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The power-paradox of situated and participative art & design

Research Group: Situated Art and Design

This research takes a critical look at the assumption that spectator participation in situated art and design emancipates this spectator, and examines situatedness and participation as a play of power.

Within situated art and design an attempt is often made to turn the viewer into a participant or user. The underlying idea is that participation emancipates the user or participant. This research takes a critical look at this assumption and examines situatedness and participation as a play of power. In doing so, ialso questions contemporary views of empowerment. These points of focus are drawn from the following research question: how does the power of the maker in contemporary participatory art and design practices relate to the emancipation of the participant / user? 


Workshop Participation @ St. Joost School of Art & Design, Breda

As participatory strategies are often framed by theorists, artists and designers as methods of relinquishing control and influence to the users / participants (empowerment), it might subsequently appear as though the maker exercises little to no power at all. The research argues that this view masks an important aspect of participatory art and design: participation is not something that will magically happen when an artist starts sharing their power, as maker/author  it needs to be shaped, encouraged, provoked and induced by the artist/designer. The paradox being that, in order to give power to a participant, you need to execute power. This is the power-paradox of participatory art. 

The research includes various activities, such as deepening the theoretical discourse around art and design practices that focus on participation. In this literature study, art-philosophical, media-theoretical, art-historical and media-psychological sources are consulted to problematise existing notions of participation and empowerment. 


The acquired knowledge about participation, power and emancipation is shared during lectures with students in the Arts & Interaction minor, and the Photography, Film & The Digital and Illustrated & Animated Storytelling programmes of St. Joost School of Art & Design. In addition, through various workshops with students, research is being conducted into how participation can be shaped in various ways, and which ethical dilemmas surrounding power and manipulation arise within these contexts.  

Completed research, 2019 – 2021. 

Principle investigator
Michiel van Opstal

Michel van Dartel

Avans University of Applied Sciences

‘Power, control and chance play an important role in every creative process. I explore this complicated correlation.’

Michiel van Opstal was a researcher at the Situated Art and Design research group from 2019 until 2021. He is currently a tutor at St. Joost School of Art & Design in Breda and Den Bosch. 

Private: Michiel van Opstal arrow

Research Group: Situated Art and Design

Living in cities developed around data and acting within the inscrutable structure of our techno-society demands art and design that can help understand how we relate to these rapidly changing surroundings and to reflect on that relationship. The research group Situated Art and Design responds to this exigency by fostering a situated turn in art and design through a diverse portfolio of interdisciplinary research projects in partnership with academic and cultural partners, as well as with government and industry.

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