Shelley's interdisciplinary work is both text and practice-based. She is concerned with dialogue, creative agency, the relationship of aesthetics and ethics, freedom and responsibility, facilitating new vision, art and activism, working toward an ecologically viable and just society, and the role of imagination in transformative social process. Her work ranges across performative actions, mapping processes, pedagogic practices, lecturing, text-based work, interventions and dialogue processes. She describes the 'flexible frameworks' and 'kits' in her social sculpture projects as 'instruments of consciousness' not 'objects of attention'.
- Artists as agents of change
- New methods of engagement towards a just and ecological society
- Joseph Beuys’ social sculpture proposals and ‘expanded conception of art’
- Dialogue and listening processes
- Participatory practices and creative agency
- The role of imagination in transformative social process
- ‘New organs of perception’
- The poetic and imaginal in 'instruments of consciousness'
- Practice-based research methodologies
- ‘Connective practices’ across sectors and disciplines
- The gap between information and awareness
- Phenomenological and experiential knowing
- The connection between love, play and social sculpture
- Rethinking the 'aesthetic' as the basis of our 'ability to respond'
- Imaignation and ecological citizenship
Her work also considers:
- The relationship between art, culture and sustainability
- Creating spaces in civil society for ‘making visible the invisible’
- Strategies for becoming ‘imaginatively active’
- The relationship between responsibility, the aesthetic and an ecologically sustainable future
- Non-discursive thought and its relationship to strategies for connecting more deeply with the world around us
- Participatory practices, ‘tools’ for consciousness and ‘spaces for new vision’, that engage participants in working consciously with thought, feeling and will as materials of an expanded conception of art
- 'Parallel process' methodologies that combine rational argument with imaginal thought
- Different modes of consciousness and thought, with special reference to areas of new science and Goethe’s holistic methodology; Schiller’s ‘aesthetic education of the human being’, archetypal psychology and eco philosophy
- ‘Memory work’ and approaches for shifting from habitual thinking into new territory
- The role of the net and ‘mapping’ technologies in social sculpture processes
- Joseph Beuys’ idea of an expanded conception of art and its relationship to freedom, direct democracy and sustainable economic forms
- The role of active imagination and synthetic thought in empowering us to shape a different kind of world.
Ort des Treffens: 100/1000 Voices Hannover, Germany 2008-2010; since 2011 continuing as a citizen's initiative. A social sculpture project including dialogue and listening processes, and a city-wide sound-field. Original team included Alex Arteaga (Berlin); Anja Steckling and Nicholas Stronczyk (Hannover); Lukas Ortel (Bonn); Wolfgang Zumdick (Aachen/Oxford). Invited and supported by the city of Hannover and several German cultural foundations. The project continues as a citizens’ initiative entitled: Forum Ort des Treffens.
University of the Trees is a long-term social sculpture project, hosted by several organisations including the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World in the UK (2005 -2012), by the Uberlebenskunst project, Berlin 2011, and by Citizen Art Days, Berlin (2012, 2013). From 2014 University of the Trees will be part of the ongoing Renewable Energy, Renewable Culture programme at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb. Its ongoing development in India will also be facilitated. (see http://www.universityofthetrees.org)
Exchange Values on the Table – Zurich, 2011. (New version of the project, first researched for Social Sculpture Today exhibition, Dornach, Switzerland 2007). New catalogue: FIU Verlag in German and English, edited by Wolfgang Zumdick, with texts by Zumdick, Sacks and von Plato. Catalogue from the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development includes texts by Sacks, Richard Demarco, Luke Desforges, Polly Patulo, NGOs and farmers' representative, Renwick Rose; unpublished material from Social Sculpture Public Forum and Think Tank (International Project Space, Birmingham 2004) includes papers by cultural geographers Gail Davies, Luke Desforges and Prof. Paul Cloke) (See www.exchange-values.org)
Earth Forum is a mobile ‘permanent conference’ process that emerged from the ‘Sustaining Life Project’ in 2002. In 2011 it was redeveloped as a module of University of the Trees, incorporating imaginal processes and methods from Exchange Values on the Table (Switzerland 2007 and 2011).
Earth Forum in South Africa was initiated and developed by Shelley Sacks for the Climate Fluency Exchange in the run-up to the Climate Summit in Durban, 2011. It has been used extensively in South Africa by a small team of Earth Forum facilitators, and continues to grow as part of the Climate Summit legacy project, designed to engage people at all levels in connective practices that 'mobilise them internally'. Earth Forum in South Africa was funded by the British Council.
In Germany (Berlin and Kassel) over 75 people have been trained as Earth Forum facilitators. (For more on Earth Forum in South Africa, Germany, UK and India.
With its focus on creative, connective practices and actions promoting transformation - it opens up a space for new insights and dialogue across disciplines and sectors, enabling project people, policy makers and other practitioners to share their experiences and to explore:
- the connection between values and actions
- different ‘takes’ on our relationship to the world
- the role of imagination, creative strategies and new methodologies of engagement in moving toward ecological and social justice
- capacity building for transformation toward a sustainable future.
Frametalks is a new ‘instrument of consciousness’ project, incorporated in University of the Trees. It was first presented as a 24-hour action in Bern (2012) and then in Berlin as a 3 x 12 hour action, as part of Citizen Art Days (2013).
- Schweisfurth Foundation, Munich (2013)
- Boell Foundation on ‘Enlivenment’ with Kurt and Andreas Weber (2012)
- RMIT, Melbourne: The Art of Changing One’s Mind[set] (2010)
- From Bauhaus to Social Sculpture and Beyond’: Weimar International Summer School – (2003 -2009)
- Verein Soziale Plastik, Achberg, Germany 4-day workshop. (Dec 2009)
- Forum Altenberg: Social Sculpture 3-day seminar (2012)
- Agents of Change and Ecological Citizenship (10-22 July 2011. 20 participants)
- Summer School on Social Banking: Advisor for integration of social sculpture approach into 5-day programme and contributions to programme (Florence, July 2010)
- The Substance Group -2008 -2010 (Switzerland and Germany; 5 meetings)
- Tate Modern Research Seminars on 'social sculpture and the work of Joseph Beuys' led by Shelley Sacks, April to May 2005
Colloquia organised by and with contributions from Shelley Sacks for the Social Sculpture Research Unit since 2001 include:
Dialogues for the Future: What is Social Sculpture? (January 2003). Contributors included: Johannes Stuttgen, Enno Schmidt, Prof. Caroline Tisdall, Dr. Volker Harlan, Peter Schata, Shelley Sacks.
Dialogues for the Future: Working with Water (May 2002). Contributors included: Jyoti Sahi (Bangalore); David Mosse (SOAS), John Wilkes (Virbela Institute), David Haley (Manchester Metropolitan Univ), Sven Riemer (Student – OBU), Shelley Sacks (SSRU)
Organised by (and including contributions from) Shelley Sacks for the SSRU or Sustaining Life Project:
1st Social Sculpture / Connective Aesthetics Methodologies Colloquium – 45 participants - 25 June 2003. These two one-day colloquia have been organised by the Sustaining Life Project to explore methods and strategies that artists and other interdisciplinary practitioners are using in their work toward an ecologically sustainable society. Contributors: Brandon Ballengee (Ecological artist, US), David Haley (Ecological Artist/Researcher, Manchester Met. Uni.,UK), Dr. Hildegard Kurt (Cultural Researcher, Berlin), Shelley Sacks (SSRU/SLP).
2nd Social Sculpture / Connective Aesthetics Methodologies Colloquium - 15 September 2003. Contributors:Tim Collins & Reiko Goto (Eco-artists, Research Fellows, Carnegie Mellon Institute) Heike Strelow (Curator/ Writer, Germany), Ann T. Rosenthal (Eco/feminist artist /educator, US) Dr. John Colvin (Environment Agency, UK); Shelley Sacks (SSRU/SLP)
Protected Areas and Governance – Feb 2004 and Feb 2005 – a three day interdisciplinary event for 25 scientists, ecologists, conservationists and activists– as part of the SSRU’s Sustaining Life Project. In collaboration with African Parks.
Visible Thought: 2-day symposium (2003) relating the exhibition 'Visible Thought' at Oxford Brookes, of Rudolf Steiner blackboards and the 'Oxford Series' by Enno Schmidt. Contributions to symposium by the exhibition curator, Prof. Walter Kugler, Enno Schmidt and Shelley Sacks.
Connective Practices symposium (June 2008). A 2-day participatory event for 25 participants, supported by the Oxford Brookes Institute for Historical and Cultural Research.Designed and led by Shelley Sacks and Dr. Chris Seeley. Linked to the Art, Culture, Sustainability initiative at Oxford Brookes.
Agents of Change and Ecological Citizenship series at Oxford Brookes University including:
2009 From Paradise to Social Sculpture and Beyond: 3 lectures by Dr. Wolfgang Zumdick
2010 – 2012 Speakers in series included: Arran Stibbe (UK), Prof. Alex Arteaga (Berlin), Beth Carruthers (Canada); Peter Gingold (Tipping Point, UK), Hildegard Kurt (Germany), Allan Kaplan (South Afirca)
2013 On Commoning –with Silke Helfrich; on Permaculture with Tomas Remiarz