Ana Laura Lopez De La Torre

Living together: the artist as a neighbour

Chelsea College of Arts

My research project is an in depth study of community-based art practice. In the context of my research this term is defined as a strand of social practice in which the artist or cultural worker has a commitment and declared investment in the communities affiliated to a specific location on a long-term and fairly exclusive basis.

In this, community-based practice is explicitly distinguished from a socially-engaged practice, which I characterise by both the itinerancy of the artist, and by a greater degree of involvement in commissioning processes and contemporary art institutional contexts. By focusing on the documentation and analysis of an under-theorised strand of social practice, this study makes a contribution to the critical understanding of the history and modes of artistic operation within this field.

This investigation has been carried out through practice and seeks to establish what are the key effects of community-based practice and the conditions that potentiate its efficacy. Building on current critical debates on the discrepancies between stated intentions and actual effects of social practice, this work proposes ethics and sustainability as pivotal concepts for its efficacy. The written thesis is accompanied and complemented by an artist book entitled Tulse Hill Diaries: a self-reflexive account of my involvement as an artist and as a neighbour in the life of Tulse Hill Estate, a large social housing complex in a multi-ethnic area of South London, where I lived from 1997 to 2012.

My research approach is autobiographical and follows transnational affinities of friendship and colleagueship, in order to locate community-based practice in an accurate historical and contemporary context. This approach makes explicit the orally-transmitted pedagogies of community-based practice and seeks to bring to attention certain historical and place-bound traditions of art-making that are often unknown, forgotten or side-tracked by art history and criticism.

The theoretical framework comprises mixed methods and critical approaches, including life narrative genres, participant observation techniques, the ecological practice of permaculture, feminist theory - in particular Donna Haraway’s concept of situated knowledges - and the political praxis of Third World liberation movements.

My study progresses from the singularities of my practice, through to wider implications for current debates on the social function of art. Through a systematic interrogation of key themes in my work (community, locality, participation), this study suggests a model for further investigating the motivations, dynamics, claims and actual effects of other examples of social practice.


Emeritus Professor Stephen Scrivener (Director of Studies),

Rebecca Fortnum,

Dr John Cussans,

Dr Isobel Whitelegg