Yoeri Guépin: Notes on Passive Engagement

Advisor / tutor: Alena Alexandrova

Independent reviewer: Mladen Dolar

Arnhem, June 2013


In this thesis I will explore how the demand of interactivity and emancipation and the speed of new possibilities can be sustained by allowing "others" to take over certain activities. Trough processes of modernisation, globalisation and emancipation the pressure to perform this (privileged) position comes with a shady substitute for all this (inter) activity; "interpassivity". Interpassivity is the mechanism where you delegate your experiences to others; objects, things or persons to experience on your behalf so you can do something else. What happens if the mechanism of interpassivity is applied to spectatorship and performance practice? Does this mean that the audience is still needed for the emergence of a work of art? Or do artworks have the possibility to enjoy themselves and exclude the spectator from this (receptive) activity? What happens when an apparatus such as a smartphone takes the role of the spectator and experiences on our behalf? Central to this thesis are two concepts. Clair Bishops concept of delegated performance in which she analyses new economies of performance art, by hiring people to perform their own identity on behalf of artists and institutions and Slavoj Žižek's concept of interpassivity. Žižek explaines how pleasure can be delegated to the "symbolic other" that experiences on our behalf from a psychoanalitic perspective, as a critieuq of consumerism. Both concepts will function as conceptual tools through the thesis, that will analyses differend roles of spectatorship, participation and (self) care in a mediated life.


The thesis presented by Yoeri Guépin is a result of careful research and scrutiny of the concept of interpassivity that has over the last decade gradually gained great importance for cultural studies and art criticism. The author shows a very good grasp of what is conceptually at stake with this new term, he elucidates its short history and examines the various examples that have been proposed, from canned laughter to the praying wheels and the video recordings etc. Interpassivity, as the obverse side of interactivity, displays the underpinnings of its much more celebrated and promoted twin. Starting from this vantage point the author engages first in a series of analyses and comments regarding new artistic practices of volunteer participation in art works (Tino Sehgal's exhibition in Van Abbe, a call for volunteers in Stedelijk) and connects these practices with the larger issues of outsourcing labor, the post-Fordist conditions of labor, outsourcing of activity and passivity, Claire Bishop's elucidating interventions on this topic, Micheal Hardt's reflections on affective labor etc. He further considers some more extreme uses of audience participation and the use of non-professional performers (Abramovic's Rhythm 0 in 1974 and her dinner installation in 2011, Arthur Žmijewski's use of a holocaust survivor, Jerome Bel's use of performers with a Down syndrome etc.) Reflections on this material lead him to a broader set of conclusions about the very nature of activity and passivity in relation to artwork and the ambiguity of interpassive stance as the reaction against the Enlightenment call for activity, participation and involvement, the obverse side of what makes the modern subject.

The thesis is well written, it contains many lucid analyses and comments on the well chosen set of contemporary artworks and displays the ability to connect the particular works with the much larger issues of the state of contemporary society, and even a brief sketch of the historical development of our culture since its presuppositions in the Enlightenment. As a minor aside, I would wish that the work of Robert Pfaller would get more attention in the thesis, after all he was the inventor of the concept of interpassivity and did the most to promote it, both in his books in German and some articles published in English as well as in the edited volume. M.D.