Friday, June 2, 2023

equipas de futebol mais valiosas do planeta

Estas são as equipas de futebol mais valiosas do planeta

1 Junho, 2023 10:47

As 30 equipas de futebol mais valiosas valem mais de 65 mil milhões de dólares, pertencendo apenas a seis campeonatos. E, pela primeira vez, há duas equipas a valer US$ 6 mil milhões.

fool you

Today in


Friday 2 June 2023


Social psychology


Don’t let them fool you


The fear of being duped is ubiquitous, but excessive scepticism makes it harder to trust one another and cooperate


by Tess Wilkinson-Ryan


Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone in Douglas Sirk’s film Written on the Wind (1956). Photo by Universal Pictures/Alamy

In 2007, three experimental psychologists, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, coined the word ‘sugrophobia’, which would translate to something like a ‘fear of sucking’. The researchers – Kathleen Vohs, Roy Baumeister and Jason Chin – were looking to name the familiar and specific dread that people experience when they get the inkling that they’re ‘being a sucker’ – that someone is taking advantage of them, partly thanks to their own decisions. The idea that psychologists would study suckers academically seems almost ridiculous at first. But, once you start to look for it, it becomes clear that sugrophobia is not only real, it is a veritable epidemic. Its influence extends from the choices we make as individuals to the society-wide narratives that sow distrust and discrimination.

The number of ‘sucker’ synonyms alone suggests a cultural obsession: pawn, dupe, chump, fool, stooge, loser, mark, and so on. Public debates about a wide range of social policies and technological advances feature inchoate fears about who’s going to be swindled next. Will ChatGPT help students cheat unwitting teachers? Is remote work popular since the COVID-19 pandemic because employees can slack off more easily? Does forgiving student-loan debt let ‘slacker baristas’ exploit hardworking taxpayers, as one US politician suggested?

I have been thinking about the psychology of being a sucker for 15 years. When I describe my interest in the subject, people often infer that I study scams. But as the above examples show, sugrophobia is more than just a fear of being caught in a con. There are only so many Ponzi schemes or Enrons to get embroiled in, and most people will never find themselves in the thick of a high-stakes fraud. Yet the feeling of being a sucker – and the fear of that feeling – is much more commonplace. When your lunch costs more than you expected, when your co-worker calls in sick for the third time this month, when you let the insistent driver in the breakdown lane nose in front of you: for many people, these little interactions come with a special sting of self-recrimination: Wait, am I the fool here? The fear of being duped can be so aversive that it transcends rational prudence and becomes something more automatic and more intense – a true phobia.

It makes sense to be wary of scams: you should not reply to your spam emails, no matter how much you’d like to help a prince retrieve millions from his trust fund. But there are costs to excessive scepticism, too, for both the self and the social order. A diverse body of evidence from psychology and behavioural economics can help us understand those costs. On a personal level, the fear of being suckered can encourage someone to be risk averse, to avoid the kind of cooperation that is essential to any new venture. At the systemic level, the stakes of distrust are even higher. The fear of being a sucker can become an excuse to reject solidarity, to hold people under suspicion. Deployed at scale, sucker tropes help to perpetuate group stereotypes – about who can be trusted and who should be policed – and reinforce traditional class, race and gender hierarchies in ways that we scarcely appreciate.

To get inside the sucker fear, let’s engage in a brief thought experiment. Imagine that I agree to donate to a charitable cause. Soon, I get a fraud alert from my bank telling me that the charge to my card is from a suspect source. To my chagrin, I discover that I have given my credit card number to a scammer, not a volunteer from a charity. Even if the bank resolves the issue and blocks the charge, even if the only cost to me is a little bit of hassle on the phone, I know that I would feel worse than the hassle alone would suggest I should. Not only that, it might even be reasonable, or adaptive, to experience outsized self-recrimination. First, the bad feeling I have may reflect the real social costs of my blunder: if my spouse or my friends find out that I gave credit card information to a scammer, it is embarrassing. Moreover, that sharp pang of regret is useful. This is the kind of harm I could have avoided – presumably a quick Google search or some follow-up enquiries could have induced appropriate wariness – so, if I feel extra bad now, it might save me from similar situations in the future. Fair enough!

But there is good evidence that the aversion to being suckered contaminates decision-making even when it isn’t doing anything useful. A lot of the evidence for this knee-jerk aversion comes from experimental economics studies that try to pare down human transactions to their bare bones. This helps researchers rule out competing explanations for what they observe. The studies commonly involve experimental games that have real incentives – participants can really make or lose money, depending on the outcome – but the players don’t meet each other or know each other’s identities. There are no real social consequences involved in any of the transactions. This makes it possible for researchers to ask: even if no one else has to find out what happened during an interaction, even if there is no precedent to set or example to make, do people still overreact to the risk of being conned?

Enter the Trust Game. A Trust Game is a simple experimental protocol in which players are paired up for a short series of transactions. One player is chosen to be the ‘Investor’. The Investor starts the game with, say, $10, and she has to make a choice: how much, if any, should she transfer to the other player (the ‘Trustee’)? Whatever she transfers to the Trustee will be automatically multiplied. Once the Trustee knows how much he has received, he gets to make the final move and decide how much money, if any, to pass back to the Investor. You can see why it’s called the Trust Game. If both players cooperate and make generous transfers – which they often do – then both leave better off. For the Investor, though, that first move is risky: she could give most or all of her money away, only to receive little or nothing in return. The risk of feeling like a sucker is hard to miss.

They were more willing to bet on a random-number generator than they were to trust a human

Over the years, some people have argued that reticent Investors are not worried about being chumps; they’re just being rationally risk averse. The psychologists Daniel Effron and Dale Miller tried to get at this directly with a clever twist on the protocol. In their version, Investors could transfe­r either $10 or nothing. If the Investor chose to transfer money, it would be multiplied, and the Trustee could pass back either $15 (half of the final sum, a fair return) or $8 (a stingy return). (The study involved a points-based currency, but I’m using dollar amounts here for ease of exposition.) Some of the Investors were told that the amount their partner returned would be determined randomly, based on a computer-generated number. Other Investors were told that their partner would make a decision themselves. In both cases, the Investors were led to believe that the likelihood of receiving an unfair return was 30 per cent. That is, some risked losing out because a computer gamble didn’t go their way; others had the same chance of losing out because of an untrustworthy partner. The question was: how many would choose to transfer their $10?

Now, transferring the money was a good bet for Investors, no matter what – but they were significantly more willing to bet on a random-number generator than they were to trust a human, even though the odds of losing out were the same. Think about it this way: the player who takes home only $8 thanks to random chance has lost out on a couple of dollars. But the player who takes home less than their fair share due to misplaced trust in another person is a ‘loser’ in a whole different way. The players never met one another; there were no reputations at stake. The risk only felt different because cooperating with a selfish person makes you the sucker. When the researchers followed up with the participants to ask them about their risk calculation, the consideration that stood out was the element of self-blame. They anticipated that they would castigate themselves for misplaced trust.

Other research complements this finding. A person who might be willing to cover for a weak partner on a two-person task will slack off, on principle, when dealing with a lazy partner. Research participants will invest more money on a risky startup if they fear the founders might be misguided than they will if they fear the founders might be fraudsters, even if the risk level is exactly the same. People who are asked about the allocation of welfare benefits to low-income families are more supportive of aid vouchers and in-kind donations than cash subsidies – because it’s ‘too easy to abuse the privilege’ of receiving cash. When people perceive the threat of exploitation, it seems to shift their attention from the risk of material loss to what the situation means for the self – if I let you take advantage, what does that make me?

In a Trust Game or out in the real world, the prospect of being a sucker warns people off. It cautions them not to share, not to cooperate, not to engage. In risky financial scenarios, the stakes are clear and they are on everyone’s mind, no matter how the situation is described. The fear of being a sucker is automatic. But sometimes, the ‘sucker’ framing is a rhetorical choice, a weaponisation of the sugrophobic tendency.

When Donald Trump was running for president of the United States in 2016, he used to repeat a little fable that he had taken from an old song. It was the story of a woman who finds a snake, shivering and hungry on a path. The snake begs her for help, pleading ‘Take me in, oh tender woman,’ until she relents – at which point the snake promptly gives her a fatal bite. As she protests her unfair fate, the snake snarls: ‘You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.’ The recitation was in fact lifted word for word from a 1960s civil rights anthem (‘The Snake’, by Oscar Brown Jr), but Trump was invoking it for a very different purpose: to chide Americans for being too lax on immigration. The persuasive function of the fable was to reject a human-rights framing of refugee relief, to insist that Americans who thought that there was a moral imperative to offer humanitarian asylum were being duped. You think you’re a saint, but you’re really just a sucker. The goal was to put some distance between Americans and their compassionate instincts, to trigger instead the visceral revulsion that follows the threat of being tricked.

This rhetorical framing was not surprising coming from Trump, who is notoriously obsessed with losers and chumps. But it should be a little bit startling that his reframing of the moral stakes of immigration policy had any purchase at all, since the purported exploiters he was warning about – often desperately poor migrants, including families with young children – had very little political or economic power.

What Trump seemed to understand is that sucker rhetoric taps into a deep status anxiety. If I can be fooled by a peer, or even by someone whom I thought had a weaker position than mine, that takes me down a peg. The fear of that social demotion helps explain a common tendency that people have to guard against exploitation by outsiders and strivers more vigilantly than exploitation by those with the power to do real harm. Workers who might be cheating employers, or students who might be tricking faculty – these fears are especially salient because they undermine the baseline power structure.

Sucker tropes are a core component of the social construction of ‘them’

I work for a university, and if the administration exploited my goodwill – say, the provost put me on too many committees, or the dean underpaid me even though I was doing a lot of unpleasant service – I would be frustrated to be sure, but not humiliated. Exploitation by those with power is more or less business as usual, not welcome but basically predictable. If I find that my students are exploiting my goodwill, such as by cheating on tests or lying to get leniency, then that is humiliating. If I care about getting played, students taking advantage of me makes me look weak and foolish.

That is, of course, a trivial (and fictional) example. But at scale, the special vigilance that people have about being exploited by those who are lower than them in the status hierarchy has real consequences. One way to keep a group of people subordinated is to tell stories about their scheming intentions, to leverage the fear of duplicity to play on the status anxiety of those who have power. The pitch, whether it’s subtle or overt, is: if you let ‘them’ have what they want (eg, status, money, citizenship, equality), you’ll make a fool of yourself.

In fact, sucker tropes are a core component of the social construction of ‘them’. The psychologist Jim Sidanius argued that every human society creates group categories and stratifies itself accordingly. In their book Social Dominance (1999), Sidanius and his colleague Felicia Pratto wrote that ‘group prejudices, stereotypes, ideologies of group superiority and inferiority … both help produce and are reflections of this group-based social hierarchy.’ Put simply, the goal of discrimination is power.

To see how scam rhetoric contributes to intergroup alienation, you only have to do a quick scan of the slang expressions for ‘ripped off’. A stunning number of synonyms have their roots in something racist, antisemitic, xenophobic or misogynistic. The offensive verb ‘to gyp’ is a reference to a widespread stereotype about the Roma. (The source of the slur is a shorthand for ‘Egyptian’, making it not only bigoted but also incorrect; the Roma migrated from northern India.) If someone is accused of ‘welching’ on a deal, it is an allusion to stories of untrustworthy racetrack bettors from Wales. And, of course, there is a long list of words for women who pretend to offer love when they are actually scheming for money (they start at ‘gold-digger’ and get worse from there).

Sidanius and Pratto argued that the stories a culture tells about who deserves what are the ‘legitimising myths’ of social domination, providing ‘moral and intellectual justification’ for social inequality. They include stories like: These people don’t want to be your friends; they want to take your stuff. Or: They don’t need your help; they’re just trying to take your jobs.

The study of stereotypes, especially stereotypes about women and Black people, suggests that a major ‘legitimising myth’ of some social hierarchies (including those in the US) is that there is less discrimination than historically marginalised groups claim there is. That is: They aren’t being discriminated against; they just want ‘special favours’.

Psychologists have long been in the business of measuring prejudice and, starting in the 1970s, a few research teams developed scales to try to measure racial prejudice by looking specifically at antagonism toward Black social power and economic gains. The items on the resulting Modern Racism Scale were designed to evaluate ‘covert’ racism as best as possible – not just raw animus, but something closer to resentment. The beliefs that characterise ‘modern racism’ have been summarised aptly, if starkly, in this way:

(1) discrimination is no longer an issue for Black people who (2) continue to make excessive demands for changes to the status quo – demands that are unfair because Black people have all the rights they need; (3) consequently, the attention Black people receive from the government and other institutions is undeserved and constitutes ‘special treatment’. Two additional tenets are: (1) the aforementioned three beliefs are empirical facts, and thus, (2) individuals endorsing these beliefs are not racist.

In other words, the research suggests that a core manifestation of racism is the belief that, when Black people protest discrimination, they are actually plotting for ‘undeserved’ power. From this perspective, those who take the discrimination claims seriously are being played for fools.

Sugrophobia has a hair trigger, and the ‘special treatment’ framing sets it off

Similar narratives show up in psychological studies of misogyny. Researchers have found that the propensity to engage in gender-based discrimination is associated with a set of sexist views such as: Women exaggerate problems they have at work; and Many women are actually seeking special favours, such as hiring policies that favour them over men, under the guise of asking for ‘equality’.

This aversion to ‘special treatment’ is a form of prejudice that relies on an automatic reaction: perceive a scam, repudiate the scammers. If members of a marginalised social group are seen as genuinely asking for equality, then they are making a deep moral claim that’s hard to dismiss. Morally and intuitively, the right response to inequality is solidarity and cooperation. But if those people are instead perceived as asking for ‘special favours’, then it seems morally optional to grant what they want. And if they are thought to be asking for special treatment but pretending they only want equality, that just seems like a scam, a reason to reject them out of hand.

It can be hard to perceive the force of this ‘special favours’ discourse, but the social science around feeling like a sucker helps make it clearer. Sugrophobia has a hair trigger, and the ‘special treatment’ framing sets it off, making the aversion to feeling suckered an underappreciated but powerful brake on social progress.

When we talk about the fear of being a sucker, the scams that come most easily to mind might be the big, obvious ones – Theranos, Ponzi, the guy who ‘sold’ the Brooklyn Bridge. But the scams that trouble us in the day-to-day are squishier, more ambiguous, and sometimes just the figment of a politician’s imagination. Often that means seeing threats where none exist – or, to put a finer point on it, suspecting cynical ploys from the people who actually deserve help or recourse. When the threat of a scam is raised, it may be helpful for all of us to ask: who really has power here? Whose status is threatened by the story I’m hearing?

The ‘sucker’ is a malleable construct. Human social life is complicated, and people are inclined to believe the most convenient or appealing narrative about who’s a fool and what’s a scam. Studying – and even just naming – the fear of being a sucker allows us to challenge the use of a construct that does its most pernicious work when no one is looking.

Social psychologyHuman rights and justiceFairness and equality

art of rules


The art of rules | Aeon

The art of rules

Conceptual art often confounds. The key is to understand the rules of the artwork and the aesthetic experiences they yield

Blind Light (2007) by Antony Gormley. A glass chamber filled with fog and light, at the Hayward Gallery in London, 2007. Photo by Fiona Hanson/PA/Getty

You walk into an art museum. In the first room there is a huge block of chocolate that someone has chewed on. The sign says not to touch it, but out of the corner of your eye you catch another visitor taking a bite. Further on is a pile of wrapped hard candy, surrounded by viewers. Someone else walks over, takes a candy, unwraps it, and pops it into their mouth. People look around uncertainly. The guard seems indifferent. A few gingerly take a candy from the pile before moving on.

Gnaw (1992) by Janine Antoni; 600 lb chocolate cube and 600 lb lard cube gnawed by the artist, 45 heart-shaped packages of chocolate made from chewed chocolate removed from chocolate cube and 150 lipsticks made with pigment, beeswax and chewed lard removed from lard cube; 24 in x 24 in x 24 in each. Installation view from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles © Janine Antoni. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Above the entrance to the next room, a text on the wall says: ‘In order to enter the room, you must hum a tune. Any tune will do.’ A guard stands there watching, listening. Turning to a different doorway, you find another obstacle: two naked people facing each other. The only way to pass through is to turn your body sidewise and squeeze between them. You choose the humming.

Imponderabilia (1977) by Marina Abramović and Ulay, Bologna, Italy. From the series Works with Ulay (1976-88) © the artist. Fair use

In the next room, you encounter a hut made of repurposed garbage, embellished with handwritten notes and a garland of hanging plastic tampon applicators, with two people sitting on the floor inside, having a chat. Should you go in? Or is the chat something you are just meant to observe from the outside?

Finally you see an enormous sculptural wall hanging: several panels made of crushed, metal bottle tops connected with wire, like a chunky tapestry. You’re sure you’ve seen it somewhere before. But it is hung differently this time: new folds have been introduced, some panels are rotated 90 degrees, and the display even turns a corner of the gallery. Is this the same work you saw before? Did someone hang it wrong?

Usually, we know what to do when we go to a museum. Beautiful, finely crafted objects are available to be looked at, and otherwise left alone. We admire the subject matter and the artist’s unique way of representing it. The works afford experiences of visual and intellectual enjoyment. We may return to the same works again and again, finding new elements to enjoy even as the work’s features remain largely unchanged. But this experience prepares us poorly for ‘conceptual’ art, so-called based on the proposition that it features ideas as much as physical stuff.

The history of conceptual art is often traced back to the early 20th-century work of Marcel Duchamp, who presented everyday objects like a snow shovel or a bottle rack as his own artworks, raising questions about the nature of art and proposing that artistic creativity need not involve skilled fabrication. Hard-edged conceptual art, which sometimes involved no material objects at all, had its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, captured by the artist Sol LeWitt’s statement in 1969 that ‘Ideas alone can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.’

Bottle Rack(1914; 1959 replica) by Marcel Duchamp. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago/Wikipedia
In Advance of the Broken Armby Marcel Duchamp (1915; 1964 replica of the artwork from the Galleria Schwarz edition). Courtesy Wikipedia

Subsequent decades have seen the proliferation of a movement of conceptual art more broadly construed in which the object, even if sometimes carefully constructed and essential to the work, points beyond itself to an idea or conceptual framework that may not be readily evident. When encountering the works I’ve described – all of which are real – we may experience increasing perplexity. What is going on here? What should we do with these works? What values are they pursuing? Are they any good? Above all, how would we start on getting answers to these questions?

It is not just that we don’t know what the rules are, but that the rules themselves have been withdrawn

The decline of traditional artistic media has helped to pull the rug out from under us. Artists have chipped away at, and sometimes abandoned wholesale, the conventions and boundaries that previously oriented us. Take painting, a medium that was long governed by conventions so obvious that it would have seemed silly to list them: a painting involves paint applied to a surface, presented so that the representational content is the right side up and facing away from the wall, and such that the painted surface is to be preserved for future appreciation. But artists have toyed with this model: Georg Baselitz makes paintings whose content is to be presented upside down; Fiona Banner made a painting whose primary marked surface is displayed facing the wall; Saburo Murakami made paintings whose paint was designed to flake away over time; and Gerald Ferguson made paintings that the purchaser is authorised to repaint if they wish to perform aesthetic ‘maintenance’.

Shy Nude (2007) by Fiona Banner. Courtesy the RISD Museum and © the artist

If the conventions of painting were suspended only for these particular works, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But, in fact, such manoeuvres have become so pervasive as to destabilise entire art forms. And when the central project associated with the art form is undermined, this makes it more difficult for us to grasp the artist’s own project. Encountering an artwork without a sense of the art form or medium it belongs to is a bit like watching people engage in an activity without knowing whether it is a dance, a sport or unstructured play: we might enjoy watching, or not, but we will struggle to understand what they are doing or why, or offer an assessment that connects to the goals and values internal to the activity. We might be able to infer broad goals just from watching – some participants are trying to transport a ball into a zone, and others are trying to stop them – but the finer significance of their choices will remain opaque. Trying to understand an artist’s choices, when we see only the end product and not the unfolding of responsive activity, is even more difficult.

In fact, the concern about the undermining of art forms runs even deeper. It is not just that we observers don’t know what game is being played or what its rules are, but that the rules themselves have been withdrawn or weakened. There are no longer mandatory goals or structures. It’s as if we have told the team: you can try to transport the ball into the zone… or not. Perhaps you’d like instead to do something up in the bleachers or over at the concession stand, or across town? And, by the way, the ball is optional.

In many years of studying conceptually oriented works, both in the gallery and by way of files held in museums’ back rooms, I began to discern a shared structure that allows us to make sense of the artists’ projects in relation to one another and to their historical precursors. This structure is not readily visible on the surface, since it is not associated with a specific material support. There is an underlying logic and set of constraints that constitute specific choices as meaningful. While the materiality of these works is all over the place, they are bolstered by an immaterial scaffold: a set of rules that point us toward what the artist is up to and what really matters.

When artists make conceptually oriented artworks, they don’t just deliver objects to the museum. (Sometimes there is no persistent object at all.) Display and purchase of these works involves a set of instructions provided by the artist. While delivery of the instructions is sometimes ad hoc, it has increasingly been formalised: many artists prepare a packet of instructions, and museum professionals have developed protocols for artist questionnaires and interviews to ensure the systematic collection of the information needed to display and steward these works.

We are invited to participate in various ways, from contributing a small note or drawing, to coming in for tea

The rules that emerge are usually of three kinds. First are rules for display. These are the rules governing what we encounter when a work is exhibited. To display Félix González-Torres’s ‘Untitled’ (Portrait of Ross in LA) (1991), the museum must acquire a supply of the appropriate wrapped hard candies and display approximately 175 lbs’ worth in a pile on the gallery floor, available for audience members to take. To display Drifting Continents (2009) by El Anatsui, a massive wall-hung work made of liquor bottle tops connected with copper wire, the museum must come into possession of the panels painstakingly fabricated in Anatsui’s studio, but the installers have the latitude to make decisions about how to fold, drape, and orient them to best suit the space and their own taste. To display Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic (1987), the museum must fabricate a new dress out of salted flank steak and allow it to desiccate over the course of the exhibition. Rules for display govern both what to display – specific objects created by the artist, a type of object the artist has designated, or a physical array newly constituted for the occasion – and how to display it: whether in a very specific physical configuration, or in one of a range of ways defined by the artist’s aesthetic sensibility or by some other set of criteria.

Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA) (1991) by Félix González-Torres. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago/Wikipedia

The second group are rules for conservation. These have to do with which elements of a work must be preserved for the work to maintain its material integrity. Rules for conservation are important in shaping how the material components of a work will appear to future viewers, but also in identifying which elements are essential to the work’s ongoing existence. When Murakami created abstract paintings whose paint is designed to flake away over time, he embraced within the works a process of change that is normally treated as damage to be prevented and repaired. Whereas paintings have traditionally been intended to have a relatively stable surface and be conserved with the goal of maintaining it, Murakami redeploys painting as an essentially time-based medium.

Finally, we have rules for participation. These specify what, if anything, we as audience members may or must do to experience the work. The works in Jill Sigman’s Hut Project (2009-) are designed not just to be appreciated for their visual aesthetic, but to set up social situations: we are invited to participate in various ways, from contributing a small note or drawing, to coming in for tea. Paul Ramírez Jonas’s The Commons (2011), a monumental sculpture of a riderless horse atop a pedestal, offers a cork surface pierced with thumbtacks as an invitation for viewers to contribute whatever items or messages they like, making the work into a site of collective communication that papers over the object the artist supplied.

The Hut Project (2009-) by Jill Sigman
The Commons (2011) by Paul Ramírez Jonas. Materials: cork, pushpins, notes contributed by the public. This is an equestrian monument. Unusual in that it has no rider, unusual in that it implies the viewer. It is made of cork instead of bronze because cork is a material that can ‘publish’ an endless number of voices. It opposes the singular voice of the State, or the singular identity of the hero normally portrayed on the horse. The materials and interaction they imply oppose the singular and immutable inscription of the public space that bronze and stone allow. © The artist

These rules set up a certain kind of experience for us: they shape the physical elements we will encounter and how we will be invited to engage with them. They also shape what we will experience over time, if we return to the work: will the physical elements evolve, be replaced, or be preserved? Can the configuration change, or is it fixed? The rules are integral to the artist’s project and to what these works can express, so we need to know about them. While we are sometimes left to figure out the rules on our own through repeated encounters with the work, often these works are accompanied by a short instruction or explanatory text providing key information. If you see Anatsui’s Drifting Continents only once and don’t know that it can be hung differently, you still have a stunning visual array to enjoy: but learning from a wall label or website that the artist allows others to participate in constructing the display allows for a deeper appreciation of the artist’s aims.

The structure of rules allows us to identify where an artist’s project is informed by and diverges from the choices of prior artists. To see this, let’s take a deeper dive into rules for participation. Where a rule for non-participation was once the unstated default, now it is a conscious choice. Sarah Sze fills rooms with meticulous sculptural arrangements made from everyday objects. Her works, while playful, are very much about formal visual effects. In her 1998 book on Sze, the curator Linda Norden observes that Sze’s care in arranging objects, ‘stacking two red, two orange, and one yellow Starburst, and twisting each to just this angle; letting the lamp cord dangle down, not across, the desk – and not any isolated element – determine[s] the larger meanings of the piece.’ Yet the audience does sometimes contribute elements to Sze’s work, despite a rule for non-participation. ‘Some of the things I’ve found,’ Sze notes, ‘are a postage stamp, a mint Life Saver, a bus ticket, a lunch receipt, and a hair band. They’re all things that people probably had in their pocket and spontaneously decided to add.’ These intrusive elements are removed to preserve the work’s integrity.

Of course, Sze could have chosen, like Ramírez Jonas with his cork and thumbtacks, to make works where she provides the initial structure and then welcomes audience contributions. But works involving this rule for participation would be completely different from the works Sze actually makes. Specific formal effects are critical to Sze’s artistic practice, linking her to a long tradition of precise fabrication and visual beauty, even while she incorporates materials like toilet paper, cotton swabs, aspirin tablets, batteries and ladders. Works that invite viewer contributions would quickly spin away from Sze’s aesthetic. This might lead to interesting reflections on forms of play and collaboration, chaos and ruination – the way that all our finely tuned structures are repeatedly appropriated and reappropriated, added to and subtracted from, until they are submerged in the dust of future generations. But this would be entirely different from the expressive content of her actual works, which invite us to revel in visual delight and fascination with materials, their capacities, their evolution over time, and the aesthetic workings of the artist’s mind.

Simply giving us lovely things to look at was not Clark’s project: she invites us to relate to the work creatively

While Sze’s artistic project rules out audience participation, the projects of other artists require it. Lygia Clark’s Bichos (Critters) (1960-66), abstract sculptures made from pieces of sheet metal connected by hinges, were designed to be manipulated by audience members. Often small enough to hold in one’s hands, they can be folded and opened out into different geometric shapes, though they don’t necessarily comply with the user’s wishes. Clark stated that ‘Each Bicho is an organic entity that fully reveals itself within its inner time of expression,’ and our encounter with a Bicho ‘is a body-to-body between two living entities’. People who have played with the Bichos describe a very particular sort of experience:

Clunky and awkward, they refuse to lie flat but don’t really stand up, either.
– Jessica Dawson in The Wall Street Journal, 2014
You push the Bicho one way and it resists, another and a whole part of the sculpture flops over, swinging around with a flap and bang.
– from The Uses of Art (2022) by Sal Randolph
[I]f one does not work with the logic of the beast’s interlocking parts, it will refuse to hold the appropriate shape; indeed, more than this, it will very noisily collapse in a heap, underscoring the participant’s failure to enter into a satisfactory relationship with it.
– from Visualising Feeling (2014) by Susan Best

The opportunity for audiences to engage physically with the works was crucial to Clark’s project and, as the curator Guy Brett wrote in 1994, during her lifetime Clark fought for this opportunity to remain available when collectors and institutions tried to restrict it. Though these works can be painstakingly arranged in static displays to highlight a triumphal, upward-reaching character, simply giving us lovely things to look at was not Clark’s project: she invites us to relate to the work creatively, engage multiple senses, and experience the Bicho as infused with a being that operates in relation to our own – responsive to us but not merely submitting to our will. Exploring the potentiality of these quirky objects, and our own responses of frustration, trepidation, victory and relief, is key to appreciating these works fully.

Whereas physical engagement with Clark’s Bichos is essential for full appreciation, a rule for participation may instead function as a permission, perhaps even reluctantly extended. Romy Owens spent 43 hours installing her work Beauty Is Transformed Over Time, and Not Without Destruction (2020) by driving hundreds of nails very precisely into a gallery wall and connecting them in an elaborate pattern with coloured thread. She then hung scissors nearby with a wall label reading:

This art is not intended to be interactive, but it does present you with a choice. You have permission to choose whether to use the scissors. Leave the string as presented so others can experience the work the same way you have, or cut the string, permanently altering the art, and the experience for everyone else.

Owens has set up an ethically charged situation that engages our thinking about value-laden matters of stewardship and destruction, evolution and preservation, authorial voice and public collaboration, playful participation and prudish withholding, order and disarray.

Opportunities for participation occasionally extend to museum staff but not to the public. With his sculptural wall hangings made of liquor bottle tops, Anatsui adopts a rule for non-participation for audience members but invites installers, whose tastes are typically subordinated to those of the artist, to contribute to the work’s visual aesthetic by choosing how the works will be oriented, folded, and draped. In an interview in 2006, Anatsui describes this as a nomadic aesthetic that he adopts with the aim of ‘giving others the freedom or, better still, the authority to try their hands at forming what the artist has provided as a starting point, a datum.’

If I see this work again, will it look the same? Do I have an option to do something more than look?

Of course, we always have a choice about whether to touch, manipulate or destroy an artwork. Museum files, and occasionally news articles, are full of stories of illicit participation. But a painting by Vincent van Gogh doesn’t come to be about climate activism when soup is thrown on it, and an early 20th-century fresco doesn’t become an essentially time-based work with no fixed appearance when someone ineptly repaints it. These actions are external to the work and what it expresses. On the other hand, when artists incorporate rules for participation within their works, this is part of the artistic project of setting up a kind of experience for us. Choices in this realm have expressive import just like choices about which shapes and colours of paint to apply to a canvas.

The challenge of contemporary art is that, when we see what looks like a static object, or what looks like damage, we no longer have longstanding conventions to guide us in knowing the work’s boundaries and status. A pile of candy, a cube of chocolate, a cork sculpture, an arrangement of everyday objects might – or might not – present possibilities for interaction or evolution. An object that seems damaged may need repair, or the change itself may be something to appreciate. If we see someone else touching or even making off with a physical component of the work, this might be a violation of its structural integrity – perhaps even a crime – or it might point to a possibility open to us as well. Our encounters with contemporary art may thus be infused with uncertainty, which is also a sense of possibility.

The more we know about the diverse projects of contemporary art, the more questions we may have: if I see this work again, will it look the same? Did the artist make these choices, or was someone else involved? Do I have an option to do something more than look? Answering these questions may require that we seek out information, like reading a wall label – a practice some find tedious. But there is something to be said for the value of the questioning itself. Rather than seeing the physical display as a self-contained jewel we are to gaze upon and contemplate, our awareness of its potential to be embedded within various artistic projects allows us to assess how well it serves the project it actually belongs to. If González-Torres didn’t allow us to eat the candy in ‘Untitled’ (Portrait of Ross in LA), the work would have a very different expressive character, not the generosity and celebration of simple pleasures that the actual work offers by way of the opportunity to eat the candy. Awareness of the landscape of rules allows us to contemplate the work in relation to options the artist didn’t pursue, and thereby grasp the import of the artist’s creative choices.

Like every other artistic resource, rules can be used well or poorly: sometimes they set up a situation that is simply boring or tiresome, without leading to any broader reflection. Occasionally, they seem to be expressions of ego or control more than artistic integrity, as when an artist (who shall remain nameless) expressed a post-hoc rule that, in order to display his work, the institution must refabricate the object in a much more costly material than the original. But, at other times, even a simple rule can enliven our perception, embodiment, emotion, cognition and will, leading us to an experience that feels totally fresh, or even to contemplation of broader systems and our place within them.

Back in the gallery, you might feel a bit silly as you walk toward the guard who is listening for your off-key hum, as per the rules of Adrian Piper’s The Humming Room (2012). You notice someone else resisting, irritated at the imposition, while others participate unperturbed, and still others hesitate or turn away. Pulled into reflection by your own discomfort, you might consider how this work reveals the institution’s usual logic through inversion: visitors are required to break the reverent silence of the museum and invited to make a creative contribution to the sensory landscape, regardless of competence or status; the fare to enter is in a currency, the voice, that almost anyone can pay; security guards are asked to protect the integrity of the work not by keeping you away from it but by securing your inclusion. Who benefits from the usual institutional conditions of fees for entry, silence and separation between the audience and the art? How do they enact and maintain broader tendencies of social, economic and carceral control that intimidate some visitors – and artists – or keep them out entirely?

The Humming Room (2012) by Adrian Piper. Voluntary group performance; installation view from Do It 2013 at Manchester Art Gallery, July 2013. Photo Alan Seabright © Adrian Piper Research Archive. Foundation Berlin

Rules are a technology, refined over decades of iteration and development, that allow artists to activate a situation: mobilising change over time in objects, mobilising the institution in uncharacteristic acts of creativity or generosity, mobilising us in decisions about whether to engage in acts of risk-taking (like the project Haircuts by Children (2006-) by Mammalian Diving Reflex), acts of connection (like the performance The Artist Is Present (2010) by Marina Abramović), and even acts of destruction (like the installation Helena & El Pescador (2000) by Marco Evaristti). When they are used well, rules afford powerful, fully engaged experiences of the social and material world and of our own humanity – values that art has always sought, now made available in new ways.

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