Kaija Kaitavuori

PhD student

Thesis: Art of Engagement: Audience Participation and Contemporary Art

Supervised by Prof. Julian Stallabrass and Nathalie Heinich (CNRS, Paris)

The dissertation examines audience participation in contemporary art – a phenomenon that has gained considerable popularity during the last fifteen years, accompanied by the rise of a large critical literature on the subject. Although participatory practices have roots in earlier art forms, participatory art in its current variations does not readily fit any pre-existing category, such as performance, activist or community art.

‘Participatory art’ is used as a generic concept about art that engages people who are not artists actively, beyond spectatorship, in the making or using of art. The focus of the study, however, is participation in art, not participatory art per se. The artworks are analysed as social situations and processes of interaction rather than objects or images; a conceptual framework and methodological tools are sought from social sciences, drawing on the theories of small-scale interaction by George Simmel, Erving Goffman, and Harold Garfinkel, Norbert Elias’s figurational sociology and Bruno Latour’s actor-network-theory.

The core material consists of eight art projects that engage people in participation. The artists are Pilvi Takala, Superflex group, Santiago Sierra, Spencer Tunick, Erwin Wurm, Michael Lin, Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, and Mauricio Dias & Walter Riedweg. Based on these case studies, a four-group typology of participation is created. The typology is used to distinguish between different forms of engagement and to analyse the specific features they entail.

The dissertation claims that the ‘participator’, or participator function akin to Foucault’s author function, is a new role in art. It is not covered by the roles of the artist or the spectator but introduced alongside them as a complementary figure. The study further suggests that understanding a participatory artwork requires a new approach: artworks are analysed as configurations or networks of human and non-human actors. In this perspective, social relationships and processes are defined as intrinsic to the work, not as part of an external framework or background. Finally, Art of Engagement: Audience Participation and Contemporary Art discusses participatory processes in terms of democracy and the extent to which participation in art can be understood as ‘democratic’ in the framework of agonistic versus direct democracy.


  • MA in Art history, BSc in Sociology, University of Helsinki, 1994
  • In-service training in museum studies. University of Helsinki further education centre, 1999—2001
  • Specialist qualification in management and leadership, Amiedu vocational adult education centre, Helsinki, 2004—2006
  • Studies of Sociology and Cultural Policy, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, 2003-2006

Research interests

  • Contemporary art
  • participation
  • museum studies
  • museum education
  • cultural policy studies


  • Visiting lecturer, Courtauld Institute 2014-2015
  • Visiting lecturer, Aalto University, Helsinki 2014-2015
  • Teaching Assistant, Courtauld Institute 2012-2014
  • Visiting lecturer, University of Helsinki 2003, 2006-2007

Conference papers

  • “Creating Art by Reassembling and Delimiting Networks”, ESA (European Research Network of Sociology of the Arts) conference, Cluj, Romania, September 4 2014.
  • “Art and Participation: Making and Breaking Contracts”, AAH annual conference, London, April 2014.
  • “Art or Society? Approaches to the Study of Participatory Art”, Conference of Cultural Policy, Helsinki, May 2013.
  • “A Man in a Pit and Other Humans as Objects: Ethics of Participation”, Third year postgraduate symposium, March 2013, Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
  • “From Objects to Relations, from Subjects to Agents” NORDIK 2012 (The 10th Triennial Nordik Committee for Art History Conference), Stockholm, October 2012.
  • “Participation in Contemporary Art: Agencies of Artists, Publics and Institutions”, ICCPR 2012 The 7th international conference on cultural policy research Barcelona, 9-12 July 2012.
  • “Unannounced Presentation”, Performing Art History II, Courtauld Institute of Art, 18 May 2012.
  • “Negotiating Contracts. Participative or Relational Art in the Gallery”, AAH annual conference, Milton Keynes, March 2012.
  • ”Art of Participation – Rules of Participation in Arts and its Institutions”, Taking Part conference. Arts culture and civil society. Southbank Centre and Goldsmiths, University of London, 29 & 30 October 2010.

Recent publications

  • “Particpation in the gallery: (Re)negotiating contracts”. In Marika Leino, Laura MacCulloch and Outi Remes eds Performativity in the Gallery: Staging Interactive Encounters. Peter Lang Publishing, 2014.
  • Its All Mediating. Outlining and Incorporating the Roles of Curating and Education in the Exhibition Context, editor (with Nora Sternfeld, Laura Kokkonen) & “Introduction”, pp. x-xxi. Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2013.
  • Book review: Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells. Immediations. The Courtauld Insitute of Art Journal of Postgraduate Reseach. Vol. 3 No.1. 2012. 139-142.
  • “Museum education: Between the devil of business model and the deep blue sea of public service”. Engage journal 28/2011. London: Cornerhouse Publications.
  • “Open to the Public. The use and accessibility of the object for the benefit of the public”. In: Encouraging collection mobility. A way forward for museums in Europe. Collections Mobility 2.0, European Culture Programme, 2010.
  • “The Backwards Day: When the children take the lead”. (together with Minna Raitmaa) Engage journal 25/2010. London: Cornerhouse Publications.
  • “From accessibility to participation – museum as a public space”, Engage journal 24/2009. London: Cornerhouse Publications.

Other academic activity

  • Peripheral Visions: Lecture Series on Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Contemporary Art, Courtauld Institute 2013-2014, with Liz Kim.
  • Convenor of the international conference It’s All Mediating. Outlining and Incorporating the Roles of Curating and Education in the Exhibition Context organised by the Finnish Association for Museum Education Pedaali, May 2012
  • External examiner of MA thesis at the Academy of Arts, Helsinki, and Aalto University, Helsinki, 2003-2014.
  • Memberships: AAH, ICOM.