Graham van Wyk

Graham van Wyk

Graham van Wyk

United Kingdom

Presenting as part of the session: Lasting Impressions: Ephemeral Artworks in the City - Saturday, November 6 at 3:00 pm

Graham van Wyk is a member of the core network of the Social Sculpture Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University in the UK where he is exploring ways to take the social sculpture ideas of Joseph Beuys into wider fields of inquiry and practice. A particular area of interest is the idea of 'capital' in Joseph Beuys' thought and its implications for an economics of human well-being and citizenship. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Graham was actively involved in cultural, community and workers organizations. His social and cultural concerns led to participation in the South Peninsula Educational Fellowship, New World Film Society and the Artists' Alliance. He researched and documented conditions of farm workers and rural communities in the Little Karoo region and contributed to the organization of domestic workers in Cape Town. He helped organize artists to participate in the Culture and Resistance conference in Botswana in 1982. Graham has worked closely with artist, Shelley Sacks on projects, most especially the early development of her work, Exchange Values. Graham, trained as a sociologist, is committed to making connections and crossing boundaries in thinking and doing in order to explore ways of shaping a humane and ecologically viable society. He is currently a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and a visiting tutor at the Royal College of Art.


Description of Graham van Wyk's talk:

Imagination and Transformation: Ephemeral Art in Cities

This talk aims to explore a set of questions in relation to art and action in urban settings. What is the transformative potential of creative social actions in the city? What is it that artists seek to transform? Who are the participants? Is there an audience beyond these participants? What is the desired outcome? How do we “measure” success? What, if anything, is enduring in ephemeral art actions in the city? Today, cities are spaces for the interplay of varied social forces with creative and destructive consequences. Cities can be seen as communities where people realise their need for association and cooperation; however, they are also spaces of economic and social rupture, dislocation and alienation. Modern cities are increasingly becoming ecologically unsustainable crucibles of over-consumption and wastefulness in which creative social engagement and imaginative action are severely circumscribed. The ecological and social crises we face today demand our urgent response. Joseph Beuys’ assertion that “everyone’s an artist” was both a provocation and a challenge to the art establishment of the time, but also arises from an astute and visionary insight that the real crisis we face is a crisis of the imagination, of seeing anew possibilities for humanity to shape democratic, sustainable alternatives to the ways we live in the world. Inspired by the social sculpture idea that sees the latent creative and transformative power in every human being, interdisciplinary artists who work with participatory processes – often employing thought, speech and discussion as material in their work – and, informed by an expanded conception of art, work both within and beyond the specialised sphere of art. This emphasis on the “invisible materials” in an expanded conception of art, available to us all, has been influential in framing the responses of artists to the socio-ecological crisis and to working as “agents of change,” concerned with the connections between the individual and the social. The talk will explore such action, in particular through the work of Shelley Sacks, a former student of Beuys’, whose work has been seminal in developing new methodologies of practice for social sculpture practitioners. Her work in the cities of Stoke-on-Trent, Edinburgh and Hanover, while raising many interesting questions, has also pointed to new strategies for creative social actions in cities.  


Go Back