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An Ethics of Engagement: Collaborative Art Practices and the Return of the Ethnographer

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In the last decade or so we have seen a series of incremental shifts from object-based to context-based art practices and, more recently, to artworks that primarily utilise forms of collaboration and participation - or, so-called socially engaged artworks. A significant factor in the latter practices has been the emergence of the artist as a quasi- or pseudo-ethnographer. Such developments, whilst not necessarily new, have nonetheless further problematised critical reaction to collaborative practices, involving as they do a series of ethical quandaries when it comes to considering how communities are co-opted, represented and, in some instances, exploited in the name of making art. The overall discussion will suggest that the aesthetics involved in the expanded field of pseudo-ethnographic collaborative art practices cannot be divorced from ethics, nor can they necessarily be resolved in relation to ethics. In more specific terms, the article will outline the critical debates thus far and suggest that we have to rethink the potential to be had in developing an ethics of engagement in relation to collaborative art practices and the return of the pseudo-ethnographer.

Keywords: Collaboration; Mikhail Bakhtin; Olaf Breuning; Renzo Martens; aesthetics; engagement; ethics; ethnography; participation; praxis

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-09-01

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