Cullen, Charlotte (2018) THE POLITICS OF WANTING THINGS Manifestations of Cruel Optimism in Artist-Led Curatorial Practice: A Case Study of the U N N A W A Y Exhibition Programme. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The practice-led research submitted for the PhD submission is evidence of my investigation into aspirational relationships to material and form. This is evidenced in a curated exhibition series titled U N N A W A Y which contextualises the ‘politics of wanting things’ critical to understanding aspirational material and formal considerations of the artists manifest in the exhibitions.

The ambitious project presented artworks that engaged with historical sculptural forms though created using cheap, foraged materials. The precarity of the materials used revealed the economic precarity in which they were created. This inversion of materials produced an aspirational use of materials which brought a socially working-class aesthetic into the art works.

The exhibitions developed from the same aspirational relationship to material and form, contextualised through a unique site of a disused ballet studio in the town centre of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. U N N A W A Y was affectively informed by the precarious conditions of its production. The thesis contextualises this practice historically through examples of organisation by artists in the UK, the Artist Placement Group (Steveni et all, 1966 -89) and The Shop (Emin & Lucas, 1993). The thesis then discusses artist-led curatorial projects in relation to how they are being affected economically in contemporary Britain.

The art movements of Minimalism, Anti-Form and Arte Povera and the exhibition Eccentric Abstraction curated by Lucy Lippard will inform an historical underpinning to the formal
considerations of the art works presented in the practice led research. The Young British Artists (1990’s) made sculpture with socially working-class materials that have the same significance of the traditional modernist sculpture they reference. This is exemplified in the work of Sarah Lucas; Lucas’ art work understands and reworks sculptural histories using cheap foraged materials which is able to say something about her class position. This material understanding will position the historical use of cheap, make shift materials in British sculpture.

Cruel Optimism (Berlant, 2011)and Landscape for a Good Woman: A Tale of Two Lives (Steedman, 1989) articulate different forms of classed aspiration. The importance of this text in relation to my own practical research in the UNNAWAY curatorial project resides in what Steedman names her mother’s ‘proper envy’ of those who have the material possessions she desires associated with a socially middle-class life as she understands it. In a contemporary US context, cultural theorist Lauren Berlant has named this longing, ‘Cruel Optimism’. These two articulations of what I will refer to as ‘the politics of wanting things’ underpin this critical reflection on the four U N N A W A Y exhibitions that form this practice led PhD submission.

Cullen THESIS.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (1MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email