John Maclean’s work as an artist and researcher focuses on the relationship between art and politics, specifically on the development of critical art strategies designed to harness the political potential within everyday experience in the context of neoliberalism. His work engages with improvisation, aesthetic resistance and non-oppositional critique and, using the practice of the ‘self institution’ he has developed a number of online art projects that attempt to reframe art practice through the aesthetic appropriation of an institutional form. These projects include the ‘Open Council’ a website paralleling Newcastle City Council and his current project, The War on Capitalism, which attempts to frame art practice in the ultra antagonistic form of a ‘war’.

During his recently completed PhD research, John brought the fields of improvisation studies and critical art discourse together in a groundbreaking project in which academic and practice-led research was synthesized into a single method of self-institutional practice. Through this project, ‘The Open Council,’ John developed a particular method of self-institution to address many of the most pertinent questions in critical art discourse in the areas of aesthetics, authorship, institutional critique, socially engaged art practice and the potential of non-dialectical or non-oppositional critical art strategies. This research highlighted numerous areas of correlation between improvisation studies and contemporary critical art discourse (particularly in the area of art and the social), and some more unlikely links between the critical practices of jazz musicians (working in the context of racial oppression) and contemporary anti-capitalist art projects - the work of Sun Ra and the Copenhagen Free University for example. Based on his research into improvisation John developed a unique method of improvisatory art practice that conceptualised the method of self-institution as an improvisatory process which perpetuates itself by responding to the impulses provided by the contemporary city environment. Through the Open Council project John’s research demonstrates how the artistic appropriation of an institutional identity can provide a framing device flexible enough to contextualise work/research from a variety of disciplines and which has the potential to merge with social movements at times of protest.

John presented this research in Canada at the Improvisation Community and Social Practice Colloquium at the Guelph Jazz Festival 2009.

Project funded by the AHRC.

For further information, visit:

Video about arts council:

Video about Anthony Gormley Plinth Project:

Video documenting show at the city library:

Link to various Open Council projects:

Link to Open Council news item:

Link to final show documentation:

Link to research leaflets from final show:

Link to conference:

Link to thesis: