Thanks to a rich conversation with artistic researcher Julien Thomas this morning I found this video of Olafur Eliasson at TED in 2009. In this presentation he talks about the responsibility of a person in a physical space, and discusses how his art elicits a reaction beyond simply gazing at a scene. It address one of the fundamental problems in our society for me: that of the distinction between participation and consumption. So much that happens in physical spaces and in our day to day lives has been geared towards gazing and consuming and away from participation and responsibility.
It comes to the point where even in politics we tune in to watch the leader’s debate and then watch people talking about what they just saw and how it changes the other thing we watch: the polls. polls are rendered in ever more aesthetically interesting ways, as infographics, or real time, almost living blobs. But what happens to us as citizens? We are more and more lulled into consuming and observing, and so our policy makers taylor dialogue to where we are; in our living rooms, sitting, listening.
We have all-cadidates meeting in which the same kinds of things happen. We show up at the theatre, take our seats and listen. There are no All-Citizens meetings, where we the people discuss the responsibility we have to choose candidates and policies that will help us live well in our communities. We are told to consume, and then told to participate once, for a second, to tick a box. Then we go back to consuming, for we don;t by and large participate in Parliamentary committees, submit evidence at hearings, respond to policy discussion papers or convene gatherings to explore new ideas for the policy sphere.
Eliasson’s art reminds us that we not only participate in our world but that we have a responsibility to participate in our world. It has implications for democracy, economy and the way we design and implement conversations to make meaning and decisions around the complex questions of our time. We can choose to sit back and consume, or we can be moved by our environment and disrupt it in ways that elicit more participation and action. At the very least, we can be conscious of the choice.