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Art & Design, Society

Making work into an artform

What began as a utilitarian endeavour ended abruptly, when Brisley realised that APG had bigger ideas for the collective, as Latham’s ideologies were revealed to be driven by political motives. One example was an internal memo from 1970 suggested that APG were attempting to redefine the very notion of an artist by renaming themselves “environment” or “concept” engineers.

Under the direction of Steveni, the group began using their contacts to secure placements in industry; from the National Coal Board, Esso Petroleum Co Ltd, and British Airways to the Intensive Care Unit of Clare Hall Hospital, London Zoo and Broadmoor. The aim was to directly control their impact on society, rather than merely comment on it from the confines of a gallery.

Arts and Economics

In 1971 APG unofficially moved into the Hayward gallery during the exhibition Arts and Economics, and began arranging interviews between industrialists and artists to question the new role of the artist in society. The Arts Council decided that the organisation was more concerned with “social engineering” than with “pure art’ and immediately cancelled its funding.

After a short hiatus in the aftermath of the Hayward exhibition, APG reformed in 1973 and began moving into politics by setting up placements within government departments, hoping to infiltrate the heart of the country’s political machine. The group placed an ambiguous advert in Time Out London, stating that a “number of possibilities have arisen for artists within various organisations from short-term projects to long-term associations”.

This rise in the collective’s political ambitions resulted in a series of disagreements. APG disbanded, only to re-emerge in 1989 later as Organisation and Imagination (O+I), but its impact on artists’ roles in industry have remained.

E.A.T went on to promote disciplinary projects across arts and technology right throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, such as international aid programmes and telephone assistance lines for artists wanting to work with new technologies run by engineers from E.A.T. offices. Bell Telephone Laboratories have continued to work with ground-breaking technologies and have won a total of eight Nobel prizes, including Eric Betzig who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his work in chemistry, which he began whilst working at Bell Laboratories.

Another of APG’s associates was Dr Professor Reimut Jochimsen, Minister for education and science in Germany, who helped set-up a German counterpart for the APG model, with the desire that it “becomes common practice for all large organisations to have a realistic economic relationship with artists, equivalent to other professionals'.

Last year, it was estimated that the UK’s creative industries accounted for more than £71.4 billion per year to the UK economy – generating around £8 million pounds an hour. With unprecedented fiscal power the arts are entering a new era of influence, yet despite their ever growing economic clout, nothing will ever be as provocative as contracting an artist to travel around on shipping cargos with Ocean Fleets for 18 months only to intentionally throw the end result overboard, no questions asked, with the corporation footing the bill.

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