Lahore - In the art scene of Pakistan, since many decades, standard role of audience is to behold the art work. However this role is gradually getting intense with the emergence of contemporary approaches whereat times it is equally important as that of the artist. Hence thepart which is played by the spectator becomes so significant that without his participation or reaction, sometimes the work remains incomplete, in fact do not start breathing. By partaking, the viewerbecomes the other half of the work thus extending the sense of it and giving more meaning to the initial thought. If we look back at history, audiences have become a vital component of creative equation since the latter half of the 20th century though the seeds were sown already in the early half. Performance, collaboration or interactive whichever nature the work carries, they have been imperative to the ultimate expression.

Art is a way to rethink the familiar. Throughout the course of art history multiple approaches have been devised by the artist to express their thoughts and ideas. Out of all those times the 20th century was the most formative period which has given way to a lot more openness and freedom. Reevaluations and experimentations continued till the latter half of the 20th century. It is also during that time when Contemporary art started floating in the art circles, often packed with heated content to redefine the established values and accepted practices. Based on the ideas of post modernism, contemporary approach encompasses diversity by welcoming dynamic array of materials, techniques, thoughts and concepts. More than the work, it is about how that work is created.

Participatory works are one extension of contemporary art practice. They are like a child’s play where the play acts as a tool to explore his surroundings and the child’s identity within it. In such works, the public takes over and the artist takes the back seat. Thisrole shifting happens to initiate the dialogue. This is quite unlike of most performance art pieces where theinvisible stages exist between the artist and the audience and the whole emphasis is put on the artist. However, at times the creator though being the central entity is at the mercy of the participants. For example in the shocking acts of Marina Abramovic in 1974 at Belgrade, Serbia during which she claimed she was ready to die even. When the maker does not remain a sole owner of the art piece, another idea of democratic notion too stems out. Such an equation invigorates the standard definitions of art and artist. For example Felix Gonzalez Torres by continuously feeding his candy installation at the Met Breuer redefines art as play when visitors are asked to take candies with them out of the candy pile. 

Since 911, Art in Pakistan has also been imbibing new spirits. Besides strong context and content creation, there is a surge of new mediums and methods too. The surge of Contemporary approaches is being helpful in seeking answers to the questions which have not been answered or even raised yet.Lately, I have come across with oneparticipatory method during a degree show of College of Art and Design University of the Punjab, where a student had a photo booth‘walk in my shoe’probing people to put up a beard and get photographed. Whenthe audience is pledged to the roles of participation, collaboration and performance rather than just being spectators, the resulting expression takes on a more complex form.

In such works the viewer’s participation construct meaningful interpretations through individual response, thoughts, acts and reflections.

 In that work, male participants wearing beard in mugshots portray another disguise. But when a female comes forward to take part in this apparently male oriented activity the dialogue takes on a new direction and beard remains only a prop or an acquired character or forced identity perhaps. The work may not be only about beard now. With a female participation the work starts speaking about breaking the stereotypes as well.

Instead of indulging in the debate of good or bad, contemporary approaches in the creation of art works ask for candidness, interpretation and intensifying the argument which is initially made. the scheme of putting on a beard gear and being photographed is equally perplexing for both the participant and the viewer. Even the moment when one decides to take part would also make him undergo a lot of emotional and psychological puzzle till the point he looks at his whole new face within a frame on the wall. The prop had its own persona. To some it has added wickedness and maturity whereas to some the beard gear seems to be a tool to hide certain attributes in the same way as different types of attires have the potential to reveal or conceal the image of the wearer.

The eclectic nature of art making today retains a number of challenges. One of them is defying easy answers and blurring the boundaries between art and artist, the act of making, the ownership and varied connotations of the work. Participatory approach has the potential to extend the dialogue and challenges the established norms since it reinsures reaction, response and most of all involvement. The beard gear work also speaks about those frontiers that lie between art and everyday interactions where one judges, misunderstands or anticipate people or situations.

As said earlier, Contemporary approaches tap on the questions of how art is made and shall be viewed. Having its roots in the works of Dadaists and later in 1960’s Allan Kepraw series of Happenings, participatory mode is turning the audience into physical and intellectual part of the art work. Our present also has become more complicated and fragmented. We are rapidly influencing by the things we see hence the focus shifts easily. However by utilizing such a freedom which the Modern and the Contemporary have propagated once, past can be understood, present can be explored and future can be envisioned.


Amina Cheema