Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Dissertation Proposal


An extensive review in to the history of art activism in the art gallery and in the public domain. With regards to this information where is art activism headed in the future?


Activism is action taken by an individual or group aiming to bring about social, political, economic or environmental change. Throughout history activism has had a strong connection with the arts and it continues to do so, providing a vehicle for emotion and opinion. Art Activism also falls under the title of community art or public art as it's main intention is to advertise issues of interest to a wider group in society. The reason for advertising these issues is to harness awareness and support in the hope that more involvement will put pressure on the route of the problem to change. If an act of public art doesn’t do anything else, it acts as an outlet for built up anger on an issue.

Art Activism may be done in numerous ways and can be used to tackle any issue. For example the notorious and controversial Feminist Art Activist group, The Guerrilla Girls, get there views over to the masses through appearances, clever poster campaigns, billboards and books. They are famous for staying anonymous by wearing gorilla masks in public and using the names of deceased female artists. Their main goal is to show the lack of females in art galleries. They appear at gallery openings and events of significance to announce their views.

WochenKlauser, an Art Activism group from Austria use a very different method. They don’t concentrate on a certain issue. They assess what local political circumstances need addressing and after research and planning they decide the best strategy to bring the issue to attention. The next stage in there action is to approach an art gallery with their intervention proposal. If the proposal is accepted they then create their work in the space.

These two examples show the extent of diversity in using art as a form of activism. On the one hand it can be in your face, controversial, spontaneous, angry and pushy. On the other it can be a lot more controlled, clever and interesting. It may be an individual view expressed through a painting held at a protest or a performance piece staged by a group in a public building. It may be a piece of classic painting such as Picasso's Guernica or a piece of street art by the infamous graffiti artist Banksy. However different each method is, they all try to do the same thing; challenge public perception on an issue they feel needs changed.


- to investigate the history of art as a form of activism

- to make a comprehensive list of how art is used in activism and assess the success of each method

- to understand why individuals and groups use art as a form of activism

- to assess the reasoning behind different uses of art activism action at different events

- to identify the most controversial art activists groups and individuals

- to identify the differences between art activism in the art gallery compared to that of art activism in public space

- to assess whether advanced planning or spontaneous action is more successful

- to investigate in to the publics opinion towards art as a form of activism

- to find out the recurring issues in art activism and if there has been a change and advancement in the way these issues have been dealt with

- to assess whether advances in technology have changed activist art in anyway


I would like to produce through my dissertation:

- an in depth analysis of relevant books, journals, articles, course syllabi and other written sources

- a series of discussions with activists and art activists

- a personal documentation and analysis of art activism through attendance to art galleries and events

- an analysis and conclusion to the effectiveness of art activism in galleries compared to art activism in the public domain

- an over all conclusion to the success of activist art

- an outlook to where activist art may be heading in the future


activist, art, protest, revolution, social change, campaign


Adbusters, 2010. Activism after Clicktivism, How to energise the political left. [online] Available at: [accessed 10/03/2011]

This article looks at activism on the internet and how it will never compare to the real thing. With the computer and the internet being such a big part of our daily lives, it is definitely important for me to look at how it is effecting activism.

Adbusters, 2010. The Aesthetics of Activism. [online] Available at: [accessed 10/03/2011]

This article provides the story behind the controversial magazine Adbusters and proves that a magazine is a form of art activism.

Cieri. M, Peeps. C., 2000. Activists Speak Out: Reflections on the Pursuit of Change in America: Palgrave Macmillan.

This book looks at why different groups in America are passionate about change. It looks at the issues leading up to there unrest and the subsequent strategies undertaken to initiate change. I think it is important to look at art and activism to come to new conclusions on it’s relationship.

Community Arts Network, 2002. An Introduction to Community Art and Activism. [online] Available at: [accessed 13/03/2011]

This article offers a greatly detailed introduction to Community Art and Activism covering it's history, activist partnerships, initiatives, and a conclusion to the intersection between art and activism. This article will help me gain the background knowledge I need for my research.

Dunn, P, Leeson, L., 1997. The Aesthetics of Collaboration. The Art of Change Art Journal, CAA, USA. [online] Available at: [accessed 13/03/2011]

The Art of Change is an artist's collective that looks at the relationship between art, regeneration, technologies and environment. This article looks at projects they have undertaken in the public domain. One subheading that will be useful for my research is "From Strategy to Implementation." It will help me draw closer to my aim of finding out the success of planned action over more spontaneous action.

Exit through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film. 2011 [DVD]

Thierry Guetta an LA based, French amateur cameraman and graffiti enthusiast was the genius who captured the rise of street art. When he is given the chance to meet with the well known British graffiti artist, Banksy, the tables turn. Banksy feels that Guetta is the interesting one, subsequently making a documentary about him. Street Art and Graffiti are the most common types of public art with political and social issues often being centre stage. For this reason it is a must that I do research in to it's history and influence. This DVD will provide me with a real insight in to the motives behind the influential artist, Banksy's work. It will also provide information on Banksy's feelings towards other graffiti artists, hopefully revealing some of his influences.

Felshin, N., 1995. But is it Art? The Spirit of Art as Activism. London: Bay Press.

This book puts together a group of 12 essays by a varied group of authors who all show sensitivity to their subjects as well as to the complex of issues surrounding those subjects. While the book's subtitle positions art as activism, many of the essays make the case for activism as art. It looks at a history of art activism that has tried to go against the predictable. It features case studies of some of the most controversial art activists of our time including the Guerilla Girls, Gran Fury, Women's Action Coalition and Group Material. Finding out about these passionate activists is key to my research. I will also find this book useful for investigating in to chosen locations for art activism.

Feminist, 2006. Feminist Activism for the College Grrl. [online] Available at: [accessed 07/03/2011]

Although this article is based on feminist art activism, it provides ideas on many ways that art activism can be carried out. This is a good source of inspiration to start making a comprehensive list of successful ways of becoming actively involved in the community through art.

Finkelpearl, T., 2000. Dialogues in Public Art. Cambridge, Mass, London: MIT Press.

This book focuses on art in the public space but not as activism. I feel it's important to include this research as it will be interesting to see if normal public art has any similarities to the art that activists create outside. It leads me to question the possibility of other sources providing inspiration to art activists.

Frieze Magazine: People's Choice, 2010. 17 years of projects by art collective Group Material. [online] Available at:

This article provides me with an insight in to another art activist group's history and accomplishments, strengthening my knowledge on the subject.

Frieze Magazine: Politics, 2011. Good Intentions; Art has a long history of engagement with politics. does recent so-called socially engaged or political art really effect change? [online] Available at: [accessed 29/02/2011]

This article looks in depth at the success of political and social art, drawing on many historical examples.

Gerin. A, McClean. J., 2009. Public Art in Canada, Critical Perspectives. Canada: UTP Publishing.

This book investigates in to the varied forms of Public Art and how it reaches out to the public. The book includes writings from highly respected contributors, offering a wide range of views on how Public Art helps outreach in a way that other Art can't. They highlight the emotion, struggle and outcome of Public Art. This will allow me to hear voices of another cultures perspective. I intend to focus on the emotional information that this book provides.

Guerrilla Girls., 1995. Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls. London: Pandora.

This book showcases some of the art activist group, the Guerrilla Girl's best poster work. They discuss these projects in-depth and the consequences to their poster campaigns. This allows me to understand the reasoning behind the Guerrilla Girl's work and show me how art activism can be successful.

Heller, S., 2010. Pop: How Graphic Design Shapes Popular Culture. London: Allworth Communications.

This book looks in to the lasting and fleeting impacts of Graphic Design on popular culture. It considers the aims of design, and the influence it has over other art forms in broader culture. Covered in the book are relevant topics to my research; viral and guerilla campaigns, political satire and a history of influential publication design. I feel this book will give me a new perspective to my research. Graphic design is always asking people to change their views, so I will look through out the book for links between graphic design and activism.

Kearny Street Workshop, 2007. Archive: Activist Imagination. Available at: [accessed 13/03/2011]

This blog follows the exhibition and the events surrounding the exhibition, Activist Imagination. The exhibition was held at Kearney Street Workshop in San Francisco in 2007 to offer the public an insight in to the past, present and future of activism and the arts. The blog offers write ups of artist's talks, an explanation behind some of the work and an interesting post by an anonymous artist on why he refused to make art for the exhibition as he/ she believes that art and activism do not mix. This blog will help me realize why it is important to document and explore art activism in the gallery. As I plan to look at the success of art in activism, hearing a view against is success will provide ideas for my conclusion.

Kester, H., 2004. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley, London: University of California Press.

This book is similar to But is it Art? in the sense that it looks at artists and groups that have taken there work out of the conventional art gallery and on to the streets. There work covers issues such as political conflict in Northern Ireland, gang violence on Chicago's West Side, and the problems of sex workers in Switzerland. Artist's/ groups included in the book are The Art of Change, Helen and Newton Harrison, Littoral, Suzanne Lacy, Stephen Willats, WochenKlauser and Jrgen Habermas. This book will definitely benefit my research, as I would like to gain a diverse view on art activism in other countries.

MacClancy, J., 1997. Contesting Art: Art, Politics and Identity in the Modern World. Oxford: Berg.

This book identifies that art is a large political weapon. It first looks at how individuals and groups in the West feel they are unfairly represented by the main stream and so they use public art to educate there true feelings. This is not protesting for change on a major scale but it still asks for change of opinion. I find it very interesting and still see it to be activist art. The book then looks more at the political activism in the West. This will give me yet more insight in to art activism in other cultures.

Raunig, G., 2007. Art and revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century. Los Angeles, Calif: Semiotext.

This book investigates practices emerging in neighbouring zones where art and revolution overlap for a limited time and how this overlap can be traced. It also encourages a new generation of artists and thinkers to refuse to participate in the tired prescriptions of marketplace and authority and instead create radical new methods of engagement. This will provide me with ideas of where activist art is headed in the future.

This Magazine, 2005. Art as Activism. [online] Available at: [accessed 10/03/2011]

Through talking about Artists Against War, a Toronto based group this article gives me an idea of the different styles of art work used in art activism.

Wolfgang WochenKlauser, Z., 2001. Sociopolitical Activism in Art. New York: Springer-Verlag Wein.

This book is based on the Austrian art activist group WochenKlauser. It looks at thirteen projects undertaken by the group to show that art can play a concrete role in the socio-political field. The thirteen interventions span across a wide area of issues from an intervention to establish a community centre for seniors in Italy to intervening in the education system in Kosovo. I hope to learn from this book the range of methods and strategies that art activists can use to tackle different issues. As WochenKlauser's interventions span across continents, it will help me better understand the views of art activism in different countries.

(anon) 2006. Che Guevara: Revolutionary & Icon. London: V&A Publications.

This book looks at the iconic image of the revolutionary Che Guevara and the many ways that this image has been re appropriated. It questions the loss of symbolism and peoples perceptions of the image, revealing a lot about our culture. It will help me explore the thought that re appropriation of art could possibly be a destroyer of meaning.

(anon) 2010. Concept Store: Art, Activism & Recuperation. Bristol: Arnolfini.

Concept store is a biannual journal, focusing on critical issues of contemporary art and their relationship to wider culture, social and political contexts. This issue explores many ideas around the recuperation of activist art. It suggests that activist art is neutralized by the state. Revolutionary ideas are sanitized and re-packaged as mainstream popular culture therefore losing there significance. This book offers me with a new perspective on art and activism highlighting to an extent it's ineffectiveness. It will help me come to an unbiased conclusion about art's success in activism.

(anon) 2000. Whitechapel Art Gallery (London) Protest and Survive. London: BANK

This book was published to document the exhibition, Protest and Survive, held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery on the 15 September - 12 November 2000. The publication includes the work of some 40 artists, spanning several generations. It brings together texts and images that amplify some of the central concerns addressed by the works in the exhibition. This publication will allow me to understand how art in protest does not only change attitudes at the time of protest. It's documentation and appearance in art exhibitions, and furthermore publications of these exhibitions can reinstate the views and outcries repeatedly.