Theses Doctoral

Power Dynamics in Three Cases of Participatory Artworks

Kim, Jihyun

This research investigates how power dynamics function in three cases of participatory art, each created by a different artist. Participatory art (PA) is understood as art whose physical or visual properties are shaped or altered by the viewers’ engagement. The study responds to the fact that discourses on PA often refer to the emancipation of participants. Rooted in concepts from Foucauldian biopolitics, the research also assumes that PA inevitably involves a distribution of power among artists and participants, which often vacillates between cultivation and instrumentalization. Data for this qualitative, multi-case study were collected through interviews with the three artists and with three viewers of each studied work. The researcher’s memories of her participatory experiences in the studied artworks, captured in a journal, were also considered as data.

Detailed narrative findings illustrate how artists’ and viewers’ positions in relation to particular works are never detached from the art systems that frame them. Yet, these positions are not necessarily static and can shift in significant ways. Therefore, the balance between cultivation and instrumentalization can change from work to work, from participant to participant, and from situation to situation. The study shines a light on the potential of critical reflection, enacted once artists and viewers “step out” of the work, for realizing, questioning, and critiquing the conditions of participatory artworks. The researcher suggests that it is in such reflective spaces that awareness of one’s power within a work, and the emancipation that follows, are more likely to occur.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Hubard, Olga
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
November 3, 2021