Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Call this art?

The Artist Placement Group brought artistic practice to British workplaces in the 1960s and 1970s. Janna Graham reviews a new exhibition of their work

December 10, 2012
4 min read

The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group 1966–79, a new exhibition at Raven Row in east London, is a collection of documents, videos and objects related to the UK arts organisation the Artist Placement Group (APG). Founded in 1966 by a group of artists including Barbara Stevini, John Latham, Anna Ridley, Barry Flannagan, David Hall and Jeffrey Shaw, the APG placed artists into companies and social service agencies for two decades.

The APG sought to promote the production of art in the spaces of everyday life, where it could make an impact. Its stated aim – as outlined in a pamphlet created in 1969 and displayed in the main gallery of the exhibition – was to ‘persuade industrialists to take [artists] into their organisations and pay them as licensed opposition to currency dictatorship’.

Taking the notion of everyday life beyond the space of the street and collaborations with industry beyond simply support with the fabrication of their work, the APG promoted ‘interchange’ – conversations between artists, managers and workers.

We are told by an unnamed industrialist in the video Artists in the Works (1970), made for the APG by Paul Overy and located at the show’s entrance, that the British Steel Corporation has engaged in artist commissioning to open up ‘new capabilities’, to bring a ‘proper living artist in touch with the men’ and to ‘pioneer new innovations’.

Across the various documents pinned onto archive boards and punched into binders, the APG characterises the role of the artist as outsider and often neglected innovator, mediator and sage. As opposed to the industrialists, the group emphasises the importance of artists’ freedom in the face of corporate interests. Class polarities resonate throughout the first floor of the exhibition through letters and videos in which the APG attempts to gain entry to the corporations, and when it does, to seek out positive recommendations to open new doors and prove its effects to the Arts Council. The latter is a trope all too familiar to arts groups today.

Whether the projects proposed are attractive to industry (one letter from British European Airways suggests that the artist David Hall ‘would make a unique contribution’ to their image overseas) or dismissed entirely, as with George Levantis’s gesture of throwing his work overboard the ship upon which he was placed, the APG’s commitments to working in industry are varied and come across as extremely individualised.

Pandering to capitalists

Wary of co-option, however, and in response to critiques from social organisations that it was pandering to the desires of capitalists, in the 1970s the APG turned much of its attention to working with social service organisations. Documents and remnants pertaining to this work are seen on the second floor of Raven Row and mark two divergent strategies in the group.

In a room dedicated to Ian Breakwell’s placement in the Department of Health and Social Security, visitors can peruse proposals for a ‘reminiscence aid’ in which sounds and slides created by artists are used to trigger the memories of people with dementia.

Another room, in which the artist Roger Coward works with the Department of Environment to conduct an inner area study of Birmingham, takes a different approach in working with residents, young people and others to create video documents of the impossibilities of accessing public services and instigating neighbourhood improvements. Echoing movements for popular education, militant research and other bottom-up approaches from the time, these documents were, first, for the use of residents to reflect and analyse their environment and formulate demands and, second, presented to officials at the ministry to instigate concrete change.

This archive seems like an appropriate and important point on which to end the exhibition, replacing the autonomy of the singular artist with that of the artists working in solidarity with others. It illuminates a possible path for the claims that artists might make against their marginalisation in cuts to cultural funding. Artistic autonomy without strong social alignments ends up supporting the very thing it seeks to resist.

The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group 1966-79 is on at Raven Row, London E1, until 16 December

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Contagion: How the Crisis Spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How Empire Struck Back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency

Empire en Vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally


2