Media 4 | Gaudenzi, S: Discussing Participation

What does participation mean to me? How am I going to incorporate it into my project? How much autonomy will the participants have? How much is them, how much is me making meaning out of the material I have?

The readings on participation, especially Sandra Gaudenzi’s ‘Strategies of Participation’, encourages me to question the audiences participation more than the subjects. From the start of this process, I knew it would be more practical (with the time restraints) to document a group of people who were passionate and upbeat about something. Rather than waiting for me to find something I was really passionate about, and trying to find people to discuss that on camera. Don’t misunderstand, I love markets and love taking to people from all walks of life, but collecting miscellaneous items doesn’t turn me on. Antiques and Edison grammerphones don’t make me want to shout out from the rooftops. But, watching an old timer light up when he talks about his favourite item in the stall being an Edison grammar phone that he found at an auction, that’s pretty awesome. So straight away, I’m engaging in a participatory approach because from the start of the preparation, I have been trying to uncover what each participant is most passionate about and I can determine that when I speak to them before I conduct the on camera interview. I can see when their eyes light up, when they smile, when they get excited. And it wasn’t talking about what I initially thought we would be talking about. I was interested in back story, their family life, their experiences which brough them here. But after some discussions in the weeks leading up to the first shoot day, I realised that idea wasn’t making for the most riveting conversation. What was engaging was when they started talking about the items they were selling and their relationship to the objects on their stalls. So this has (for the most part) become the essence of the series of portraits I have assembled for each participant.

I discovered, as I was getting to know the players, that they are less self conscious when they’re not talking about themselves. This was an interesting discovery. How do I get them comfortable and engaged but talking about themselves at the same time? Talk about their hobbies and the objects themselves. Inadvertently, the subject reveals something about themselves as we see their relationship with the objects they collect and their feelings about the market.

“It’s the people that inhabit the film that makes the story not the story itself. People want to tell their story. If you let people talk and don’t interrupt them, they will eventually reveal to you who they really are. It’s the power of connection between people”. – Errol Morris

Gaudenzi’s discussion of participation focuses a lot on the idea of USER generated content and the idea of collaboration. The issue in this space is who is a co-creater of the content VS a co-author. There’s a lot of talk about users having agency but I believe this idea is splashed around a lot, the user is made to feel like they have agency, but often they are contributing to the authors higher concept. They fill in the blanks, or share some content. There are so many different ways an audience member can collaborate but this doesn’t necessarily give them autonomy or control over anything. If they are contributing to discussions and ideas behind creating a  product, then really they are a consumer, a buyer. It’s not their opinion or input which counts it is their opinion on the product (whatever that may be) which then informs the author which part of their project is working or not working. They can then shape it to make it more popular, more efficient, more consumer ready whatever the case may be. But this is in relation to designing technology not necessarily creative content.

Gaudenzi discusses the issue of distribution of power and ownership of the final product. She makes it clear that the co-creator and co-author should not be confused. That just because someone participates in the final product and what that looks like, doesn’t mean they are a co-author. They usually participate after the initial concept has been created and thought out or the intention set out. They do not participate for final ownership of anything. It is a co-creation not a co-authorship – the latter implying a shared responsibility in the developing of the concept itself and also a shared benefit In the overall profits of the final product (if there are any).

Real audience or user participation, where the people interested in the authors concept can contribute artistically of their own accord, is indeed a beautiful process and one I would love to explore, however this can take years and has to undergo change and development based on the user participation as well as the time it takes to develop as a concept when other people are involved. The Johnny Cash Project for example took 6 years to develop and create. The site asks users to design their own memory or tribute of Johnny cash which then gets edited and included in a bigger project. The site is still running (since 2010!) and the video is always changing. It never remains the same. It evolves as the users evolve, change and move through the experience set up by the author.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 4.32.00 PM

For the purpose of this studio, the participation comes from the engagement choices with the subjects. That’s what I can experiment with and explore, and see a result. The audience participation takes a long time to set up and develop that relationship.




Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar