Context is Half the Work


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The idea of Artist Placement stemmed from a group of UK artists, and was guided by John Latham and initiated by Barbara Steveni, who were experimenting with radical new forms of art.

Between 1966 and the mid-1980s, APG negotiated approximately twenty placements on behalf of artists in industry and government. Unlike most residency schemes that have emerged in its wake, APG artists were not required to produce any determinable object as a result of her or his placement.

The goal was not to put the artist at the service of industry or government, but to allow her or him to act upon a given situation outside of the studio and the art market, in an environment usually perceived as alien to intuitive, creative thinking. As APG’s axiom put it: ‘Context is half the work’. It was understood that the benefits of the placement, for the artist as well as for the host organisation, would most likely be felt over the long term, affecting both parties in ways difficult, if not impossible to quantify. In the short term, signing on to APG’s open brief represented a considerable gamble on the part of organisations having to justify any investment perceived as ‘risky’.

The APG display at Artefact features facsimiles of correspondence between APG and potential host organisations, most of which did not lead to an actual placement. These are selected from the Tate Archive and Steveni’s personal papers. Together they constitute a ‘hidden’ history of APG – which may well be its most accurate, given its emphasis on process and language over object-production. But the display is not merely historical: it points to the effort required – today as much as in the 1960s and 1970s – to convince the private and public sectors of the intangible and unpredictable value of an artist’s insight.

APG was a milestone in Conceptual Art in Britain, reinventing the means of making and disseminating art, and anticipating many of the issues facing cultural workers today. It represented itself in a number of exhibitions and events, notably in the exhibition Art and Economics at the Hayward Gallery in 1971 with artistic interventions by Garth Evans, Barry Flanagan, John Latham and others. Emulating APG’s emphasis on the discursive, the exhibition will host frequent public discussions relating to art and social organisation.

An exhibition at Kunstraum Kreuzberg in Berlin presents six selected placements opening on September 12th, with research material, artworks and a documentation of the APGs activities in the UK and Germany.


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Thomas Büsch

Filmmaker, Founding Member and Secretary General of diyalog, promotion of cultural exchange with Turkey. Since 2012 he is also project manager of InEnArt.

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