Testing Grounds and Launching Pads: Situating the Artist-Run Space Today
My research is concerned with the formation of artists as creative subjects in an increasingly neoliberalised art world. This study examines to what extent does the artist-run space offer alternatives to current neoliberal orthodoxy in the art world. There has been little research to understand the lived experiences of emerging visual artists within neoliberalism. The thesis is located in museum studies but stretches beyond this field in an interdisciplinary approach to explore the complexity of what it means to both make art and self-organise. The thesis presents multiple case-study research into three New Zealand artist-run spaces; RM, Enjoy Contemporary Art Space and Meanwhile. Qualitative research brings the experiences of artist-run space participants to the fore through interviews, examining how they understand and articulate their involvement, negotiate tensions over power, and position themselves in an art world that seeks to enfold them in its own narratives. I analyse and discuss the findings through a series of connecting theoretical frameworks—assemblage theory, creative labour and governmentality—which together map the distinct practices that shape, and reshape, the artist-run space. My research contributes to literature on creative workers within neoliberalism, providing new knowledge about tactics and strategies deployed by emerging visual artists to carve space for their activities on their own terms. The thesis argues that while artist-run spaces are embedded in the mainstream through both networks of strategic reciprocity and funding imperatives, the nuances which define an individual artist-run space are both broader and messier than their increasingly formal structure suggests. The identity formation of the artists and creative workers whose hard work and passion keep artist-run spaces going is similarly compromised, confounding simplistic readings. I propose that the notion of ‘alternative’ is too binary an understanding to describe artist-run spaces within a time of neoliberalism, instead, this thesis seeks to complicate and problematise the term.