A Viking longship
This chapter looks at participation in performance-based art activism. The chapter focuses on the anti-oil sponsorship theatrical activist group BP or not BP? and explores how participation takes place in the work of art activist groups that stage unsanctioned interventions in cultural institutions. The chapter features excerpts from conversations with environmental choir Shell Out Sounds in which participation and the openness of the group are discussed in opposition to the artistic quality of performances, and then present the case of BP or not BP?’s BP Vikings action, a large-scale participatory performance held at the British Museum. The chapter builds on theories of participatory art, and challenges prevailing understandings of participation, arguing first that theories of participatory art need to acknowledge the differences between practices that take place in an institutional context and those that take place outside of this framework, and second, that participatory art taking place in the specific autonomous context of activism has the potential of achieving certain goals of participatory practice that institutional art can only attain on a symbolic level. A new framework for looking at participation in performance actions is therefore proposed. Finally, the chapter also looks at participation as an embodied, aesthetic-political experience, and considers how participation as a creative and political moment can facilitate the transformation of political subjectivities.