UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Improvising spaces : places, spaces, and do-it-yourself performance in Vancouver, BC McDermid, Heather Jean


This thesis examines and documents the performance and arts culture emerging from underground and off-the-grid arts spaces in Vancouver, BC. This study examines a small cross-section of the city’s underground performance culture, and places it in the context of its time and place to inquire into why and how it is developing, and the impact that it is having on the individuals and communities who shape it. This study makes use of both arts-based and qualitative research methods to collect and analyze information about the practical, social and political influences that are contributing to the emergence of this section of underground culture. This study has roots in my own work as an artist and participant in underground cultural activities, and has required that I consider my role as both an insider (artist) and outsider (researcher). The written portion of this thesis examines three interconnected aspects: what kind of art is being developed in these spaces? How might it be understood as a product of its ‘environment’? And what sort of impact is this form of art-making having on the individuals who take part and on the wider community? The analysis suggests that artists’, organizers’ and participants’ experiences with and perceptions of regulations and enforcement agencies, their material limitations, and social/political values and intentions play significant roles in defining the character of underground spaces, what kinds of artistic activity takes place and how it is organized. The artist book that accompanies this thesis aims to document the creative practices that are taking place, and to reflect them back to the people who are contributing to creating this cultural landscape. With this study and artist book I hope to both capture a snapshot of what is currently taking place in a section of the underground art scene, as well as produce a work that serves as an example of research-as-art.

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