End, part of Platform 2012: “Parallels.” Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Installation view, “Allison Smith: Rudiments of Fife & Drum,” The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT. Photo: Chad Kleitsch. Courtesy of The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

David Levine, Habit, 2012. Installation view, Luminato Festival, Toronto, 2011. Photo: David Levine.

Meredith Monk, Shards (1969–73), 2012. Part of Platform 2012: “Judson Now,” curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Berlin, Bonanza, 2006. A documentary project focusing on Bonanza, Colorado, population 7. © Berlin. berlinberlin.be.

Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good), 2007. Photo © David Baltzer / bildbuehne.de / Agentur Zenit Berlin.

Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, Hole in Space, 1980. On screens in front of Lincoln Center and The Broadway department store in Los Angeles, passersby could see and talk to their counterparts on the opposite coast, and many “reunions” were quickly set up, in this early example of video conferencing. Courtesy of the Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway Archives.

Hans Haacke, News, 1969/2005. Installation view, “State of the Union,” Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 2005. © Hans Haacke / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Pauline Oliveros, circa 1967. Courtesy of the CCM Archive, Mills College, Oakland, CA.

The Builders Association, Elements of Oz, 2015. Photo: Gennadi Novash. Courtesy of Peak Performances @ Montclair State University.

Ain Gordon, A Disaster Begins, 2009. Veanne Cox. Here Arts Center, New York. Photo: Jason Gardner. Courtesy of the photographer and Pick Up Performance Co(s).

The Wooster Group, BRACE UP!, 1991. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte. Anna Köhler (on monitor) and Willem Dafoe. Photo © Mary Gearhart.

Joanna Haigood and Charles Trapolin, The Monkey and the Devil, performance installation, 2011. Performers: Matthew Wickett, Sean Grimm, Jodi Lomask. Photo: Walter Kitundu.

Jarbas Lopes, Demolition Now, in “SPRING,” curated by Claire Tancons for the 7th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, 2008. Photo: Akiko Ota.

Lisa Bielawa, Crissy Broadcast (part of Airfield Broadcasts), San Francisco, 2013. Photo: James Block.

Erwin Wurm, One Minute Sculpture, 1997/2005. © Erwin Wurm. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981. Photo: Peter Hujar. The Peter Hujar Archive. Courtesy of Pace MacGill and Fraenkel Galleries.

Wu Tsang with Alexandro Segade, Mishima in Mexico, 2012. Color HD video, 14:32 minutes. Courtesy of the artists, Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Benevento (Los Angeles), and Isabella Bortolozzi (Berlin).

Young Jean Lee, Untitled Feminist Show, 2012. Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, 2012. Hilary Clark, Regina Rocke, and Katy Pyle. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

Romeo Castellucci, On the Concept of the Face Regarding the Son of God, 2010. Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, 2013. Photo: Kevin Monko.

Jérôme Bel, Le dernier spectacle (The last performance), 1998. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos.

Troubleyn / Jan Fabre, Mount Olympus, 2015. Performance lasts 24 hours. Photo © Wonge Bergmann for Troubleyn / Jan Fabre.

Siobhan Davies Studios, Roof Studio, London. Photo: Peter Cook.

Emily Roysdon, Sense and Sense (a project with MPA), Sergels torg, Stockholm, Sweden, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

David Lang’s home studio. Photo © Jorge Colombo.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1964 (replica of 1913 original). Wheel and painted wood. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of the Galleria Schwarz d’Arte, Milan, 1964. © Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2016.

Historical interpreters from Freetown Living History Museum, as part of Allison Smith’s 2008 project The Donkey, The Jackass, and The Mule, with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo: Allison Smith and Michelle Pemberton.

Rimini Protokoll, Situation Rooms, 2013. Photo © Ruhrtriennale / Jörg Baumann.

Jeanine Oleson and Ellen Lesperance, We Like New York and New York Likes Us, 2004. A “wry look back” at Joseph Beuys’s performance with a coyote, I Like America and America Likes Me, René Block Gallery, New York, 1974. Courtesy of the artists.

Christine Hill, Volksboutique Organizational Ventures, 2001. Mixed-media installation, Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Germany. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989. Performance. Performance documentation: Kelly & Massa Photography. Courtesy of the artist. © Andrea Fraser.

Theaster Gates, Dorchester Projects, Chicago, 2012. © Theaster Gates. Photo © Sara Pooley. Courtesy of White Cube.

John Cage, two pages from 4'33" (original version, in proportional notation), 1952/1953. Ink on paper, 11 x 8 1/2" each sheet. Acquired by The Museum of Modern Art through the generosity of Henry Kravis in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. © 1993 Henmar Press Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission of C. F. Peters Corporation. Photo © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

Yoko Ono, Painting For The Wind, summer 1961. First published in Yoko Ono: Grapefruit (Tokyo: Wunternaum Press, July 4, 1964). © Yoko Ono.

Rosemary Lee, Square Dances, 2011, commissioned by Dance Umbrella. Square Dances took place in four central London squares throughout a day, with different casts in each: 10 children in Woburn Square, 100 women in Gordon Square, 35 men in Brunswick Gardens, 25 dance students in Queen Square. Each performance involved bells, ranging from a huge church bell that struck every minute; to a handmade musical instrument using bells within its barrel structure, created and composed by Terry Mann; to tiny hand bells for the dancers. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

Joanna Haigood and Wayne Campbell, Ghost Architecture, 2004. An aerial dance installation centering on the architectural and social history of the site. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Ann Hamilton, the event of a thread, 2012–13. Park Avenue Armory, New York. Curated by Kristy Edmunds. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Robert Wilson and Marina Abramović, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, premiered 2011. Park Avenue Armory, New York, 2013. Foreground: Willem Dafoe. Photo: Joan Marcus. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Richard Maxwell, Neutral Hero, 2012. The Kitchen, New York. From left: Janet Coleman, Bob Feldman, Lakpa Bhutia, Andie Springer, Jean Ann Garrish. Photo © Paula Court.

Ann Liv Young, The Bagwell in Me, 2008. Photo: Scott Newman, Revel in New York.

Xavier Le Roy, “Retrospective,” 2012–. Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 2012. Photo: Lluís Bover. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies.

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981. Photo: Peter Hujar. The Peter Hujar Archive. Courtesy of Pace MacGill and Fraenkel Galleries.

David Levine, Habit, 2012. Installation view, Luminato Festival, Toronto, 2011. Photo: David Levine.

Rimini Protokoll, 100% Yogyakarta, 2015. Teater Garasi, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia. © Goethe-Institut Indonesien / KDIP Viscom.

Bebe Miller Company, A History, 2012. Angie Hauser and Darrell Jones. Photo: Michael Mazzola.