Embedded Artists Conference ZHdK, Nov 2018

The aim of this year’s conference was to answer questions that go hand in hand with the thesis that artistic work increasingly focuses on fields that lie beyond or transcend the traditional fields of artistic activity. The search for definitions for this focus, which artists see as producers of the new, as leading figures within social processes and as co-creators of an expanded concept of art, shapes the composition of the participants, the questions of the contributions, as well as the perspective on a possible implementation of the results of this discourse in the offers of arts universities.

We orientate ourselves on the following questions:

– The arts and every form of artistic practice as artwork or production methodology are sources for the development of new models of cultural leadership. How can a conceptual field be defined that is called „management through art“ or „artistic management“?

– Which artistic working methods can be transferred to the field of management?

– Let us look at artists who work in non-artistic terrains and non-artists who work in artistic domains. Which tools, qualities, competences and skills of artists find application outside the artistically occupied domains?

– What are the connections between artists and the world?

– Which domains need artistic methods to…?

– How can creativity be measured?

– Are there indicators outside the usual ones in the creative economies (beauty, improvement of quality of life, activation of hitherto unknown potentials for whatever, beauty)?

By pursuing these questions, we try to work towards the development of a new, sustainable training idea for artists, as well as to question, deconstruct and expand the discussion about the role model „artist“.

The approaches to the topic of unspecific location of artistically motivated or well-founded action (always understood as action equivalent to other – as such identified and defined – leadership activities) take place here in three ways:

– generalizing and theory-building practice

– exemplary projects

– Indicative classification into statistically and numerically representable contexts

In addition, we strive to establish a term that crosses the idiosynchrasies of the art sphere, in which, in general, reflexively boundaries are drawn with regard to concepts from economy and management.The term „leadership“ is still difficult to convey in artistic circles, even though a whole series of artistic activities explicitly (directing, conducting, choreographing) and implicitly (visual artists) clearly fulfil leadership criteria. How can an exonerating formation be promoted in order to reach the circles of demands that have so far been mainly critical towards „leadership“ discourses? And how can cultural leadership become attractive to artists? Definitions like these:

… the term „leader“ applies to any individual with the capacity to influence processes and people-regardless of where they stand formally in the organizational chart. „Leadership“ is fundamentally about having a larger vision and producing meaningful change. It is distinct from management, which is directing the execution of an organization’s work. While formal leadership roles and status confer influence based on title, position, or standing, it is important to recognize that a formal leadership role is not required to have influence or stimulate change. Although individuals with roles lower in a formal hierarchy will have a more limited sphere of influence, anyone can practice the activities associated with leadership. (Moving arts leadership forward, (Moving arts leadership forward, [1]

are self-explanatory, but only slightly relieve the concept of „leadership“. We therefore believe that the term „embedded artist“ or „embedded artistic practice“ is useful and can   be used further on.

1. generalizing / theory-building practice (Whitehead, Douglas, Markusen)

In the USA, a whole series of artists and art practices can be identified that deal with urban development and future scenarios for civic spaces. The starting point here are loss-making, socio-politically neglected or ignored terrains in which art practice can act as motor, as a revitalization – or rebuild agency.[2] In addition to interest-driven motivation, the funding possibilities and criteria of the large American foundations are of course a decisive factor for turning to these terrains. Generalizing, however, it can be stated that a special concept of art emerges with such a practice. Art becomes BOTH/AND art, like Frances Whitehead generalizes:

A corollary to the embedded artist is the concept of the „embedded artwork“. Here we explore multivalency of voice, expertise and „type“, and the possibility that something can be understood as BOTH art AND also as something else (remediation, community development, education, etc) The melding of cultural logics and figurative thinking (tropes) into the multidisciplinary team model of civic projects produces what we have called elsewhere, the „tropological transdisciplinary“. So while we explicitly enacted a critical multi-valency, and openly sought free agency, we also understood that some of the transgressive and subversive strategies of artists had to remain unspoken or in some cases, be suspended in order to address urgency and cooperation. In true trickster fashion, we recognize that our role is also intentionally disruptive, that we are present as change agents, for „redirective practiceiv“, or as Sacha Kagan would say, to „play on the rules rather than in the rules“ or „entrepreneurship in conventions“. But what of the rules of art? In what ways does Embedded Artist also re-direct conventional art practice? These BOTH/AND art projects, which form the core of this civic art practice are not always legible to art worlds as art, and the status of the projects are often contested. Here the strategic knowledge (metis) of the artist turns on art itself. Using the double agency of this practice to redirect the „cultural quo“, Kagan’s „double entrepreneurship in conventions“, the embedded artist shuttles between worlds like a cross pollinator, border hopping, changing both sides in equal measure. Beyond the „free agency“ of arts thinking, beyond re-directive practice, disruption and change agency, the Embedded Artist is at core a double agent, working inside and outside conventions, inside and outside worlds, a double change agent. [3]

„Embedded artwork“ means the close connection of discourses on sustainability, heritage, social compatibility of transformation processes in urban development and planning projects. Frances Whitehead has made this context of impact a motif for the creation of the term „embedded artistic practice“. Infiltration-oriented artistic activities break with conventions and routines in the respective field. In this context of practice structural institutional critique is as much part as the systematic use and production of knowledge from various assigned fields (design, pedagogy, sociology, etc.).

In this orientation, discussions are held about the value of cultural knowledge, on the one hand by infiltrating deficient public areas or by extracting them from them (cf. Anne Douglas). „Embeddedness“ unfolds its effect through disposition of knowledge and practices that were alien, closed or inaccessible to the terrains that are penetrated. Whitehead describes forms of knowledge that become useful here as follows:

– Synthesizing diverse facts, goals, and references – making connections and speaking many „languages“

– Production of new knowledge

– In-process problem solving and ongoing processes

– Compose and perform, initiate and carry-thru, design and execute

– Initiate, re-direct the brief, and consider their intentionality

– Acute cognizance of individual responsibility for the meanings, ramifications and consequences of their work

– Understanding of the language of cultural values and how they are embodied and represented

– Participation and maneuvering in non-compensation (social) economies, idea economies, and other intangible values (capital).

– Proficiency in evaluation and analysis along multiple-criteria – qualitative lines, qualitative assessment

– Making explicit the implicit — making visible the invisible


The fact that the artistically shaped gaze brings together the most varied of effective parameters from different provenances in order to occupy “spaces of potentials”, ascribes to the arts the role of a motor for transdisciplinarity. Collaboration with a wide variety of fields, the animation of sponsorships for collaboration that act far apart from one another, is an achievement that art practice is eminently capable of introducing into the discourse of innovative dispositives of activity, since it is itself understood as eminently connectable and dependent on collaborations. The fact that this also affects the fields of economy and art as an apparently economically autonomous field of activity later leads to the concept of artistic leadership.

American theorists have developed a special concept that does not blur the separation of the collaborative fields, but makes it an added value. The concept of the „double agency“ allows art to form a cluster with design science and the community within which the respective project is to be located. From here on emerges what Sacha Kagan calls „double entrepreneurship“. This theorization of a concept that has been tested in practice seems to offer enormous possibilities for stimulating the partially stalled discussions between the side of art and the side of economy (understood as oikonomia = „housekeeping, administration“, from Greek oikos „housekeeping, household“ and Greek nomos „law, custom, procedure“, to Greek nemein „direct, administer“). Fraternizing these areas is at the core of all efforts to address the issue of embedded artistic practices as a future part of any orientation towards artistic fields of activity.

The socio-political deficits, urgency and need for intervening, supportive and innovation-promoting action that have been found open up an enormous field of activity for art practice.

In addition to the urban space, in which a decisive part of the discourse and discussion about contemporary art practice still takes place, the topic of urbanization can also be discussed in the opposite sense. This is about artistic procedures in rural, increasingly decoupled terrains and their function for development-oriented scenario building. Often there is no concrete need or declaration of need in these contexts. Artistic activities taking place in these terrains have to do with completely different realities than those described so far. They serve to determine the position of art and form a motivational antithesis to the previously focused dispositives of urgency.

Nonetheless, here, too, needs arise that provide the basis and occasion for artistically based activities. Whether these are questions of conversion, further use or conservation, or those of communication between city and countryside, centre and edge, would have to be clarified in the following. In her research contributions, Anne Douglas shows profit for the arts and systematizes it by generalizing methodical outcomes from this form of placement (allocation/dislocation):


.  Motifs and driving forces for artistic activities come from the perspective of the environment.

.  Focusing on (caring for) the environment and people becomes motive, qualities that destabilize the current conventions and existing models of artistic production and conventional value systems,

. Conceptually anchoring opening towards disorder, complexity and unpredictability in the world

. Provide support for perceptual devices that prefer inconsistency and inconsistency.

.  Striving for duration instead of product orientation, establishing long-lasting commitments with sustainable consequences

Improvisation as freedom in dependency relationships:  Used to test and adjust work results. Art feeds itself to a large extent from chance. The arts, in particular the performative arts, possess a deep knowledge of how freedom can be maintained and achieved within strict frameworks through concepts and practices of improvisation.


Investigation of demand developments within social relations on the labour market and in government areas.  This is not about works of art and their surrogates, but about material forces that release impulses for action.

And, last but not least, it is a question of the formation of concepts for the areas of activity that are envisaged here. This is about leadership roles and tasks that artists can and should assume.

  1. Artists lead due to their special artistic abilities and their reputation, which is based on them, (example (Barenboim))
  2. artists work as managers of resources in relation to an audience: directors, conductors, theatre directors, etc.
  3. artists act as leaders in public life by assigning artworks to public life goals, institutions and processes

2. exemplary projects

The institutions created to guarantee the reputation, habitability, attractiveness and vitality of modern cities and their leaders are pursuing different strategies to fulfil this mission. Daniel Baumann, director of the Kunsthalle Zürich, speaks here for his concept of de-embedding the institution in order to exploit its new possibility within society, which blocks the art discourse. De-embedding here means opening up the institution to activities that usually take place in segmented spaces. A strategy of overlapping, crossing and mixing creates a new definition of the role of the institution itself. When art museums are transformed into churches or theatre rehearsal spaces, flea markets and artists‘ shelters, a process of „disembedding“ takes place. This also means that the circles of demands expand and an exit from restricted areas becomes possible (Daniel Baumann).

Elisa Duca and Robin Detje, Jochen Roller and Kok Heng Leun pursue artistic activities that represent attempts to mirror the environment of artistic activity in it, to integrate it into it, to reflect on it, and to create communication for the terrains in which they reside and with which they work. These can be artistic projects that question, counteract or undermine the perceptual habits of communities, urban or rural communities (Duca/Detje), works that address their quality and their social and economic significance and make them part of the artistic discourse (Jochen Roller), or works that penetrate deeply into the themes of the communities and mobilize them themselves (Kok Heng Leun, Drama Box).

All three directions reflect an increasingly significant trend in art discourse to focus on the effectiveness and communicative power of art.

3. indicative classification into statistically and numerically Presentable contexts

The art sector, culture in general, has become an essential economic factor in the development of urban structures. The measurability of artistic impacts on economic development plays an important role in the development of new professional fields for artistic work.

Joanna Woronkowicz, John Davies and Ann Markusen explore statistical material on the location of artistic activities in economic contexts, in the labour market, in urban communities and, more recently, in the context of digitisation and the platforms and networkings that have emerged as a result.

The „Arts, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Lab“ at Indiana University, co-directed by Woronkowicz, is of particular interest for future activities. Here, on the one hand, questions about the role of artists in developing creative solutions for complex socio-economic problems are pursued and the perception of such tasks within the public sector is investigated and documented: „Conducted primarily in a lab setting and cross-validated in a real-life setting, artists and non-artists will be tested on a set of multipart open-ended tasks geared toward creative problem solving. The aim of this research is to identify the benefits of artists-in-residence programs and/or provide guidance for employing artists in non-arts settings.“[4]

 The research platform is based on the assumption that artists play a significant role in the emergence of platform and gig economies that successfully mobilize art-related innovations. Topics of the investigations are resilience and artistic entrepreneurship in the contexts of new economies, comparability with non-contractual, free employment relationships in non-artistic fields, new economic models such as crowdfunding platforms and their significance for the continuity of theme-related artistic work. The development and growth promises of the digital-media complex and its impact on other growth areas of society are focused as well as the significance of new forms of artistic-technological collaboration platforms, which have an enormous significance for the development of urban cultures in European cities and metropolises.

– What is the role of artists in social innovation processes and areas?

– What leading role do artists play in the growing platform and gig economies?

– Where can innovation and economic growth be identified in the digital media sector?

– Which areas of art are associated with large-scale social renewal?

Increasingly, the impact of artistic activities and their outcome on the emergence of new forms of employment and earning opportunities seems to be important for labour market development and monitoring.   There is a large set of data at hand.

PS: philosophical dimensions

The themes and discussions of the conference naturally also revolve around the fundamental question of the role model „artist“, whose traditional variant is in part still uncritically cultivated at art universities. The deconstruction of the artist’s image goes hand in hand with a redefinition of tasks and role assignments for artists. The questions and thematic settings outlined here refer to new forms of work, formats and distribution possibilities compared to the traditionally institutionalized . An extension of the conceptual field „artistic practice“ by a further development of the topic „embedded artists“ or „embedded artistic practice“ can also lead to a redefinition of educational dispositives that goes beyond the cultivation of transdisciplinarity and collaboration between the arts and entrusts the status of art to a critical revision.

[1] https://hewlett.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Moving%20Arts%20Leadership%20Forward_2016.pdf)

[2] Beispiele:  https://rebuildingtogether.org/ , https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/theaster-gates-ingenuity-awards-chicago-180957203/ , https://rebuild-foundation.org/, etc.

[3] [3]http://franceswhitehead.com/content/2-how-we-think/embedded-artist-as-double-agent_final_logo.pdf

[4] https://spea.iupui.edu/research/aei-lab/research-projects.html