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A participatory artwork in which I instigated a riot in Curtin University's Department of Art.
When the university dramatically cut funding to the art department, I was surprised at the general sense of apathy, and that nobody seemed to be able to do much about it. I saw this as an opportunity to develop a kind of punk activist culture among my fellow students. I began distributing a handwritten zine called The Punk Protest Informer, and I eventually gained the sympathies of ten art students. I told them I was going to facilitate a riot in the art department.
I was beginning to notice a connection between participatory art and protests, in that both seem to operate under a kind of oppressive consensus or "false democracy". Each have their own politics of participation and agency, in which the artist/instigator generally wields control over their participants, though the presence of each participant is always undoubtedly central to the unfolding of the artwork. Since protests embody a kind of power struggle, I wanted to imbue this in the creative relationships of the artwork itself: as the artist I was something of an authoritative figure, though I told my participants that they were more than welcome to overthrow me - a request that was, naturally, a paradox in itself. In disrupting the planned artwork and its imposed power relations, the participants became disobedient collective authors, and yet the very fact that I conditioned them into this response rendered their uprising authored by me.
On the day of the event, I wrote each participant a placard based on a particular grievance I thought they might hold, and gave everyone a non-flammable Molotov cocktail and some toy cars to flip over. Instead, they threw the toy cars at me, and set my documents on fire; I also managed to convince a particularly enthusiastic participant to reconsider their intention to throw me into a wheelie bin. It was chaotic, but awkward; the participants weren't always sure what they were allowed to do, and they were no longer in agreement as to what the protest was meant to be about. We were all aware of the futility of our cause, whatever it was, but it was a spirited afternoon nonetheless.
Thank you to Cecilia, Graham, Jack, Jess, Jill, Joel, Matt, Sarah, Shaun and Sophie for their vigour. Special thanks to Shaun and Jess for documenting the event.