Reflections on Socially Engaged Practice: Between Community Participants and Gallery Spaces

Bratchford, Gary (2018) Reflections on Socially Engaged Practice: Between Community Participants and Gallery Spaces. In: XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology, 15-18 July 2018, Toronto.

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Owing to Stephan Willats’ notion that ‘art practices operate within an environment of institutions and groups of people who effectivity maintain it as an identifiable activity within society’,[i] this paper seeks to delineate how practitioners collaborate alongside participants, to unpick and challenge the production and exhibition of socially engaged artwork in a gallery space. In doing so, this paper aims to sketch out the process of such work as paradoxically important and problematic.
Based on a recent yearlong residency with two distinct but, geographically connected community groups, the paper questions the role and value of socially engaged photography (art) in public galleries. Reflecting on the project, which was part of an outreach programme commissioned by a national gallery, I argue for a greater emphasis to be placed on the process of such projects rather than the aesthetic outcomes. Whilst images are often read intertextually, often within the discursive frameworks that predominate said society (Rose, 2007) what happens when the images move context or the audience changes? What is the effect on the producers? How do you seek to diminish or maybe heighten their impact? Thus, by foregrounding how the less visible aspects of participation and engagement should and can become the final exhibition as an outcome of itself, the paper will point towards a number of ways in which participants, collaborators and curators work to consider such issues.

[i]Stephen Willats. Art and Social Function. (Ellipsis, London 2000), 11.

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