Hacking Capitalism-Expanding Socially Engaged Art Through Alternative Art Economies and Entrepreneurship

Project: Research project

Project Details


Situated within the wider arena of public art, socially engaged art is defined as art-in- the-public-interest, as it foregrounds social issues, political activism and community collaborations. (Kwon 2002) Because of this nature, it operates beyond the gallery–museum nexus and has a problematic relationship with the art market system, which predominately favours household decorations. However, because of its site- orientedness, there is great potential of symbiosis between artistic work and the economic paradigm. Instead of critiquing capitalism with straightforward antagonism, there is a possibility for penetrative approaches to hack the system. The research aims to focus on this strand of socially engaged art, which situates itself in a symbiotic relationship with the market through creating alternative art economies.

Such possibilities have been explored by international artists; for instance, Project Row Houses, started by artist Rick Lowe, turned dilapidated and abandoned “shotgun houses” into a supportive community for single mothers and visiting artists; Conflict Kitchen by Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski takes the form of a take-out restaurant which serves only ethnic foods from countries with which the United States is in conflict. This area has also been addressed by international research, such as in Art Production beyond the Art Market? (van den Berg 2013), a compilation of essays surveying global tendencies and case studies. Universities such as the Rhode Island School of Design also rolled out practical action kits, loosely under the name of “artonomics” and “artrepreneur”, to aid students in creating new economies through their creative practices.

While a rising number of artists in Hong Kong have been endeavouring to explore in this type of art over the last decade, there is however limited literature in framing this global phenomenon in the local context and their work has not been well examined. This research will be an inquiry into the subject in four successive phases: 1) to synthesize knowledge across parallel research fields, including socially engaged art, theory and critique of capitalism, creative economy and social innovation; 2) to re-examine local projects in socially engaged art; 3) to embark on research-led, practice-based inquiry and prototype experimental projects; 4) to consolidate and review the research processes and findings in a project documentation publication. For second and third phases, the research will be conducted through three distinctive lenses: the projects’ artistic criteria, the viability of an alternative art market approach, and their systemic potential for creating sustainable and extensive impact.
Effective start/end date1/01/1731/12/18


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