“Assumption 1. Participatory activity is like all art: it is presentational. It is not. There is no…”

“Assumption 1. Participatory activity is like all art: it is presentational. It is not. There is no product put out into the world, like a play, video tape, piece of music, etc.

Assumption 2. Participatory activity has an audience to be taken into account, who stand or sit apart from it, just as a painting, or a play, etc… has an audience. It does not. There are only part-takers in a roughly planned program. They may of course attend each other, as card players might, or team mates in basketball; but watching and listening in the midst of doing is very distinct from the specialized observations of a physically passive audience (only the mind is awake for a traditional audience, at best; and it has no responsibility for the actual work. It can only judge).

Assumption 3. Participatory activity occurs in galleries, stages, concert halls, literary gatherings, churches, public showcases and plazas, etc. It Does Not. Instead, it is active anywhere else: in stomachs, or freeways, in compost heaps, through Fax machines, or at the work place. There may be many places together, or in some sequence; some planned, some by chance; or alternatively, spaces that move as in an airplane; and spaces that exist in the mind.

Assumption 4. Participatory activity, like all art, has a single time envelope ( the three week gallery exhibit, the two hour concert or play, the forty five minute video tape…usually at night, after dinner). It does not. Neither does it have a definite beginning or end. Rather, time, being mainly real, hence variable and discontinuous, is the time needed to grow tomatoes, the time when phone calls are made, a minute here, a year there…Time is sometimes lost, and part of the activity may be to look for it. It is always concrete.

Assumption 5. Participatory activity has distinctive identity; you can point to it like a painting, a poem, a church, a play. It does not. Most of the time, only the participants would know it was going on; and even then it would seem to be another aspect of ordinary life. If I see a woman combining her hair in a car mirror, how do I know if she is or isn’t participating in some event?

Assumption 6. Participatory activity can be judged like all art, i.e. like theater or Performance. It cannot. It is to be valued neither for its esthetic excellence nor for its good intentions to improve the world. But participants do not give up judgments; their questions are simply directed to the other matters of life: getting rid of snails in the vegetable garden without using poison, finding a decent mate, examining the lint in an old suit pocket…

Assumption 7. Participatory activity, like plays, concerts, Performances, has tapes and other documentation left behind to inform others of what happened. It usually doesn’t. Events are either too low-key for meaningful documents, or they are dispersed in times and places that can’t be followed. And there are problems of “performing” for the camera or tape, hence to an audience. Instead, unplanned gossip is a way of telling stories about an activity, if you wanted to do so. But you might not…

Assumption 8. Participatory activity, like all art, has a point to make, a high purpose, even if covert. It doesn’t. It can be interpreted in inconclusive ways.

Assumption 9. Participatory activity, like real art, can become a career leading to fame and fortune. It probably cannot. If it doesn’t appear to be art; it happens far from honored locations, and at odd and unmarked times; if it leaves almost nothing to posterity,—why should the world pay attention, much less money?

Assumption 10. Participatory activity, although unfamiliar now, will one day be recognized as a respectable art genre. It won’t because it’s not art. And if it becomes art, it will be just one more shaggy dog story.”

TAIL WAGGING DOG – by Allan Kaprow