04: Open and Curious
Artistic participatory work is a way of experiencing the world in a different way. It encourages people to engage in new experiences, helps to endure the unknown, allows new perspectives in looking at the world. It helps people develop openness and curiosity. And that, in turn, enables people to think outside the box.
How to imagine this alternative outlook? Exposure to and working with art affects the development and training of perception (aisthesis), both as cognition-driven perception and as pleasure-related and emotive sensation. Building on this, art educator Andrea Sabisch developed a model in 2009 that assumes that aesthetic experience is a fundamental form of encountering the world: "This is radical in that aesthetic experience is then not just one mode of experience alongside others, but underpins or motivates all experience" (Sabisch 2009, p. 15). The starting point of philosopher Bernhard Waldenfels' theory is the conceptual triad pathos – diastasis – response. Pathos is the perception that reaches me, reponse is my reaction to it. But this does not happen without a break, there is a space in-between pathos and response. What happens, as Andrea Sabisch puts it, is the "transformation of what we are struck by into something we respond to" (ibid., p. 15). In the fault line between the two, the diastasis, new differentiations can emerge, new possibilities to access reality, always knowing that reality as such can never be fully grasped and comprehended (see Derrida 1976). This moment of pausing and the possibility of seeing something new through the ability to differentiate gives the moment of aesthetic experience. One’s own answer, one’s response, can be given (also by non-artists) via very different media (linguistic, situational-bodily, visual) and animates in one’s understanding the same process that was just described.
Helga Kämpf-Jamsen’s thinking concurs, when she describes that the strategies of contemporary artistic work are suitable for exploring the world and experience of non-artists (see Blohm et al. 2006).
What does this mean in concrete terms? To engage the participants, start with questions. Put the focus on their life worlds, their realities and their experiences. Artists provide the initial impulses, then the participants take over; they themselves increasingly determine directions and topics – directly or indirectly. They are the experts when it comes to their lives, the artists become their companions, but always use their own artistic know-how. The artists see their task in offering the participants a communication structure and a communication space. They encourage them to speak about themselves, but at the same time take care that their privacy remains protected.
Following Maset, we assume that – at the outset – you cannot know the results an aesthetic work process will yield. Joining in with the participants, artists, too, take the time and create trust so that everyone can engage in this open process together. Enabling aesthetic experience means constantly challenging the participants through the project structure to leave familiar terrain and venture into unfamiliar waters. Curiosity and openness are the driving forces in an exploration of the world that risks encountering the new.
Initiating participants to leave their familiar terrain requires encouragement. Aesthetic experience in this context means allowing uncertainty, engaging in the moment, being curious to experience the new, rejoicing in shared commonalities, and allowing differences to persist. Aesthetic experience makes it possible to practice the endurance of difference and of the unexpected. In Austria, but not only here, fear of the unknown is currently manifoldly manifesting in racist attitudes and in the rejection of migrants. In this context, for example, artistic work as conceptionalized above promotes the idea of "doing culture as doing difference" (Hörning/Reuter 2004, p. 11). Thus it becomes feasible what it means to conceptualize aesthetic experience, that is, the experience of difference, as a mode of experience that – in the words of Gunter Otto and Andrea Sabisch – is foundational, underlying to all other modes of experience, both in a philosophical and in a practical sense.