The APG Approach
Artist Placement Group, or APG, was instigated in 1965 by Barbara Steveni. It was founded a year later by Steveni and her then partner John Latham, along with Anna Ridley and artists Barry Flanagan, David Hall and Jeffrey Shaw. The Group aimed to find ways for artists to relocate their practices from the studio to the industrial workplace, and in the process to alter the perception of the artist as marginal to the key social issues of the day. APG's proposal to organisations was that they forego the idea of patronage by commissioning works of art, and instead consider benefitting from the artists' insights. In turn, APG would enable artists to benefit from a 'real world' context in which to develop new ways of working, or as APG's axiom put it: 'Context is half the work'.
APG negotiated placements for artists – first in industry and later in government departments – lasting between a few months and several years. The placements would ideally occur in two phases: a feasibility study, lasting one or two months, followed by a longer engagement, which constituted the placement itself. Whether feasibility study or placement, the artist would in most cases write a report on his/her experience, leaving it up to the host organisation to adopt, or not, the proposed ideas. However, few of the placements followed this model. Out of the nineteen associations between artist and organisation documented in this exhibition, ten qualify as full APG placements, three are feasibility studies (in some cases developed over many years) and six fall somewhere between, or outside, these categories.
APG's radical premise – what it called the 'open brief' – was that artists would be paid a wage by the host organisation regardless of the material output of their placement. Both the host organisation and the artist were contractually bound to enter the agreement without precondition (except for a general compliance with the organisation's rules, a controversial caveat). Given the unpredictability outcome of the 'open brief', it is unsurprising that so few organisations were willing to take on placements, relative to the large numbers of letters written and meetings organised by Steveni to try to persuade them. As the chronology at the end of this publication makes clear, APG sustained itself for over two decades by engaging directly with the public through exhibitions and symposia, and by developing networks of sympathetic business people, politicians and financial supporters. APG's lack of formal strategy forced it to continuously reinvent itself.
In the late sixties and early seventies, many regarded as naive the proposition that an artist could meaningfully contribute to commercial or bureaucratic organisations, especially without a developed critique of institutional motives and strategies. By contrast, it has now become commonplace among management consultants to advocate the hiring of creative individuals to enhance an organisation's competitiveness. APG may have been the harbinger of the artist as consultant, harnessed to free market imperatives, but it also promoted artists as agents of wider change, pioneering the shift in art practice from studio and gallery to process-based forms of social engagement. Artists' residencies are ubiquitous today, but few attempt to foster dialogue between artists and industrialists or politicians as APG did. In the face of general indifference and frequent antagonism, APG dared to imagine the (inevitably asymmetrical) intersection of opposing value systems.
The Organisation of APG
APG was neither a collective, agency nor membership organisation. Although a charity and a company limited by guarantee, it operated effectively as a partnership between Steveni, Latham and a fluctuating constellation of artists which, over the years, included Ian Breakwell, Stuart Brisley, Roger Coward, Hugh Davies, Andrew Dipper, Garth Evans, Barry Flanagan, Bill Furlong, David Hall, Leonard Hessing, George Levantis, Jeffrey Shaw and David Toop, among others. One did not 'apply' to APG; rather one became familiar with its methods and took part in its internal discussions, gradually earning a place in its midst. Many participants in APG's early discussions were associated with Saint Martins School of Art, where Evans, Latham and Steveni were teaching, and Flanagan and Shaw were students. APG's central meeting place in these years was the Latham's house in Portland Road, Notting Hill, where regular 'Think Tanks' (as APG later called them) were held to discuss the role of the artist in society and alternative forms of artistic production.
APG's 1971 exhibition at the Hayward Gallery – variously titled inn7o or Art & Economics – brought many simmering tensions within the Group to a head. A subject of particular contention was APG's lack of organisational transparency: without a manifesto or formalised hierarchy, Steveni and Latham were perceived as exercising a firm yet invisible hold on the Group's activities. This was true to the extent that 'entrance' into APG depended largely on Steveni's and Latham's personal relationship with the artists, a small number of whom (usually two or three) would then be put forward to organisations as candidates for placements. Still, the ultimate decision of which artist was selected for placement rested with the host organisation.
Another area of contention was the authority of Latham's ideas over APG. His 'time-based' theory, according to which space and objects are subsumed under time and events, played a significant role in how APG defined itself. For example, APG argued that host organisations should expect mostly long-term gains from placements, in accordance with Latham's definition of value slowly accruing over time. And although APG had long sought alternatives for the word 'artist', it was only when Latham coined the expression 'the incidental person' in the mid-seventies – to signify both the placed artist's marginal role within the host organisation and his/her ability to produce an incision, or unforeseen incident – that APG could better express its aims. While several APG artists embraced Latham's theory (Coward, Dipper, Levantis and Toop), detractors like Brisley and Gustav Metzger felt that it reinforced APG's apparent detachment from the political and its compliance to industry's demands.
As a result of the critical fallout from the Hayward exhibition, APG restructured itself by doing away with the 'Noit' artists' panel (organised by Latham under one of his theoretical terms) and inviting a union representative to join its board. It also drafted the 'Civil Service' or 'Whitehall' Memorandum, a brief document outlining APG's approach to be distributed within UK government departments. These measures allowed APG to diversify the pool of potential host organisations and decentralise its organisational structure, granting greater freedom to APG artists to pursue their interests through their individual placements.
Representing APG in an art exhibition is problematic, particularly since, as Ian Breakwell wrote, 'in a placement the "artwork" is not the end product but the whole process'. Even if one could argue that APG arrived at something of an 'aesthetic' – say, through its corporate-seeming graphic identities – it remains difficult to represent curatorially what makes it distinctive, namely its approach. This dynamic aspect can only be suggested by the diversity of APG's output: publications and art objects, but more importantly, quasi-artworks such as collages and appropriated objects, and documentation through photographs, film, video and sound recordings. Indeed, APG was fundamentally a discursive project, and aural production – from interviews to acoustic interventions – constituted a significant part of its activities. Thus besides audio-visual recordings, the exhibition includes all the surviving reports written by artists during and after their placements. Further evidence of the context of each placement is revealed through the correspondence between artists, Steveni and the enabling protagonists in the host organisations.
To give coherence to the exhibition, we divided APG's history into three sections. The first, relatively brief section in Raven Row's entrance covers the period 1965 – ca. 68 when APG saw its role as one of facilitating artists' access to industrial materials. APG was influenced at the time by two other organisations: Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), founded in New York in 1966 to encourage collaborations between engineers and artists, and Eventstructure Research Group (ERG), founded a year after APG in Amsterdam by Jeffrey Shaw, Theo Botschuiyver and Sean Wellesley-Miller, which produced interactive environments with inflatable PVC structures.
APG's second phase is represented in the galleries on the ground floor. It covers APG's earliest placements – from Evans' at British Steel and Hall's with Scottish Television – to those of the early seventies. Gallery Two focuses on 1971, the momentous year when APG took part in the exhibitions Between 6 at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and inn7o at the Hayward Gallery, London. At both sites, APG experimented with a debate-based exhibition format: the main exhibit was a boardroom table entitled The Sculpture, where APG hosted live discussions between artists, industrialists and government representatives. What also distinguishes this fertile period in APG's history is its association with Studio International, edited by Peter Townsend. The magazine not only featured inserts designed by Latham for APG (which would become the catalogue of the Hayward exhibition), but also vehement attacks on APG by Brisley, among others. The table in Gallery Two acknowledges APG's discursive nature and its curatorial innovation, and will accommodate public discussions throughout the duration of the exhibition.
Upstairs at Raven Row is material relating to the third phase in APG's history, namely the aftermath of the 'Civil Service' or 'Whitehall' Memorandum. The document paved the way for offers from the Department of Health and Social Security (Breakwell et al.), the Department of the Environment (Coward) and the Scottish Office (Latham). Here the production of social benefit bartists is easier to recognise than in the more 'observational' placements that preceded them. Whether governmental or not, these placements demonstrate an attention to collective forms of decision- making. The artist becomes a cultural worker bringing communities together, acting as an interface between public and private interests.
APG continued beyond 1979, but placing artists no longer represented its core activity. Instead, Steveni and APG Director and broadcaster Nicholas Tresilian focused the Group's energies on promoting its 'incidental person approach to government' across Europe, organising high-level meetings in Germany, France and the Netherlands. In an ultimate restructuring effort, APG renamed itself O+I in 1989, an acronym standing for either 'Organisation and Individual' (in Steveni's formulation) or 'Nought Plus One' (in Latham's). In 2008, APG/O+I was dissolved.
The exception to this historical layout is the inclusion on the ground floor of Steveni's recent video walks, part of her I Am An Archive project. In these walks, Steveni literally retraces APG's steps, both historical and geographical, from its beginnings at Saint Martins School of Art to its later forays in Germany. I Am An Archive acts as an antidote to the risk of APG becoming a historical marker stored away in institutional and private archives. By recollecting the disparate fragments of APG's often conflicting and conflictual histories, Steveni's videos perform the challenge of any witness, which is to protect a legacy while opening it up to new interpretations.