Social Sculpture Airport Notes


On 12/12/09 I had forty five minutes to wait in Copenhagen airport. I wrote:

Early on – both with Question Time and with New Life Copenhagen – the phrase “social sculpture” was used. We placed it on one of our interview cards, but all found it too confusing to actually ask anyone.

At the first of our daily summits – when words and questions can be re-placed and re-written – “social sculpture” became “solidarity” – a phrase used by one interviewee – and through discussion this was then edited further to become “solid.” Or as I prefer to write it:

Social Sculpture



But the phrase Social Sculpture still has some currency for me in how I think about Question Time. Waiting at the airport 12/12/09 I thought I would make some notes to try an improvise a definition and a use. A definition:

Social Sculpture is the application of sculpture derived process(es) to broader processes by which societies are created, maintained and transformed.

Different Kinds:

(1)The working with/ shaping of a fixed amount of material to find a form within/ out of.

(2)The combination of a potentially infinite amount of material to create a (new) form.

(3)The translation into social forms of broader (gestural) notions of sculptural processes – shaping, moulding, carving – both as actual gestures and as (immaterial) metaphors.

In all of these instances social sculpture = seeing materials as active and continuous and therefore changing

The Practice of Social Sculpture

The practice of social sculpture can be language based and/or non-verbal.

Social Sculpture seeks to find a balance between verbal and non-verbal means within an expanded economy of exchange. Maybe any resultant social formation is proposing how these two forms of communication can relate.

CASE STUDY: I associate the invention of the term with Joseph Beuys. Beuys was very verbal but also developed an alternative (silent) economy of fat, honey and iron. For Beuys the two were connected by charisma.

The reason we removed “Social Sculpture” from our cards was that it seemed to lack any currency outside of an art context. It is a phrase adrift. Amongst the Question Time group, who had all heard and used the phrase, it had different histories and etymologies, including an association with art as non-spectacle and links to relational aesthetics.

There are several ways of responding to “social sculpture”:

1.Reject the phrase.

2.Embrace the phrase.

3.Make it common currency.

I think (1) would necessitate an immersion in physical processes of moulding, sculpting, carving and shaping towards the emergence of new words and phrases that do figure in a common currency.

I think (2) involves an embrace of the state of exception. “Social sculpture” as a private language, unsaid, but whose implications and meanings are unfolded, almost non-identified by myself,  in my work.

I think (3) involves billboards, television adverts, the authorship of successful pop songs, or maybe a quieter insertion of “social sculpture” into a whole range of social situations.

Yesterday, in one interview, somebody responded to “solid” through talking about “solidarity.” I wonder if “social sculpture” might also re-enter our discussions as a way of understanding how this project is unfolding.

Certainly, the interviews are scripted and shaped in a very particular way by our cards. I am unsure how that shaping/ sculpting relates to a sense of the “social.”

Despite these notes I am not yet able to put “social” and “sculpture” together in a way that constructs.

Barack Obama is arriving tomorrow.

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Posted: December 16th, 2009 | Author: David Berridge | Filed under: Text | Tags: , , | No Comments »