The ‘BMW Tate Live’ performance art piece that took place at 20.00 GMT yesterday evening was, for me at least, an intriguing experience. The performance, by Jérôme Bel, was staged in a ‘performance space’ sited in Tate Modern in London, but could only be viewed online, via the Tate’s ‘own’ YouTube channel. After what was billed as the main event, the artist/performer was interviewed by an art critic from The Times newspaper and then – after a short film was shown to ‘contextualise’ the performance – interviewed a second time in the company of two the Tate curators who’d been involved in setting this up. Tweets and questions appeared (and disappeared) live on YouTube sidebars that allowed those viewing the ‘show’ to ‘interact’ as part of this ‘event’. Some of these comments and questions were then put by the art critic to the performer and curators during the interviews. The rapidity with which these Tweets and posts appeared, combined with their unpredictable and highly diverse content and styles and the way they related to and fed back into what was going on, made all these different contributions integral parts of what was going on overall in and through this piece.
Long running and still ongoing debates and questions about the autonomy of art or its recuperation – although relevant – do not seem to be adequate to the task of analyzing and understanding a performance of this kind. It seems increasingly clear that there is something to be gained from letting go of this kind of polarizing and reductive approach to understanding not only various experimental contemporary art practices, but also contemporary publics and practices of social research too. Only by doing this and letting go of the idea that publics and forms of social science research and scholarship are pre-existing and/or autonomous entities, do a set of other ways of approaching public ‘engagement’ and the public ‘mediation’ of research and interdependencies between social research and various forms of publicness begin to open up.
Why not take publicness/publics and social research as always-already distributed activities that exist in relations of interdependency with one another? Does doing this make it more possible to analyse, collectively discuss and set up experiments to investigate the different forms of public support and infrastructure required to facilitate processes of critical and creative interaction and innovation between specific kinds of social research and forms of publicness?
Part of what the Creating Publics project is doing is to try and investigate these kinds of questions about how contemporary social science research summons and supports publics and forms of publicness. And, also experiment with how it might be possible to do this in other ways, now and in the future. By extension, it is also therefore looking at how 21st century publics and emerging forms of public infrastructure, might support not just the creation of publics but even the innovation of new and emerging forms of social research. The kinds of relational performances and emerging ‘creative’ modes of public mediation that are being tested out all over the place at the moment provide a backdrop for this kind of investigative process. However, they could also perhaps provide some of its impetus.