Our Co-Director Sarah Pace has been awarded a PhD by the University of South Wales for her thesis REVOLUTIONS OF THE PUBLIC ART MACHINE. Through an inductive, qualitative, multicase study analysis of iterations of the ‘public art machine’ manifested through three public art projects commissioned as part of community regeneration schemes in Cardiff, South Wales, the thesis problematises the potential and actual practices of state-sponsored public art commissioning to generate a critically situated art practice for social change within community regeneration contexts.
Sarah’s research has reflected upon and informed her personal and Addo’s practice to date. She says,
I have a particular interest in the apparent paradoxical relationship between the conditions necessary for the production of critical artworks and the objectives of public or private sponsorship and in turn, the potential impact of art projects for audiences and communities. I have explored this concurrently through my practice (both as Co-Director of Addo and as a freelancer working on projects such as Mining Josef Herman – a two year partnership programme with Tate) and through my PhD thesis.
Experiential learning was a key driver for my research, which was informed by my experiences of working on art projects within community regeneration contexts and was intended as a means to better understand commissioning processes and the efficacy of my role within them, especially in light of criticism of ‘elite arts managers’.
Through an examination of public art projects in South Wales, I argue for the agency of cultural workers to adapt and resist dominant strategies by creating spaces within which conflicting agendas may emerge and proposing new ways of working. I draw on Foucault’s conception of power and governmentality (which sees governance as being subject to a complex and pervasive capillary network of power relations between multiple agencies and specific contexts rather than a top-down, linear process) and his subsequent contention that, “to work with government implies neither subjection nor global acceptance. One can simultaneously work and be restive” (Foucault quoted in Bennett, 1992: 395).
In my role as a curator working in the public realm I try to embody this principle and endeavour through my practice to work collaboratively with and within existing systems of arts and non-arts production but also to adapt, innovate, challenge, critique and resist these processes when needed. I am motivated by the idea that critical contemporary art practice and the creative strategies that it generates may contribute to socio-political change and impact positively on people’s everyday lives.
Sarah’s thesis abstract outlines the scope of the research undertaken in more detail and may be viewed here. Sarah is currently looking for ways to share and disseminate her research. If you would like to find out more please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.