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The Ecology of Cultural Space: Towards an Understanding of the Contemporary Artist-led Collective

Wright, John David (2019) The Ecology of Cultural Space: Towards an Understanding of the Contemporary Artist-led Collective. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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The importance of friendship has been under-researched in relation to artistic discourse. This lack of research becomes particularly acute when considering ambiguous formations of collective artistic activity. My thesis draws upon friendship as a socio-cultural phenomenon in order to situate the artist-led collective both historically and within the contemporary art continuum. Tracing an historiography of the personal relationships which blurred the boundaries between art and politics, from the re-imagining of the medieval artisanal guild in the nineteenth century to the development of Futurism in the early twentieth century, I argue that the contemporary artist-led collective is haunted by these ‘collectivisms past’ and the spectre of autonomy. Further, the contradictions located within the ideological notions of individualism, which pervade the neo-liberal capitalist hegemony, both deny collective agency and yet accept collective praxis in the guise of enterprise culture. It is this contradictory character that frames my thesis and provides the context for understanding the complex role which friendship plays in the genesis of the contemporary artist-led collective. In order to understand the implications of friendship as a vital component of the artist-led collective, I utilise Relational Dialectics Theory (RDT) developed by Leslie Baxter and Barbara Montgomery, as a conceptual framework. I employ in-depth case studies of the artist-led collective duo The Cool Couple and architecture collective Assemble, in order to explore how friendship informs artist-led collectives throughout their life cycles. I question how and why these social bonds, which constitute relationships and thus shape the collectives, interrelate with a multiplicity of forces in their specific cultural ecology. These interrelations are further explored through a mapping study of artist-led collective activity in Leeds, UK. This study problematises the dualistic perspective of resistance and co-option between artist-led collectives and institutions. I argue that the evolution of the artist-led collective is implicitly interrelated with the institution and thus the binary opposition of resistance and co-option becomes a dialectical knot of ever-changing relationships. Finally, I situate myself in the research through an auto-ethnographic study of the artist-led collective The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe, of which I am a founding member. This case study enables an internal view of the social bonds which formed The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe and provides an insight that would otherwise be impossible from an external perspective.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Artist-Led, Collective, Collectivism, Relational Dialectics, Friendship
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.805296
Depositing User: Mr John Wright
Date Deposited: 13 May 2020 06:41
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2020 09:53
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/26338

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