Organisational Art - A Study of Art at Work in Organisations
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This investigation is about Organisational Art (OA), which is a tentative title of an art form that works together with organisations (companies, institutions, communities, governments and NGOs) to produce art. This is most often done together with non-artist members of the organisation and on-site in their social context. OA is characterised as socially engaged, conceptual, discursive, site-specific and contextual. It is argued that OA seeks to advance both art and the organisation of human work/life by crossing the boundaries of the art institution – and thereby expanding it without suspending it.
The thesis takes its historical outset with ‘Artist Placement Group’ (formed in 1966), a British art group that developed an unprecedented framework for placing artists in organisational environments to circumvent the restraints of the art institution, ultimately to achieve influence on the decision-making bodies of society. Perhaps the most influential artist of the group is British artist John Latham, who is introduced at length as an example of how an otherwise uncompromising artistic practice was integrated in an organisational environment, where some level of compromise often is a condition for success. ‘The Incidental Person’ was the name of this new artist role that was able to transcend boundaries in organisations to create coherence and synergy across professions and hierarchies. This was partly possible due to the artists’ detachment from the praxis of life, which s/he aimed to surmount.
The investigation continues with a large case study of the Danish art project Industries of Vision (2001) by artist Kent Hansen (democratic innovation). It includes artist groups Superflex and N55 and manufacturing companies LK and Basta and aims to facilitate mutual learning through interdisciplinary collaboration with artists, consultants and staff. In the framing of the project a space for art making is established by the artists (called ‘The Scope of Art’). Here a ‘working artefact’ serves as the pivotal point for joint creation of a practical utopia (‘heterotopia’) in the organisational context. The case study makes use of both art- and organisational theory.
The thesis concludes with an outline of a framework for OA that is derived from contemporary theory of mainly Relational Aesthetics (Bourriaud), Conceptual Art (Godfrey), Site-Specific Art (Kwon) and Contextual Art (Weibel/Østergaard). It also addresses similarities with the theory of the historical avant-garde art (Bürger), where the main similarity is OA’s aim to integrate art with the praxis of life in society, although OA’s methods are more mundane and appreciative than those of the historical avant-garde. It is argued that this integration cannot effectively happen only via the conventional institutional spaces of art, the museum and gallery. This is the main reason for engaging in organisational contexts, as well as the achievement of an eyelevel platform for exchange with society. This exchange is seen as an important democratic factor to facilitate a higher appreciation of creativity and understanding of how to cope with ambiguity in society.
In November 2004, I was co-organising 'Organisational Art Summit', where twenty practitioners, academics and artists met in a secluded cottage to write a so-called 'Thin Book' about this relatively novel art form - in just three days.