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Participatory Book Art: Establishing Connections with Dialogue, Representation and Value

Meek, Gemma K (2020) Participatory Book Art: Establishing Connections with Dialogue, Representation and Value. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis provides visibility to a series of projects that I term ‘participatory book art’. Participatory book art involves artists collaborating with particular social groups in the creation of book art. This thesis argues that participatory book art projects represent a new form of collaborative book art and participatory art practice. To form this argument and investigate the participatory book art case studies within this thesis, I constructed an original critical framework from the fields of ‘book art’ and ‘participatory art’. This framework acknowledges the formal properties of the books (composition, content and texture), whilst explaining the social and collaborative processes surrounding their making. The framework also allows case studies to speak to the theoretical communities practicing in these fields, whilst contradicting and expanding some of their dominant narratives. Chapter one contextualises participatory book art within a history of community arts and art education to readdress how they are often absent in participatory art narratives. I contest writing which treats the workshop as a neutral or predictable format, by investigating how the design and management of the method in participatory book art is imbued with certain ideologies that influence collaboration. The final three chapters are focused on distinct participatory book art case studies. Each project is investigated through a thematic lens, including: Representation in The Homeless Library, Dialogue in Unfolding Projects and Value in Crafting Women’s Stories. Case study analysis utilises the theoretical framework and wider literature to account for the various operations, processes and methods occurring in projects. Chapter two addresses the homeless participant’s use of book art in The Homeless Library to deconstruct or reiterate essentialist depictions of homelessness. In chapter three on Unfolding Projects, I explore how the books as gifts creates an emancipatory dialogue between two groups of women who never physically meet and challenges existing theories that assert face-to-face interaction and spoken word as the primary emancipatory form (Kester, Bourriaud and Lacy). Chapter four on Crafting Women’s Stories problematises evaluating participatory art through predetermined values. Utilising the theoretical ideas of Barbara Hernstein-Smith and Erin Manning, I trace how value is ‘contingent’ in this project on a range of interacting variables and agent’s personal economies which are emergent, fluctuating and sometimes difficult to predict/recognise.

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