ART IN PULIC SPACE
- festival or not?
|Type of project: conference|
|Where: Old Town Hall, Gdańsk, Poland|
|When: 17–18 May 2013|
Michaela Crimmin (GB), Julia Draganović (IT/DE), Dominik Lejman (PL/DE), Michał Bieniek (PL), Kuba Szreder (PL), Julita Wójcik (PL), Agnieszka Wołodźko (PL), Bettina Pelz (DE), Martin Schibli (SE), Torun Ekstrand (SE)
Gdansk City Gallery, Gdańsk;
The Baltic Sea Cultural Centre, Gdańsk, Poland
|Curator: Iwona Bigos|
With the comparatively recent trend for temporary rather than permanent artwork, comes the possibility for artists to make propositions that address a range of different audiences and issues; and for us, their viewers and sometimes collaborators and participants, to be more open minded in response to art in its increasingly diverse manifestations. Arnold Schoenberg’s provocation - “if it is art, it is not for all and if it is for all, it is not art”1 - rings increasingly hollow. Nevertheless, we should rightly and jealously guard artists’ freedom to comment or criticise, to obfuscate as well as to illuminate, to be independent of the vested interests of others, or to oppose hegemonies or the status quo as we are currently witnessing in Syria and in Egypt.
Over a decade ago in 2002, as part of the Lima Biennial
in Peru, artist Francis Alÿs, in collaboration with Cuauhtémoc
Medina and Rafael Ortega, made what was to become
for many an extraordinarily poetic, and moving,
work that depended on collaborative effort.
Named When Faith Moves Mountains, this was a direct experience for the five hundred or so people, many of them undergraduate students at the local university, involved in a task set by Alÿs to move a 500-meter-long sand dune a mere ten centimeters. For the rest of us, we consume the work as a distilled image in the form of a postcard, or as an image in a book or magazine; or as a story told to us – almost a parable; or as a video that the artist has uploaded onto his website. As art historian and writer Claire Bishop says of this work, “to recount the event, or to send and receive the postcard, reiterates one of the work’s ambitions: to supplant the solitary romance of Land art with a new horizon of social experience”.2 For Bishop the title of the work seems to allude to a desire for collective action – if enough people unite forces, believing that change is possible, perhaps it can really come about? The participants feature in the video; their voices, their views, are captured and they become an integral and continually present part of the work, artwork as a potential generator of political and social change; a signifier that collective effort is worthwhile and of the potential efficacy of a collaborative venture between artist and participant.
At the time Alÿs was commandeering students in Lima, I was closely involved in a series of commissions for London’s Trafalgar Square. The temporary artworks for the so-called “Fourth Plinth” have been a means of elbowing in imagination, ideas and energy to the heart of this capital and cosmopolitan city.
The space of just 4.8 x 2.4 meters of London, the surface area of the plinth, to date has hosted eight remarkable and varied works, acquiring a visibility and a focal and talking point each time a new work is installed. This month sees the ninth work by the German artist Katharina Fritsch, inevitably sparking fresh speculation amongst the millions of people who see it.
We have such a rapidly changing world, with such huge challenges that we need all the ingenuity of artists, and the involvement by the rest of us in as energetic and open a way as we possibly can. We can take a collective responsibility to extend and amplify the values and questions art brings. And not least to dream of new futures, both solitarily and collectively. To end with another, more apt, quote by Schonberg: “An artistic impression is substantially the resultant of two components. One which the work of art gives the onlooker – the other, which he is capable of giving to the work of art”.3
Michaela Crimmin is a curator, co-founder and director of Culture+Conflict. She is a course tutor on the Curating Contemporary Art masters programme at the Royal College of Art, London, UK.
1. Schoenberg A. (1946 and 1985), Style and Idea, p.124
2. Bishop C. in LAND, ART(2006), A Cultural Ecology Handbook, p. 113
3. Schoenberg A. (1909), An Artistic Impression, (1985), Style and Idea, p. 189
The title of the Art Line conference Festival or Not? tackles not only the meaning of what we call “event-culture”, but also the problem of the sustainability of those art forms which are mainly presented in festivals of contemporary art in public space – art forms that are often time-based, ephemeral or process-oriented, rather than object-based. Things that do not last are hard to evaluate, as they mostly survive in various forms of documentation and in the memory of the audience and the people involved in their production. Sometimes, ephemeral art pieces change the way the audience perceives its surroundings – an effect that is even more difficult to verify and to measure.
The criteria for evaluating the success or sustainability of
temporary art interventions depend on the expectations
an organizer starts with: goals have to be set beforehand
in order to meet them.
Let me briefly present Ælia Media, a participatory art
project launched by Pablo Helguera, winner of the International
Award for Participatory Art in collaboration
with Katia Baraldi, Fedra Boscaro, Giorgia Dolfini, Vincenzo
Estremo, Matteo Ferrari, Nathaniel Katz, Marianna
Mendozza, Stefano Pasquini, Cinzia Pietribiasi, Anna Santomauro,
Alessandra Saviotti, Daniela Spagna Musso,
Annamaria Tina, and 19/20 (Fedra Boscaro, Federica
Falancia, Tihana Maravic, Linda Rigotti, Costanza Savini).
Ælia Media consisted in a self-organized journalism
school that took place in Bologna from spring to early
fall 2011 and in a temporary interactive radio station
presented in a transparent movable kiosk in Piazza Puntoni,
Bologna in October 2011. Pablo Helguera wanted
to share the prize he received for his career as a socially
engaged artist and for proposing to realize Ælia Media
in Bologna, with a group of young cultural producers, encouraging
them to study investigative methods, to share
the knowledge they acquired and to produce a radio program
together with people they did not previously know.
The proposal for the project took inspiration from the history
of Bologna, known for social innovations that, with
Radio Alice, included the first free radio station in Italy,
which experimented with open microphones as early as
the 1970s. Furthermore, Helguera wanted to create an
alternative information channel in a country that at that
time was still governed by media mogul Silvio Berlusconi.
The funding institution, the Legislative Assembly of the
Emilia-Romagna Region, had the goal of giving artists
the opportunity to develop new forms of collaboration
that would serve as case studies for questions like “what
creates the sense of belonging to a community?” and
“how can the awareness of common shared goods be
raised?”. Pablo Helguera’s project was considered a success,
as it created a temporary community of people
who successfully operated the radio station with a high
level of self-organization, and some of the participants
continued collaborations of various kinds even after the
end of the project. This might seem a meager outcome
for those seeking greater visibility, but for the goals set
at the beginning of the project, even the testimony of
eighteen participants who confirmed that a process that
had lasted for only for 9 months had changed the way
they looked at their environment and had influenced
their way of working and sharing tasks was considered a
Festival or not? It depends on your goals…
Julia Draganović is a curator for contemporary art whose interest is focused on new artistic strategies including art in public spaces, socially engaging practices and new media. She is in charge of the International Award for Participatory Art launched by the Legislative Assembly of the Italian Region Emilia-Romagna.
My presentation was an attempt to look at art in a public space in Gdańsk from a perspective of a practice named by Suzanne Lacy „new genre public art”. As she says, an aim of a today artist is not to decorate a space of a city but to bring back its public character as a place for debates, disputes and an exchange of ideas. According to his/her role understood in this way, the artist is no more a creator of art works but a public intellectual producing alternative proposals to a consumption-crazed society. My reflections were illustrated with examples of activities that have been undertaken since the 1990s.
In the mid-1980s, in the absence of own exhibition space
and in time of an ongoing boycott of the state cultural
institutions, a group of Gdańsk artists, including Grzegorz
Klaman, Robert Rumas, Marek Rogulski, Eugeniusz
Szczudło, Kazimierz Kowalczyk and Piotr Wyrzykowski,
organized its events on a ruined island called Wyspa Spichrzów
(Granary Island). Acting outside the reach of official
cenzorship, but also outside the official circulation
of information, they organized one-day exhibitions and
concerts, which attracted a large crowd of friends, fans
and supporters of independent culture.
In 1994 the same place became a subject of the International Workshop Island Project organized by myself and Grzegorz Klaman. We invited Polish and foreign artists to participate in it. In the face of the intense social and economic changes taking place at that time we wanted to draw attention to a significant role of culture, which should not be ignored when planning a future for the Granary Island.
Next international workshop, entitled City Transformers, was organized by myself, Grzegorz Klaman and Singaporean art curator Jay Koh in 2002. It also concerned problems of transformations of the urban space, but this time we attempted to look at the city space in its entirety. Artists from Poland, Europe and Asia spoke out on the processes taking place in Gdańsk as well as the related conflicts and were predicting possible scenarios of events.
A crucial element of the urban landscape of Gdańsk are murals, in respect of which the city authorities decided to adopt affirmative attitude. Among the abundance of this kind of public statements, we have both a whole range of work carried out anonymously and independently on abandoned walls, courtyards and along the railway line and those, that arise as a result of institutionally organized festivals. From a critical point of view, mural painters working in the framework of official events could be perceived as „whipping boys”, accused of collaborating with authorities. However, if we take a closer look at these festivals and motives behind them, this case takes more complex form.
The Festival of Mural Painting Kliniczna was organized by the artist Piotr Szwabe in 2000–2007 on spans of a viaduct at Kliniczna street. Collecting funds and soliciting the necessary permits, Szwabe created a space for creative expression for himself and many mural painters from Gdańsk and other Polish cities. Later from this initiative the Monumental Art Festival evolved, which has been organized by Szwabe in Zaspa (a district of Gdańsk) since 2009. After the political change, that took place after 1989, a discourse on modernistic housing estates revived. Connected to the traumatic period of communism, it was presented in a decidedly negative light, and residents of tower blocks were negatively stigmatized as “blockers”. This status quo caused deep frustration of inhabitants of these settlements, who in addition to an apartment in a monotone, hardly comfortable surroundings, fell to the bottom of the social hierarchy. The aim of the Monumental Art Festival has been not only an aestheticisation of Zaspa’s blocks, but it was also to lead to a positive identification of the district. I must admit that these assumptions are realized. As surveys show, thanks to the new face of the environment, the residents have begun to feel satisfaction from the place where they live. Currently, the district has become the object of interest of tourists coming to the city, who are helped by trained local guides, leading them to the various murals.
Educating another generation of mural painters is the aim of the artistic-educational-prophylactic program I know. I don’t destroy. I create organized by Laznia CCA. In its framework, curators Mikołaj Jurkowski and Hana Lubert-Miodek run workshops with young people (ages 13 and older) and show them that creating graffiti can have a positive dimension and need not to be used only for destruction. The program has a form of an open competition, the winners of which have an opportunity to realize their projects in designated areas.
Last but not least, we must mention a particularly important mural Shipyard realized by Iwona Zając in 2004 on a wall separating the Gdańsk Shipyard from the rest of the city. As a resident of the shipyard, having her studio there, the artist collected 11 stories of shipyard workers about their work in this place, cut out portions of their statements in the form of stencils and painted them in the place the workers passed in their daily way to work. The mural disappeared during a demolition of the shipyard wall, which took place in January 2013. This fact has raised many violent emotions and initiated a public debate on the direction of the city’s development.
The Outdoor Gallery of the City of Gdańsk, organized periodically since 2005 by Laznia CCA, has quite different character. It is a closed international competition addressed to artists invited to create works for a gallery located outdoor in a neglected and now revitalized Gdańsk district Dolne Miasto (Lower Town). This initiative is meant to change the image of this area and to attract Gdańsk’s residents as well as tourists, who have so far avoided it because of its bad reputation. Among the competition works and projects are both those, that are attempting to aesthetisation of the city space, as well as those reflecting a critical approach towards the local reality. The latter include LKW Gallery by Daniel Milohnic and Lex Rijkers, a sculpture Leader Swing by Fernando Sanchez and Korore Architekty by Bert Theis (the last two projects have not yet been executed).
Another festiwal, entitled Narrations, was initiated in 2009 by the Gdańsk Municipal Gallery, which for its implementation has invited German curator Bettina Pelz. Now this event is organized in a collaboration with the City Culture Institute and it attempts to draw the audience’s attention to the fact, that temporal art works – using light and projections on the walls of buildings – can become a constitutive factor for the aesthetics of the city.
I concluded my presentation with a question about possible artistic and institutional strategies: how to plan them in order to make local residents feel they have a say in what’s happening in their city.
Agnieszka Wołodźko studied at the Faculty of Painting and Graphic Arts of the State Higher School of Visual Arts in Gdańsk in 1980–1986. Currently, her PhD thesis is in preparation on participatory art in Scandinavian countries in 1990–2010 at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Since 2000 she has worked as an exhibition curator at Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdańsk.
During the last decade, there has been increasing interest
in public art, sometimes described as “art in the public
domain”, and not only in Sweden. Every year there is at
least one major conference in the field, where participants
discuss how to work in this field. There are probably
several causes of this interest:
• A lack of ordinary/traditional exhibition spaces.
• Standardization, as more and more temporary exhibitions in institutions tend to include projects in the public domain.
• Increased interest in Activist Art, as most contemporary art fails to encourage people to change society.
• Interest reaching out to a broader audience than is possible in more traditional exhibition spaces.
• General disappointment with the quality of today’s public art.
It might be a combination of these things, but what is
worth noting is that many artists, curators, etc. put a
great deal of energy into promoting the belief that it is
possible to develop the practice of public art. This also
means that artists and curators are also asking more and
more questions about the idea of public art. On a general
level, one might say that, in many ways, the transformation
taking place in the art world as a whole, the shift in
focus from aesthetic to conceptual aspects, has never really
reached the domain of public art in Sweden. Nor did
the postmodernist debate from the 1980s really reach
the field. Of course, there are exceptions to this, such as
the work of Gustav Hellberg (Obstruction and In your
head) and Lars Vilks (Nimis, Arx and Omphalos), both
of whom also have a strong conceptual side. When it
comes to public intervention, there are several examples
of works that have strongly provoked the idea of the public
realm, like the work of Anna Odell (Unknown Woman)
and NUG (Territorial Pissing), though these works were
not presented as strictly public artworks.
So, today we have the paradox that the increased interest in and discussion about public art in Sweden during the past decade – along with the resources being put into public artwork and conferences – do not coincide with the belief that a major change has occurred in the process. I would suggest that there is still some kind of disappointment with the present situation. So far, this applies both to permanent works, and to more temporary works, though the level of freedom in the latter is, of course, higher.
So one could make an assumption that something is missing in the discussion about public art in Sweden. But let me first introduce some premises for the Swedish context of public art:
A: “Culture is not in our blood”. This means that culture is not considered as a condition for a social society and its future development. It is considered as more of a form of leisure, and even something that takes resources away from “important” things.
B: “The lack of discussion about Quality”. This could be understood as provocative by many administrators of public art, though this is not the only group discussing public artwork. Using the term “quality” in discussions of art is often problematic in the Swedish context. In practice, quantity is preferred over quality in Sweden. The term “quality” is problematic for two reasons. First, it implies that art is not a democratic field, and secondly, quality is often connected with the term “elite”, a term that has negative connotations (except in sport). So, implying the existence or lack of quality in artworks is often considered elitist thinking, which should be condemned because it is seen as being undemocratic. A consequence of this thinking is that art also should not upset anyone, and, on a general level, should be cheerful. Likewise, it is worth mentioning that in Sweden there is no real division between professional artists and amateurs, in contrast to actors, where there is a clear difference between amateur and professional theatre.
C: As a consequence of A and B, “Professional Knowledge” within contemporary art is not 100% respected outside the art world. On a practical level, many with decisionmaking power about new public art projects do not have a deeper knowledge of and/or an education in art. This often results in an asymmetric structure between the artistic and curatorial process, and the structures provided by people handling public art. This also applies to many cultural institutions in Sweden, especially those on the peripheries.
Also, in Sweden, when it comes to decisions, many people are consensus fundamentalists, which means that everyone has to agree on a decision. This is something that probably does not promote in-depth discussion about quality or permit experimentation and new ways of thinking to be promoted.
D: “An understanding of the concept of the site”. This has rarely been discussed. Sweden, as opposed to most European countries, does not have a specific site or location that reflects the history of the nation through thousands or even millions of tragic family histories (i.e. sites like Katyń, Stalingrad, Berlin, Dresden, Utöya, or Auschwitz….). Such sites immediately trigger thoughts and emotions. I would suggest that this also results in a different understanding of the idea of “site”, suggesting that from a Swedish point of view, the idea of emotions and connotations being linked to a certain “site” cannot be fully understood.
E: “200 years of peace”. This is, of course, in most aspects very, very positive – do not get me wrong – but perhaps this is also one reason that knowledge about Sweden’s history, including its cultural history – is lacking in contemporary society. There are simply no war memorials like the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, 1913 (in memory of a battle outside Leipzig in 1813) by the architect Brunp Schmitz 1858–1916 and the artists Christian Behrens (1852–1905) and Franz Metzne. No sites in Sweden are linked to family tragedies on such a huge scale, and we do not have the baggage of former ideologies in which a strong public art was devoted to authoritarian ideologies. Although it could be argued that pre-WWII public art in Sweden was also ideological, in the sense of bringing the Swedish nation forward (often using mythological motifs) and celebrating the idea of the healthy mind in a healthy body. But due to the amnesia that occurred in Sweden at that time, Swedish culture had to be de- Germanised, which meant that many cultural references, important for Sweden’s cultural heritage, were also lost. We need to remember that Sweden was strongly linked to the German cultural sphere before WWII. These five aspects are rarely discussed when it comes to art, but when added together, they suggest that Public Art in Sweden has a different starting point compared to that of other countries. In many cities in Europe, a specific “site” is connected to a number of different histories, which are often well known to the citizens. A public artwork (permanent or temporary) will not yield a neutral interpretation, but will enter into a constant dialogue with all the positive and negative connotations – historical, political and emotional – linked to that specific “site”. The decision-making process will in many ways be tougher, like in Germany, where professionals are usually involved in making decisions, while other agents, like technical staff, function as advisors on technical aspects, not as decision makers on artistic quality.
Also, in many countries, like Poland and Germany, there has been an intense discussion on how to relate to history. This is, of course, necessary, but it also has implications as to whether we think of public art as being permanent or temporary. In Poland, there is a lively discussion about how to relate to public art from the 1950s to the 1980s, and in Germany there is a huge discussion regarding the memorial process that, in the end, resulted in Eisermans Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas in Berlin, and increased awareness of the possibilities, impossibilities, and the minefields in public commissioned art in Germany.
Sweden – roundabouts
In Sweden, the vast majority of public artworks are placed at locations that are usually more or less neutral, such as a new roundabout, a government building or a new blockhouse complexes, or a site is selected because it is ugly, such as a tunnel under a street between two blockhouse complex in the suburbs. There are very few possible “sites” with a tense history that would create a strong awareness today among citizens. During recent decades, one of the most common spots in Sweden for public art has been roundabouts. I am not referring to huge roundabouts that are used as a manifes- tation of ideologies like Mussolini’s roundabout project in Rome. I am talking here about sites constructed as a result of traffic planning. Public artwork is often placed in the middle of these. The conditions of these sites as a framework for the artist is that the work should be based on visual aspects, but not provoke or be a distraction for the drivers. In this sense, it should be cheerful, and the work should be equally visible from all angles. It will not be possible to interact with the sculpture, since you do not want people walking around in the roundabout. These sites are often outside cities, so you only pass them by car…
The lack of historical, political and emotional connotations to a site works both ways. In one way, this means that artists are quite free to bring forward an artwork that lives more on its own merits. They do not have to consider different aspects of history, and how people might react to these; on the other hand, perhaps it is harder to create something of interest if there is no history to play against at, or to interact with?
Who owns public space?
Another difference in relation to public artwork is based on the question of who owns public space. In this aspect, there are also differences between countries in Europe. In Sweden, the usual belief is that public space is actually owned by the citizens. In other countries, public space means, more or less, the space of the government. This also has implications for the interpretation of a public commissioned artwork. In the former, artists will mostly be considered the senders of an artwork, even though it was publically commissioned. Later, it will be understood as a kind of – perhaps not propaganda – but as something that the government will use more or less for ideological confirmation. Perhaps this is the reason why non-commissioned temporary art projects in some countries in Europe – by the mere action itself – are considered more provocative than in Sweden. You cannot fight for something you already are considered to be the owner of.
The structures of society are well-defined
This question is also related to the question of who owns the space, but one thing worth stressing here is that the structure of Swedish society – due to 200 years of peace – is more defined in its boundaries. The judicial system, sports, newspapers, the art world, etc.; the boundaries of these systems are – I would suggest – more clear cut in Sweden. These boundaries do not exist to the same extent in some younger nations that are still developing their political, economic and judicial systems. The boundaries are more like that of an ongoing game in a greyzone. This means that an art project can easily be interpreted or even accepted as a political statement despite the artistic intentions. However, in Sweden it would be harder to integrate contemporary art with other areas, or to really manage to create a trans-boundary work that plays within two fields. A publically commissioned artwork in front of a new judicial building will mostly still be considered an artwork in front of a building, rather than actually giving the visitor any meaning or making people think about the judicial system. These boundaries work both ways: the positive side in Sweden is that there exists an area that is accepted as the domain of art – a kind of freezone. Within this area many things are possible that are not possible in other fields. The negative thing is that most critical art can easily be neutralized as a critical work just by stating that it is art.
Permanent and temporary public artworks
The greatest interest in art in the public domain is often seen in temporary exhibitions. There is, of course, more freedom here, as the artists do not have to think about aspects of the materials and other things related to its having to last for a long time. And maybe more importantly, artists and curators are also more free on an artistic level to really test things and to experiment, and to make changes and interact with the process of how we think about contemporary art in the public domain. In temporary exhibitions, ideas of conceptual public artworks are discussed, works with a critical standpoint, and sometimes even provocative works are accepted. In recent years, one can say that temporary exhibitions of public artworks have been a test field for how to think about permanent public artworks, as well. One thing worth mentioning here is that much of the discussion about art in public space does not concern artworks exhibited in the public space, but rather interactions within this space. In recent years, the loudest discussions in Sweden have been about works by Anna Odell (Unknown Woman), NUG (Territorial Pissing) and Pussy Riot (the action in the Salvation Church, Moscow 2012), all of which were based on interaction. In the case of Odell and NUG, most people – including the art world if they even spoke up – were initially very critical towards the artists. Both of them used aspects of the welfare system to make their art. Odell faked a suicide attempt in Stockholm and was criticized for using the resources of the hospital and the police when she was taken to hospital. NUG documented the frenetic tagging of a subway car in Stockholm, done as a kind of performance. The critique: graffiti is not art, it is destruction, and it costs money to clean cars. In the case of Odell, she went through a transformation when people understood that she really had an agenda: discussing the welfare system and how it treats people who have a hard time surviving. In the end, Odell became very popular (outside the art world). In both cases, the art world was not the main place where these things were discussed; the art world was in general very quiet. Paradoxically, support for Pussy Riot has been tremendous in Sweden, and sometimes the same people who criticized Odell, NUG and Vilks for doing provocative things outside the box have been positive towards the actions of Pussy Riot. This support probably has more to do with Sweden’s relationship with Russia than with real political support for Pussy Riot and their ideas, or support for the idea of freedom in art.
My remarks should understood more as an imperative to discuss the initial premises that produce the circumstances for art in the public domain. One way to do this is to compare different countries, like Sweden, Poland, Germany and Russia, with each other in order to recognize initial differences. If we start to discuss these things, this will provide a starting point for considering the idea of quality, which in the end would lead to more interesting artwork, and not only in the public domain. But this also requires increased respect for professional knowledge by people in decision-making positions outside the art world. In the end, this will be crucial for the development of Swedish society and for raising the level of culture in order to survive.
Martin Schibli a curator, critic and lecturer based in Sweden. Worked as curator and director of exhibitions at Kalmar konstmuseum between 2006–2012. During the last decade he curated about 80 exhibitions in eleven countries. Besides curating, he also lectures regularly at universities and art schools.
In my presentation at the conference Art in public space
– festival or no festival?, I was supposed to talk about the
role and tasks of a curator who doubles as an organizer
of events (such as festivals) taking place in public space,
and who also commissions artistic projects. Nevertheless,
a presentation which preceded mine inspired me to
talk about a different topic, in order to oppose it. To offer
a counterargument to the theses presented by the speaker
before me, I focused on my own 10-year curatorship
and organizational experience working in public space in
Wrocław during the annual SURVIVAL Art Review festival.
I decided to highlight such aspects of my activities as
the transiency of artists’ works, the partial transparency
of some of them, their vulnerability to damage, and a
more or less intentional openness to viewers, a quality
which makes objects, installations and performances interactive
My aim was also to question the very notion of “presentation” or “exhibition” in respect to art in public space, especially “public art”, a notion that was often used by speakers.
In the final part of my presentation, which was devoted
to organizational failures as well as failures of art curators
(such as the work of Hubert Czerepok Not only good
comes from above, which was taken down just before
the opening of the 6th edition of the SURVIVAL Art Review
as a result of the intervention of a local rabbi, or
Dorota Nieznalska’s work Construction of Race, which
was stolen from the place where it was being exhibited,
i.e. the Wrocław stadium, called Oławka by fans of the
Polish football team WKS Śląsk, who could not accept
the image of a fan of a competing football team being
displayed on “their grounds”), my aim was to draw attention
to the fact that every time art is presented in public
space, it should give rise to negotiations or even to conflict,
and it should do this by revealing the hidden mechanisms
that shape this space. It should raise awareness of
the complexity of so-called “property rights”, in this case
the right to space, reflected both in legislature and in the
less obvious symbolic sphere.
The “right to space” also means the right to put down roots, to identify with a place, group, local community, and so on. Even though some of these factors are obviously difficult to predict, it is worth taking them into account before coming up with an artistic proposal for public space. Some of the less obvious, non-institutional mechanisms that shape public space can be revealed only in a confrontation with a new, foreign element, such as a work of art.
This is the logic underlying many sculptures and monuments that have become a part of public space in cities and towns as a result of the actions of authorities and group interests, and which, being products of different ideologies and points of view, are not always uniformly accepted. Therefore, even another monument of John Paul II, strongly opposed by those who are tired of the questionable aesthetics of these works, is more interesting than even the best work of art that remains indifferent to the space it inhabits and the people living in it. The latter works are often placed in museums or galleries, which are devoid of any context and are governed by rules governing the presentation and circulation of art. The basic reasons for artistic work in public space are context, a willingness to engage in a dialogue, a desire to learn from and about the environment, including, perhaps most importantly, the social environment, and the possibility it offers to negotiate, participate and, in some cases, engage in conflict, provocation, and exposure. In order to have such an effect, art must oftentimes resign from the permanence that makes it subject to the market forces of supply and demand. It must accept transience, fleetingness and the unpredictability of reactions, and appreciate them as important values.
As I mentioned earlier, the switch of focus in my presentation was inspired by the speech of my precursor. He talked about the principles of organizing festivals in public space, where the “exhibition” should be narrowed to a fenced-off or otherwise protected area in order to protect the works. He also postulated limiting the number of works to a few and, at the same time, limiting the number of artists or “names” taking part in a given event. The presumed result of the above would be increased investment in such art and works and, thanks to this, the works would also be more permanent. These postulates are in line with the growing trend of treating art festivals in public space like traditional exhibitions, a trend which is responsible for increasing the distance between festivals and the areas where they take place. This gives rise to a kind of festival tourism – a situation where the same names and similar works “travel” from one event to another.
This trend has been gaining prominence from the moment art initiatives in public space started to be financed with public funds, later coming into fashion and becoming another offering of modern art museums and galleries that treat this kind of art as an outdoor extension of themselves. As a result, big-picture thinking that takes into account such aspects as the relation of a festival to its environment, is superseded by the logic of supply and demand, with festivals becoming brands and promotional tools for cities and institutions.
However, as dr. Gavin Grindon from Kingston University in London reminds us, a festival can be seen as a critical tool similar to a happening, event or potluck. In the 1960s, politically engaged artistic groups, such as the Second Situationist International or Provo movements, “wanted to create social movements in the West and experimented with various forms of mass actions for this purpose”.1 We are then witnessing a situation which took place earlier in the West, i.e. the redefinition of the ideas underlying festivals and assigning to them roles and principles which contradict their previous roles.
Because both in this text and in my presentation, I adopt a subjective and engaged point of view resulting from my long experience of working in public space, I must express my concern with the changes taking place at the moment and with lack of understanding about the nature of artworks in public space, as they, for certain, neither are nor should be merely “exhibitions” placed at various time intervals in “picturesque” locations which are treated as a simple alternative to an art gallery or its extension.
As it happens, as I work on this text, the 11th edition of the SURVIVAL Art Review is drawing to a close. Below is a fragment of a review of this event, excerpted from an anonymous blog called Krytycykultury.pl. It illustrates perfectly the way of thinking I described above, a point of view based on a fundamental misunderstanding: “What worried us about this year’s SURVIVAL is the fact that many works of art did not survive for even 24 hours in an undamaged condition. Sure enough, some of the onlookers walking along the Boulevard engaged in interaction with the works of art so intensely, that the latter were forced to give up and change their form. It is a pity that they could be seen at their best only on the first day of the exhibition. It does not suffice to open an exhibition, it is equally important to protect and take care of the exhibited works all the time”.2
Is there anything else to add? Maybe this: I believe that each trace, each intervention in a work of art exhibited in public space constitutes one more text (and test), a voice, a point of view. Even acts of vandalism and other interventions (some of which are prevented and some not) which upset the artists and organizers are important and should be seen as valuable, as they, in the end, provide a diagnosis of the condition of public space, presenting us with a true and clear picture, which is difficult to obtain in any other way. Obviously, the knowledge we gain is not always welcome, this picture is not always beautiful, and our intentions are not always as honest and fair as we would like to believe them to be.
Michał Bieniek studied at the Faculty of Painting and Sculpture of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław. Since 2010 he has been a Research Student by Project at the Curating Contemporary Art Department of the Royal College of Art in London, UK.
1. I use here a text by Gavin Grindon which has not yet been published and which was the outcome of the conference Polish art. In public space, which took place in the Courtauld Institute in London on December 6, 2012.
2. http://www.krytycykultury.pl/2013/06/11-przeglad-sztukisurvival- trzeba.html, accessed 29.06.2013 r.
I started my lecture with the statement that I am a practitioner, a visual artist, for whom public space is the space most suitable for making art. I have been working this way for 13 years, and this way of working has deepened the understanding between me as an artist and those who have come across my art in the street. In the last few years, artistic performances in public spaces have started to be associated with festivals. This has introduced a new quality which is as challenging for artists as it is rewarding. The first advantage that comes to mind is access to the city’s main squares and central places. Until now, art has crept into areas which were neglected areas, on the outskirts, and quite invisible. Festivals give artists an opportunity to show their art in highly visible spaces, at the same time demanding that their performances be spectacular. Secondly, these performances must be temporary, although the examples I have selected show that artists are often tempted to extend the life of these works or make them permanent. I call this negotiating or entering into a dialogue with the viewers, as I have never wanted my works to become monuments. They are processual, and their permanent change is for me the most important aspect.
As part of the TAK! Festival, I prepared a project called Bogactwo (Wealth). The festival was organized in a public space of the city as part of the National Cultural Program of the Polish EU Presidency in 2011. The program was prepared by the gallery Rondo Sztuki and financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Audiovisual Institute. Additionally, all of these cultural events took place during the competition for the European Capital of Culture, in which Katowice presented itself as Katowice – city of gardens! This city that owes its birth to the coal industry has taken a new course for the future – saying “no” to pits and “yes” to gardens. I decided that my project should reflect this parting of the city with coal, but at the same time, pay respects to this natural mineral which played a central role in Katowice. Wealth – a range of goods of great value consumed by individuals – became a mineral, both literally during the performance and metaphorically – the mineral that used to attract business and provided employment for thousands of people, giving them a good life during the communist period of Polish history, and that now has become a source of nostalgia, disappointment and hard feelings, as some coal mines close, while others thrive thanks to effective management. Katowice is once more a European industrial town on the threshold of transformation.
At the Powstańcow Śląskich monument, I arranged five tonnes of coal into the word
b o g a c t w o (in English wealth) and left it to the disposal of the residents, announcing via the mass media that they could take some of the coal with them, and that it would be recorded as an art project. As the finances designated for my project would allow me to buy only two tonnes of coal, together with the festival’s organizer we sought other support. Thanks to the fact that in Silesia everyone has something to do with coal mining, we managed to find a sponsor. Katowicki Holding Węglowy gave us five tonnes of high-quality, anthracite coal. Another goal was to involve former coal-miners in shovelling the coal in exchange for a day’s pay. Even though a few miners showed interest, none of them turned up, but some people did come to haul the coal away. So, we finally got to work together with the gallery’s employees and those who had come to help lay out the coal. After four hours, the word b o g a c t w o (wealth) was formed. It immediately started to disappear. Despite the organizers’ fears that the coal would vanish immediately, the process lasted three days – exactly as long as the festival. The organizers were worried about exposing what makes the city infamous i.e. people stealing coal from freight trains or creating illegal coal-pits, called “poverty-pits” in Poland. What the organizers aimed at was to distance the candidate for the title of the European Capital of Culture from anything related to coal.
Bogactwo became a major media success. Apart from the national media, those connected with the mining industry also visited the site. Coal featured in conversations about those who worked in the mines, those who escaped this tough labour, about closed mines, and about those that are now reopened as museums of 19thcentury technology.
On the third and final day, when the coal was gone, and the place was full of ashes, there suddenly appeared large crowds of colourfully dressed people. Whole families flooded this public space, a space which was full of billboards advertising a new 3D film about the Smurfs. The remnants of coal were ignored, trampled under peoples’ feet. When you perform in public space, you never know what may happen. I simply could not have dreamt of a better ending for my performance. Coal is out, consumers are in. Thanks to the festival I had just taken part in, I had achieved all three goals. The performance was ephemeral and disappeared after three days, I was given the main square in the city, and I also formed a huge word from five tonnes of coal, so it was also spectacular. The only thing I did not do was give in to the pressure of the organizers to alleviate the critical tone of my performance. Happily, they were in a hurry, so they did not have enough time to properly work on me.
The mound of an unknown artist
In 2012, at the invitation of the Artloop festival in Sopot, and as part of an artists’ exchange with Cracow’s ArtBoom, Jacek Niegoda and I tried to persuade city decision makers to let us make a Mound of an Unknown Artist under the Mound of Krak in Kraków.
It is hard to imagine a bigger creative failure than to be an unknown artist. Unknown means unrecognized, undiscovered, forgotten. Does it mean a bad artist? Galleries, museums, albums and books are full of works signed: unknown artist.
We know who Krakus and Wanda were, but who was Gallus Anonymous, who recorded the birth of the Polish state? Without all those people who wrote, sang, painted and sculpted there would be no art. It does not matter what their names and surnames were – what matters is the genuine beauty they created. Let’s prove, calling for freedom and solidarity, that anyone can become an unknown artist. Next to the signs of freedom and solidarity, let’s erect a permanent sign of art.
Julita Wójcik and Jacek Niegoda
The mound was created within a week, but it was accompanied by protests from the authorities of the Podgórze district (where it was erected), who had it removed after less than three months.
Since the beginning of June 2012, Savior Square in Warsaw has been host to The Rainbow, another of my works. Having been set on fire a few times, it still stirs lively debate on the role of such art in a city and its impact on viewers.
Julita Wójcik a sculptor and initiator of artistic actions. Graduate of the Faculty of Sculpture of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk in 1997. Works in public collections: Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, Museum of Art in Łódź, National Museum in Warsaw, Arsenał Gallery in Białystok, Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art in Szczecin, HorseCross in Perth, Scotland, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
While dissecting the apparatus of public art projects from the position of the expanded political and moral economy, it is important to consider several fundamental questions. One needs to ask what is produced and disseminated and how? What are the terms and conditions of this process and its internal contradictions? Who partakes in production and exchange and from what position? What types of labour are involved? Who is rewarded and who is not? Is the success of some related to the peril of others? In other words, do we experience exploitation, and if yes, who exploits whom? What kind of critiques and justifications does this situation prompt? How is the system legitimized?
Public art is an interesting case of cultural production
characteristic of what Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello call
the “new spirit of capitalism”. In fact, public art can hardly
be imagined outside project-making, an organizational
mechanism specific to a networked world of flexible accumulation.
Every project is only a temporary, yet highly
effective undertaking, a momentary burst of activity, a
nomadic flash of mobilization. A project links agents and
pools resources in one node of the network, freeing them
to migrate to a new enterprise after the current task is
executed. In this mode of production, the global art network
plays a vital role as a means of creating connections
between project makers and their potential employers.
It is the natural habitat of freelance artists, curators and
other art professionals, who roam the globe searching
for possibilities to realize their projects. Both precarious
and enthusiastic, these self-entrepreneurs are guns for
hire in a new symbolic economy, lingering on the verge
between vocational involvement, disillusion and depression.
They network to establish connections with commissioning
institutions, localized art scenes, engaged publics
or wider constituencies. Though every project is a marvel
of human interaction, a temporary burst of connectivity
and a genuinely collective enterprise, every project maker
moves between projects as an individualized and atomized
particle, free floating on the waves of a globalized art
world, competing for access to opportunities.
The art network is ridden by complex reputational hierarchies that determine how resources and opportunities are spread. Their distribution is overridden by vast inequalities between what Gregory Sholette calls “artistic dark matter” and a galaxy of art celebrities. The flow of resources and various forms of capital (money, reputations, social connections) is determined by a peculiar division of symbolic, technical, administrative and emotional labour. Partakers and stakeholders are stratified according to several criteria, based on differences between mobile and immobile, desired and disposable, famous and neglected, recognized and invisible, authorial and anonymous. These distinctions are quintessential for the reproduction of injustice embedded in the networked mode of artistic production. They constitute foundations for networked exploitation between individuals and professional categories, including artists, curators, technicians, assistants, gallerists and administrators. The systems of exploitation are possibly less direct than in the past in industrial capitalism, however, paradoxically they result in extreme inequalities. The globalized art world is dominated by a tiny but extremely mobile elite that amasses disproportionate wealth and garnishes global reputations. At the same time, the majority of cultural producers remains poor, locked in the lower strata of the network, invisible and anonymous.
Kuba Szreder, a graduate of the Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University (Cracow). Curator of the Free / Slow University of Warsaw. As part of his curatorial practice he organises public art and research projects, convenes seminars and conferences, writes articles and edits publications.
Temporary exhibition formats in public space have a longstanding tradition in the arts. They respond to a world in constant change and have become an essential rendezvous to display and to discuss contemporary art. Internationally a heterogenic multitude of formats has been established. Although they gather under the roof of the same communication terms and channels, and often even share the same funding sources, in their specifics they often have little in common. Their characteristics are engendered in a mix of guiding interests of participating institutions and communities, leading personalities and funding partners. With their intertwining aesthetic approaches, conceptual agreements, economic and technical abilities, spatial options as well as communication and publishing qualities, their specifics form and define unique and often incomparable frameworks for participating artists, curators and visitors. As a format, they match the zeitgeist where new spatial flows and sedimentations associated with digital networks, transnational relationships, globalized economies and universal ecological needs are dissolving any simple equivalence between city, citizenship and urban space. In the mix of domains and interests, each festival needs a closer look to understand its specifics and qualities.
From the Venice Biennial, founded in 1895, to the Gdańsk
Festival Narrations – Installations and Interventions for
Public Space, founded in 2009, most of them include
miscellaneous urban spaces for staging artworks – sometimes
in addition and sometimes as a counterpart to art
institutions. Leaving the white cube and the black box for
projects and festivals, urban space, and its connotations
and atmospheres can become artistic materials. Artists,
who deal with urban situations, react to complex processes
that precede artistic interventions. They maintain the
idea of collecting and sorting as a form of artistic practice,
and they develop a special attention to found details, signs
and systems, frames and contexts. The amalgam, developed
over time, in which ideas and intentions, functions
and malfunctions are intertwined, is what interests them.
Function and wear, existing materials and the implemented
language of urban planning and architecture are the
subjects of their analysis.
Temporary interventions experiment with given situations, existing architectures, sensory perception and allegorical associations. In projects and festivals, they show with often minimal or non-invasive means how architectural ensembles and urban spaces can be used or viewed differently. Artists read into the aesthetic vocabulary that is visible in the juxtaposition and superimposition of different times, interests and compasses. As much as the choice of space is part of the artwork, the artistic quality of the interventions develops along the depth of focus and artistic sovereignty, which the artist can generate working on a chosen location.
For the viewer, the known space serves as a recognizable reference. It becomes a connecting link between the everyday situation and the artistic intervention, and functions as an anchor point to an artwork which might, at first sight, be only fragmentary or partially understandable. This moment of dysfunction contributes significantly to the experience that blind spots of everyday perception are resolved and awareness is reset. The familiarity with the environment creates a kind of security and forms an Ariadne’s thread to explore the artistic position.
Artists who prefer the complex structure of urban space over the more neutral white cube, are characterized by a keen sense for the relationship of continuity and creativity. They contribute to the idea of regarding urban spaces as open spaces and frames of possibilities. They render visible not only opportunities but also deficiencies, which is why temporary art interventions are often interpreted as a criticism of urban development and architectural conventions.
The focus on the interchange of space and its connotations with artistic practice corresponds with the contemporary needs of urban development, ecological awareness and community engagement as much as with an ongoing interdisciplinary dialog between the arts, sciences and technological advances. The present festival formats act as an ephemeral meeting point linking various domains having a share in the public sphere. In their ubiquity, they influence the co-constitutional process of public scope, public values and public practice.
The plethora of festivals can be valued as a seismograph of sociocultural activity in the public domain responding to new spatial flows, cross-cultural and trans-national relationships, which are asking for ongoing negotiations between public space, political culture and civic responsibility. The growing number of festivals worldwide indicates that no alternative has been found yet. Temporary co-operation, a variable set of partners, changeable focus, flexible approaches, and limited duration all seem to respond to the need for open spaces away from the institutional conventions and to accommodate the potential to reflect the state of the art as well as its cultural relevance. What is missing is the idea of how to evaluate this.
Bettina Pelz, since 2000 the curatorial work of Bettina Pelz has been dedicated to interdisciplinary projects in urban space, postindustrial environments and world cultural heritage sites.