From factories to fine art - the origins and evolution of East London's artists' agglomeration, 1968-1998

Green, CN 2001, From factories to fine art - the origins and evolution of East London's artists' agglomeration, 1968-1998 , PhD thesis, University College London.

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This study traces the development of the East End’s artists’ agglomeration from its origins in 1968 until 1998 through a geographical history of the studio blocks in which those artists have worked. The thesis concentrates on visual artists and the ways in which they have commandeered space in which to work. The thesis argues that the agglomeration may be conceptualised as a complex adaptive system which has evolved in the “edge of chaos” urban environment which arose in the East End as it made the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial district. The core methodology draws largely on ethnographic techniques. Information was gathered from fieldwork, which in this project comprised semi-structured tape-recorded interviews and semi-participant observation in the form of my involvement with a project “ViA” which is developing an information service for the East End’s artists. The qualitative approach is Grounded Theory. Interview transcripts were “coded” for themes, and these themes explored further in subsequent fieldwork, from which further coding was carried out in an iterative process. The themes which emerged were then combined with the archival research and the findings of the social network analysis, forming the foundations of a theoretical model. The quantitative approach is social network analysis at an organisational level, which establishes that the organisational networks are weak, from which it is inferred, in combination with the qualitative evidence, that the significant networks are informal, a sort of “grapevine”. These foundations are developed into a unified theory which draws on existing models concerning the development of such “creative milieux” and then carries these forward using concepts more commonly found in chaos theory and complexity theory such as inherent unpredictability, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, adaptive topographies and fitness landscapes, and emergence. I argue in conclusion that the artists’ agglomeration in the East End is an emergent phenomenon arising from the actions and interactions of individual artists in search of studio space. It can thus be conceptualised as a “complex adaptive system”, capable of learning, growing and spontaneously developing new properties, and finding new directions which cannot be predicted simply by looking at the system’s constituent parts in isolation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Themes: Subjects / Themes > N Fine Arts
Subjects outside of the University Themes
Schools: Schools > School of the Built Environment
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Depositing User: Dr Nick Green
Date Deposited: 22 Dec 2010 10:01
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 22:33

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