Decisions, Decisions: Play-testing workshops for participatory arts practices

Neil Mulholland, Dan Brown

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Shift/Work collectively strengthens support for artists working with people by commissioning, facilitating, developing and sharing model experiential practices and open educational resources for artists, educators and their audiences to adapt and perform. Our research practice reconfigures workshop-based approaches to artistic learning that are theoretically discursive, practical and participatory. Shift/Work has established a collective ontology for participatory arts practice though a paragogy in which participants design, playtest and reflect upon their learning processes. Key to this is an open engagement with practice (work) as a means of both generating and transferring new knowledge (shift).

Our research paper will critically analyse three performances of Decisions, Decisions, a participatory workshop play-tested at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, Malmö Art Academy and the Iceland Academy of the Arts in 2016. Decisions, Decisions aims to enable participants to comprehend how their decisions impact upon their peers (and vice versa). Working in small group, participants collectively engage in a series of simple creative tasks designed by a group of artists specifically to heighten participants’ awareness of play and reciprocity in the learning process. There is no ‘facilitator’. To complete each task, participants have to be imaginative and resourceful, working closely together and learn from each other. The workshop engages performative forms of ritual interaction and ecstatic mutuality normally found in gaming, for the purposes of learning how we learn.

We will share ways in which our Decisions, Decisions workshop enabled participants to design, experience and evaluate an iterative, action-based, peer-to-peer learning experience. Participants learn how their decisions (and uncertainties) are co-affective upon the experiences of their peers. By demonstrating how Decisions, Decisions enacts radical discourses, practices and models of artistic paragogy, we hope to enable and inspire ITAC3 delegates to implement their own workshops.

In our card-game discussion of the workshop at ITAC3 we will experience the ludic theory of ‘decisions’ as reciprocal and enmeshed game-rules governing how actants interact. Playing the game leads to the rules being revised and updated, offering fresh game-theoretic insights. This autotelism relates to our perception of participatory arts practice as an iterative process, a series of model workshops that can be continually re-performed like a musical score.

Decisions, Decisions is autotelic rather than goal-oriented. It creates the illusion of goals to encourage double-loop learning (the modification or rejection of a goal in the light of experience). In this, it offers an explicit challenge to the recent emphasis on ‘serious play’ in some participatory art and design practice. Via the practical skills that participants self-learn on-the-fly they come to reflect upon their mutuality. Participants are, thus, more inclined to be critically conscious of goal-oriented and outcome based approaches to participatory learning and action and their concomitant technocracies.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2016
EventInternational Teaching Artists Conference - Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Aug 20165 Aug 2016


ConferenceInternational Teaching Artists Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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