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Art That Loves People: Relational Subjectivity in Community-based Art


Art That Loves People: Relational Subjectivity in Community-based Art

Davis, Heather (2011) Art That Loves People: Relational Subjectivity in Community-based Art. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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This doctoral dissertation is an interdisciplinary investigation of contemporary community-based art practices. I analyze the social and political implications of these practices as structures of radical democracy, as relations of collectivity that include the other-than-human, and for new understandings of subjectivity as relational. This work is based in communication studies, but also draws from cultural theory, philosophy, art history, social geography, political theory and feminist thought. Using a multi-method qualitative approach, including ethnographic practices of friendship as method and self-reflexive journal writing, I examine three cases of community-based art.
The first is that of the international artists’ collective WochenKlausur who were invited to teach a ‘learning through doing’ class at Alfred University in upstate New York. The project was largely considered a failure, but one that revealed the specificity of WochenKlausur’s method, which is to create social interventions using principles of agonistic democracy, as articulated by Chantal Mouffe. I look at their practice to highlight how its replicability could be useful for alternative social infrastructures. For my second site I chose the exemplary historical project Flood by Haha, which involved the creation of a hydroponic garden in a storefront to grow vegetables for people living with HIV/AIDS. I argue that their project created a collective of humans and other-than-humans through their use of the hydroponic garden, a technological feature that revealed complicated systems of interconnection. Deploying the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon and Brian Massumi, I articulate the importance of other-than-humans to collectivity and to understanding subjectivity as primarily relational. The third case is the Spiral Garden, an art-garden-play program for differently-abled and able-bodied children in Toronto, Ontario. Here the concept and practice of friendship, developed using the philosophy of Georgio Agamben, Maurice Blanchot and Simon Critchley, introduces an open-ended structure of relation, creating affective ties while preserving difference in proximity.
Situated within a broader analysis of community-based art, each of these case studies illustrates alternative structures for collective art practice that can be used as models for creating new relational modes amongst and across humans and other-than-humans as life-building gestures.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Communication Studies
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Davis, Heather
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:15 September 2011
Thesis Supervisor(s):Gagnon, Monika
ID Code:36079
Deposited On:22 Nov 2011 13:01
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:36
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