‘I’m Going To Fail’, or Protocols of Participation

I like to keep up with the discussions and presentations at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. They recently posted video of a panel I’d been waiting for from late April titled, “Protocols of Participation: Recent Models of Socially Engaged Art in the United States and Europe,” where Creative Time’s Laura Raicovich, and Xavier Douroux and Thérèse Legierse from Nouveaux Commanditaires, who commission and mediate public artist projects in France. IFA’s own professors Thomas Crow and Alexander Nagel participated as well. [It was organized as part of ART², a whole month’s worth of events I missed across the city.]
It was an interesting comparison of the two systems designed to facilitate artists’ engagement in their politics, culture, and communities. So watch the whole thing.
I had it playing in the background while I worked, and during the audience questions, I was suddenly alerted to the change in cadence. I knew what was coming: the long, winding, potentially discourse-derailing statement disguised as a question.
It’s a cliche of the panel discussion/public lecture format, the kind of interaction that organizers sometimes like to head off by explicitly warning against, or even by soliciting written questions. It’s almost always an uncomfortable, flow-breaking moment, met with either indulgence or annoyance. No one’s come to hear some rando bounce his pet theory off the headliners.
It breaks form, yet it is the form. Such questions and their possibility are intrinsic to the very format of open, public discourse. So when the breach of protocol came for an event titled, of all things, “Protocols of Participation,” I resisted the urge to close tab or tune out. And I was transfixed by this unseen, unidentified woman’s speech, how she said it, and even what she said. It occurred to me that probably no one would ever take her comment seriously, or even know about it.
[I vividly remember my first audience question in New York City. It was to Brice Marden at MoMA’s Cy Twombly artist panel. Years later, when WPS1 posted the audio of the event, it omitted the audience Q&A segment entirely. Which can be interpreted on several levels.]
In every panel or discussion I attend, I, like everyone else, always fantasize about revolutionizing the format. Or at least fixing it. It never feels optimal. And yet it never, ever changes. So I’m going to start collecting these marginalized, random, dodged, cut-off, derailing statement/questions from audience members and see what comes of it. Do you have a favorite? Send a link, let’s add it to the collection!
As you can see from the complete transcript of the audience member [with a couple of interjections and a response by Prof. Nagel], maybe these things should be written down and studied after all. Because as a text, I think it’s rather fascinating. Expectations and context.
Watch/listen to the question, beginning around 1:27:10. I wanted to capture the sense of hearing it, so I left in the ums and repetitions. Line breaks are pauses.
I’m going to fail
um I missed a little bit, but I was misdirected to the wrong place, sorry

I lived in India for a couple of years on some foundation money
blah blah blah
and the the the best the best adventure I had doing art
in a community
was knocking on peoples’ doors
with my friends
and creating a big piece of art
and then doing that for months at a time
and I think that sometimes language interferes with
the nature of art
and I appreciate all of you, and I guess
this impulse to view
the social bonds of art,
but at the same time,
I don’t hear any really impassioned physical impulse that is some sort of throughline to catch hold of
and that’s inspirational.
You you know
I appreciate
your good efforts.
I do.
I don’t question that at all.
I guess I’d like to see some artists
on that panel maybe there are
And also this
You said
something about
I told you I was going to fail
and I mean it
If you could If you could come to the question
Can we figure out a better way
ability to
speak of,
not about,
and receive information from each other,
which will, in the moment be action
of renewal and bonding
rather than a conception of it
and I think of Heidegger
well I think of Artaud
Instead of dilly-dallying with forms we should be you know
doing work
I don’t want to say victims burned at the stake but
Like we’re victims burnt at a stake
you know, doing.
And these conceptions, these conceptual terms
um, seem to lock us out sometimes, from each other
I told you I’d fail
It’s OK
and I’m sorry
If I could just say in general response to that, the people that are on this panel that are engaged in these projects are extremely passionate people, and they’ve been engaged at numbers of levels in the production of art. Um, that’s not going to be sufficiently represented here; there’s no way; you have to be in there with them.
This panel is intended, yes, to take a step back, take stock, historicize, even, uh, yeah, take some distance. That back and forth is part of what we do. I think it’s absolutely important to conceptualize at moments between times in the trenches. That’s my answer to that. Does anyone want to add anything?