Shelley Sacks

Shelley Sacks is an interdisciplinary artist and social sculpture practitioner who writes, teaches, performs and works across many disciplines to facilitate creative exchanges that empower people and lead to new ways of seeing and shaping our lives and the world around us.

Since 1970 she has worked between South Africa, Germany and, since 1990, in the UK, exploring new forms of art and their relationship to the struggle for a sustainable and democratic society.

Her work includes more than fifty live actions, site works, lecture-performances, transactions and social sculpture processes including Heat Generators, The Bakery Tapes and The Third Way Social Model (1978); Mound: Re-thinking the Paradigm of Dominion (1992) a 3-month long process in a city in England); Thought Banks for the Edinburgh Festival 1994 and 1995; Exchange Values -Images of Invisible Lives (1996 – 2006) and Exchange Values -On the Table 92007 ongoing); Landing Strip for Souls [2000 -2003] a lecture-action; Ort des Treffens, Hanover, Germany (2009-10 ongoing as Citizen’s Initiative) exploring the links between reflection and active citizenship; Frametalks (2011 ongoing) and the international network project, University of the Trees (2006 ongoing) which includes Field of Commitment, Agents of Change and Earth Forum (developed the the Climate Summit actions in South Africa, 2011).

Recent co-authored publications include Die rote Blume (2013) and ATLAS of the Poetic Continent: Pathways to Ecological Citizenship (2013). She lectures and runs social sculpture processes in many parts of the world. See other selected publications.

She has also been involved in grass roots cultural and political organisations; education for democracy programmes; facilitating cooperatives in the 1970s and 1980s in South Africa; and collaborating with Joseph Beuys for more than a decade in the Free International University.

Shelley Sacks is Professor in Social Sculpture and Interdisciplinary Practices at Oxford Brookes University, UK; Director of the Social Sculpture Research Unit, initiator of the Earth Forum process, Graduate supervisor, and programme leader of the Masters in Social Sculpture and Connective Practices.

Social Sculpture Research Unit / SSRU


The Social Sculpture Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University promotes interdisciplinary creativity and connective aesthetics – the relationship between the aesthetic and the ecological, between transformative social process and an ecologically viable future – with a special focus on the development of Joseph Beuys’ ‘social sculpture’ proposals, Schiller’s ‘aesthetic education of the human being’ and on the imaginative capacities needed to work as agents of personal, social and system change.

Social Sculpture refers to an understanding of art as an interdisciplinary and participatory process in which thought, speech and discussion are core materials available to everyone, and all human beings are recognised as artists able to shape a democratic, sustainable social order.

Social sculpture is concerned with creative strategies and new methodologies of engagement. It focuses on our ‘ability-to-respond’ and connect more deeply with the world in which we live. It explores the relationship between:

  •     Imagination and Sustainable Futures
  •     Ethics and Aesthetics
  •     Ecological healing and imaginal work
  •     Functional and the Symbolic
  •     Freedom and Responsibility

Joseph Beuys’ statement that Art=Capital could be restated as Creativity = Capital or Imagination = Capital. It refers to the potential that human beings have to see beyond self-centredness, nationalism and egocentric globalisation and to reshape a society that recognises the interconnectedness of all forms of being.

Social sculpture is about developing a social model in which participatory democracy is an essential aspect of the process towards sustainable, eco-centric futures.

The Social Sculpture Research Unit (SSRU), coordinated by Shelley Sacks, is based within the School of Arts at Oxford Brookes University. The Unit facilitates the practice of, and reflection on social sculpture and related forms of eco-art and art and social process, and has developed a unique research area of international interest.

Current Projects

Activities of the Social Sculpture Research Unit include:

    • Project development: University of the Trees: Lab for New Knowledge and an Eco-Social Future, Earth Forum and Frametalks
    • Organising colloquia, seminars and conferences on aspects of social sculpture and ecological citizenship)
    • Articulating the legacy of Joseph Beuys and his social sculpture ideas in the context of work towards sustainable, eco-centric futures
    • Developing new written material on social sculpture
    • Supervising Doctoral students and offering a Masters programme in Social Sculpture and Connective Practice
    • Engaging in pedagogic research into the teaching of social sculpture and related connective practices
    • Developing networks and social sculpture inspired communities through the project work, publications and social media
    • Initiating and supporting research into social sculpture related topics
    • Contributing to debates and discussions on social sculpture and sustainable futures through lectures, performances, conference presentations and workshops.


If you are interested in the SSRUs work please see our website:

Social Sculpture Research Unit, School of Arts, Oxford Brookes University, Headington, Oxford, OX3 OBP, UK.

Tel: UK (0)1865 484961
E-mail: Shelley Sacks