Conversations: the socially engaged artist as environmental change agent
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Conversations: The socially engaged artist as environmental change agent Janey Hunt - University of Plymouth 2005- 2011
I use my art practice in conjunction with environmental behaviour research and Michel de Certeau’s practice of the everyday, to enable a re-examination of socially engaged art and through art to activate environmental behaviour change. Questions Clarify contemporary debate about demonstrable and desirable aspects and issues of socially engaged art practice and through my own practice identify its key characteristics. Examine the claim for change offered by many socially engaged practitioners. Context The socially engaged artist operates outside of the gallery, in everyday lives and real situations, often engaging in issues of meaning to society at large, where participation and facilitation of dialogue are the common characteristics. I identify participation, the ambition of social change, aesthetic representation and a failure to communicate beyond the participative event as key considerations. (Bishop 2004; Bourriaud 2002; Kester 2004; Kwon 2004) I propose an aesthetic of presence, to recognise community as a creative vernacular and as pooled knowledge. Drawn from Michel de Certeau’s research into everyday life (Michel de Certeau 1985; Michel de Certeau et al. 1998a) this also provides a refocusing on participation through conversation and describes rupture events, which signify change occurring. Method This thesis compares research in an alternative field, environmental behaviour, which investigates the impediments to change (the value-action gap), how change happens and identifies the change agent, as essential to encourage change at a personal level. (Ballard and Associates 2005b; Darnton et al. 2006) I use the value-action gap, the tension point between knowing about climate change and failing to make changes in our own behaviour, (Blake 1999; Darnton 2004b; Kollmus and Agyeman 2002) as a direct impetus to make participative artwork that examines the idea of a sustainable lifestyle. My art practice recognises a three-stage process: an admission of my own environmental behaviour; encouraging reciprocal participation and conversation and enabling personal reflection; representing conversation offering shared vernacular knowledge and enabling others’ engagement with the artwork and behaviour change. Equating the socially engaged artist with the environmental change agent, I synthesised the Model for Change Agents (S. Ballard and Ballard 2005a; Ballard and Associates 2005b) with research on participation in the arts (Matarasso 1997), as a basis for understanding how participation occurs and how change could happen in socially engaged artworks. An analysis of pilot artworks extends this model to identify the conditions for change, which also equate to the aesthetic aspects of the artwork, in a new model for Practice, Participation and Progression. Outcomes I propose key characteristics for socially engaged practice based on analysis of contemporary commentators and the model for practice, participation and progression. The role of the socially engaged artist is identified as comparable to the change agent. Representing conversation, addresses an issue of socially engaged practice to communicate beyond documentation of the event’s provocation and participation. I develop discussion of the discursive site beyond participation itself to a community of common sensibility and pooled knowledge as a demonstration of personal agency that is able to redefine the public ideal and challenge dominant culture. Re-presenting conversation is a means of sharing knowledge, stimulating change and expanding community. Contributing to environmental behaviour research my art practice reveals our ability to abstract behaviour, identifies our main areas of concern within lifestyle, our motivations for making change and the importance of the preservation of personal agency. I also comment on de Certeau, identifying the problems with individual resistance through the everyday, exploring mini-rupture events signaling change and proposing a reversal of the aesthetic of absence to an aesthetic of presence creating a new narrative that utilises personal agency.
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