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Title: Politics of the project : radical art in Britain (1972-79)
Author: Bagcioglu Izgi, Neylan
ISNI:       0000 0004 9354 0064
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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The 1970s saw collaboration and local, grass-roots activism become common in radical art in Britain. Concomitant with anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-nuclear efforts, a group of Leftist artists challenged social and financial elitism, patriarchy and inequality in both the art world and British society by producing praxis-led artist projects in lieu of art objects. However, the reception and analysis of 1970s artist projects in general (and in Britain in particular) is still very limited. As a result the post-1989 period is widely cited as the dawn of artist projects in contemporary accounts. This thesis challenges such oversights by arguing that the ‘artist project’ emerged in the 1970s. It illuminates the 1970s artistic practice of project-making through a detailed historiography of projects created in Britain during that decade. The socially-driven art practice of the 1970s is contextualized by providing an historical account of the socio-political situation in Britain in the 1970s and the major social shifts that it entailed (such as the 1970 Equal Pay Act, Industrial Relations Act of 1971, the implementation of a three-day week, rising unemployment, strikes and riots). By recovering projects that have been marginalised within the art historical canon this thesis defines the character of the ‘artist project’ and demonstrates its significance within socially-orientated art practice. This definition is derived empirically through an analysis of three major artist projects as well as an examination of the Artist’s Union (1972-83) which initially brought these left-leaning artists together and thereby set the stage for the artist projects which followed. The three focal projects are: The West London Social Resource Project (1972) by Stephen Willats (which sought to expand the remit and reach of art and the social territory in which it physically operates by inviting the residents of four different neighbourhoods in West London to respond to questions about their immediate as well as wider physical and social environments); Women and Work: A Document on the Division of Labour in Industry 1973-75 [1973-75] by Margaret Harrison, Kay Fido Hunt and Mary Kelly (a collaborative in-depth study that the artists conducted at the Metal Box Co. in Bermondsey to document the past history and the present working conditions of women in the tin box industry); and The Peterlee Project (1976-77) by Stuart Brisley (who worked with local miners in an effort to empower them in building their own community in the new town of Peterlee). Characterised by a new type of artistic thinking, these projects were also informed by academic and commercial disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and communications. The thesis explores the collaborative thrust and shared radically reformist socio- political agenda operative within artist projects in Britain during the 1970s and demonstrates the way that they employed direct action to change the parameters of art, incorporating instigation, discussion and generative processes directly into its production. These projects expanded the reach and breadth of artistic practice as a means not only to challenge but also to seek to remedy the disillusionment caused by the shortcomings of the modernist agenda in art and society, including the promises of the welfare state in Britain.
Supervisor: Skrebowski, Luke Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: radical art ; collaboration ; direct action ; artist project ; praxis ; socially orientated art ; radical reformism ; artist union