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Re-Animating Joseph Beuys' “Social Sculpture”: Artistic Interventions and the Occupy Movement

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Since making its presence felt in September 2011, the Occupy movement has drawn upon aesthetic-affective techniques and cooperative structures developed in socially engaged art practices from the mid-twentieth century onwards—such as Joseph Beuys' notion of “social sculpture”—as resources for producing new social compositions. These practices extend the concept of art into a social plastic form that reshapes and re-forms our subjectivities, the way we communicate, our social structures and by extension, the world we inhabit. At the same time, before the mass evictions of Occupy took place across North America, the movement placed a heavy emphasis on visibility and space. Its short-term strategies and successes were largely owed to the seizing of a particularly opportune moment in a highly visible space that provided a symbolic frame for “Occupy Wall Street as event.” This paper explores the possibility that the eviction of Occupy from its encampments was not the disaster bemoaned by many of its participants—or the failure celebrated by its detractors—but a renewed opportunity for social composition.
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Keywords: Joseph Beuys; Occupy Wall Street; Public Pedagogy; Social Composition; Social Sculpture; Spatial Atavism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2014-01-02

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