Something else that Rodenbeck’s Radical Prototypes has provoked me to think more about is the way that certain kinds of participatory experiments can sometimes elicit a sense of affective and cognitive overload. This tactic was employed in many of the participatory experiments staged by Allan Kaprow and others who pioneered ‘happenings’ in the 1960’s. Rodenbeck shows how these artists – by drawing on and creatively recombining emerging vangardist modes of theatre, music and film as well as painterly practices – did this to generate a kind of critique of and pre-figure a kind of alternative to what they saw as being offered by the prevailing cultural, technological and political institutions and practices of the day.
The artistic contribution of ‘happenings’ – as a mode of participatory engagement – lies, at least in part, in the way they playfully (re)animate and immerse their viewers in, what Rodenbeck correctly sees as the fundamentally mediated, contingent and split forms of subjectivity that are produced and, in different ways, inhabited by people in industrialised (and post-industrialised) everyday life.
Another disjunction comes into view here: this time between, on the one hand, the commonplace idea that public engagement is about refining, communicating and thereby rendering accessible a clear and consistent message or designing effective formats and technologies of participation so as to allow segments of the public with different interests and aspirations to be targeted and engaged. And, on the other hand, the idea that public engagement might offer people the possibility of publicly re-enacting the experience of being pushed and pulled in different ways. Experiences that could also provide openings to engage, individually and collectively, with such everyday splitting processes, how they work, their ambiguous effects and what – if anything at all – can be done about them. This might well sound like a less ‘practical’ reading of what public engagement might potentially entail, but given the many difficulties of successfully realizing the more commonplace and rather more instrumental ideal, it is one I’m looking forward to continuing to consider as this project unfolds.