Art & Social Justice Working Group
Vera List Center for Art and Politics

Conflict no. 3

Audience, Participation, Spectatorship, Modes of Address

Working in non-art contexts and creating active, participatory relationships between viewer and artwork are two key strategies deployed by artists with specific social justice goals. Do these strategies increase the potential for impact by broadening audience and modeling active participation, or do they render the work less visible and understandable to a wider audience? How does a work of art that is happening in the context of daily life announce itself as art? What are the consequences of a project being positioned as artwork, and visible as such?

When considering an artwork's potential for impact, it is important to fully consider its relationship to the various audiences that form around its creation, enactment, and representation, and how each audience is addressed differently. One project might have many participants operating at multiple proximities, each having very different experiences. This same project might also be reflected to a number of passive spectators via documentation presented in an art context, news media, storytelling, or other representational means.

Who are these publics, how do they form? Is the work addressing an audience actively or is it the subject of an address? Who is a participant and who is an audience? Are any of these modes of address effective proxies or rehearsals for actual political engagement? To what extent does the mode of address not just determine an audience but create it?

This episode considers the multiple audiences and participants that a socially engaged artwork can accrue, both as it is actively engaging participants and as it is re-contextualized through representation to ancillary audiences.


Welcome to the Art & Social Justice Working Group.


The purpose of the Art + Social Justice Working Group is to examine core conflicts that propel, enrich, and complicate artistic efforts that assume agency to enact social change. In this examination the group expects to foster clarity around both terminology and effective artistic and curatorial practice.

This site is home to the developing dialogue of glossary terms for describing this work and strategies for enacting it.

Core Conflicts

The ASJWG is organized around conflicts central to current conversations and practice in socially and politically engaged art. The six initial conflicts include: Accountability: Artist, Curator, Institution, Funder; Authorship, Collective and Other; Audience, Participation, Spectatorship, Modes of Address; Aesthetics and Usefulness; Local and Global, Specific and General; and Now and Forever: Do Gooding, Criticality, Oppositional.

Case Study

Each conflict is grounded in a case study to provide context about a specific project and artist's practice. For example, the first conflict Accountability: Artist, Curator, Institution, Funder begins with Thomas Hirshhorn's Gramsci Monument as a case study to launch a larger dialogue.


Writing from artists, scholars, community members, curators, and others augment conversation about each conflict. You are encouraged to add your own favorites to further the conversation.

Glossary Terms

These key terms and concepts evolve out of the conflict and case study. There is no single official definition, rather many perspectives are aggregated here about each glossary term to develop a complex understanding.


Following a similar format to the glossary, effective strategies for enacting this work in artistic and curatorial practice are aggregated from many individuals. Together they create a series of suggestions, guidelines, and warnings for all participants in this work.

Your comments, fresh perspectives, and contributions of new strategies and glossary terms are welcome and needed to advance this field and support our work.

Commissioned Artwork

Artists were commissioned to attend the initial six conflict meetings and develop new artwork in response to the ideas and perspective shared. Artists include: Liz Slagus and Norene Leddy, Laura Chipley, Fran Illich, and Nobu Aozaki.

Core Group Members

Thomas Anesta
Sascia Bailer
Beka Economopoulos
Deborah Fisher
Elizabeth Grady
Gordon Hall
Larissa Harris
Kemi Ilesanmi
Jason Jones
Kim Katatani
Grant Kester
Pam Korza
Carin Kuoni
Cynthia Lawson
Laura Raicovich
Paul Ramírez Jonas
Yasmil Raymond
Prerana Reddy
Christopher Robbins
Barbara Schaffer Bacon
Robert Sember
Greg Sholette
Radhika Subramaniam
Johanna Taylor
Niels Van Tomme
Christian Viveros-Fauné
Jennifer Wilson

Plus additional guest participants.

The Art + Social Justice Working Group is launched by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School and A Blade of Grass, with support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The Vera List Center and A Blade of Grass are both dedicated to supporting individuals in pursuit of the intersection of art and social justice, and to developing related programs and scholarship.

Questions? Comments? Contact
1. What would you like to contribute?
2. To which conflict does this pertain?
3. What is the definition?
3. What is the link to the reading?
4. Who are you? (We promise we won't share your information.)