In a contemporary South African context of artistic production and exhibition, there are few spaces or arenas dedicated to the development and presentation of experimental and/or non-commercial practices – a void that has become increasingly evident amidst the growing interest in participatory art and social aesthetics. However, and as the central thesis of this study suggests, in response to the lack of infrastructure for open-ended, idea-rich and socially focused praxis, artists have adopted a do-it-yourself approach to ‘filling the void’. That is, artists have taken it upon themselves to address the absence of experimental and/or laboratory ‘space’ by creating autonomous, self-directed initiatives, through a variety of non-traditional and context-specific methodologies.
Using a meta-analytical approach, this research project tracks the rise of the artist-run initiative (ARI) in South Africa. It is suggested that ARIs that utilise participative methodologies such as open-source sharing, collaborative economies (trade, bartering, collectivism, etc.) and/or user-generated organisational approaches offer generative alternatives for the development and presentation of experimental and/or non-commercial projects within a South African context – arguably a new New-Institutionalism.
Critically, I explore a number of potential paradoxes inherent within this approach, including issues around the artist operating as a ‘double agent’, as well as various problematics associated with employing a collaborative economy within a wider capitalistic system. I conclude, however, that despite these concerns, artist-run participative initiatives suggest radical new possibilities, not only in terms of alternative forms of institution-building, but also regarding a critical re-imagining of authorship, ‘collectivity’, economic democracy, and inclusivity within artistic production.
As the first sustained and discursive engagement on artist-run initiatives in South Africa, or more particularly artist-run participative initiatives, the research is intended to fill a significant gap in the literature, and provide a resource for further research and practice.