For most people the prevalent idea of art in the public domain is a bronze sculpture in a city’s main square, but can a temporary art project in a public space be called public art? Can interventions by artists using digital media technologies, actions, interactions and processual work be called public art? Can an artwork that is commissioned for the internet be called public art? In Art Line we investigated and challenged the concept of art in public space to expand the boundaries. Public art can be a diversity where hybrids of social work, political acts, sculptures, activist actions, subversive ideas, collaborative projects, risk-taking, site-specific installations, new urban landscaping and temporary and permanent artworks mingle.
In Art Line we focused on temporary projects in different
arenas, and concentrated on the links between the digital
and the “real” public space. Works using digital media technologies
and works shown on our digital art platform were
presented as public art.
Art in the public domain has different traditions and histories in our regions and countries around the Baltic Sea. This was one of the starting points for Art Line. What can we learn from one another and what practices can be employed, and what new methods can we instigate?
Conferences and seminars
The conference Art in the public domain – festival or not? was arranged by the Gdansk City Gallery and was part of the Art Line project as one of many programs examining questions revolving around art in public space. As the curator, Michaela Crimmin said during the seminar, temporary art projects can be disruptive in the everyday, or a part of an everyday, and added that temporary projects seem fitting to impermanent time. During the conference the topic was about the idea of spectacular festivals and temporary interventions in public space versus long-term art projects; in conclusion both working methods are needed for a variation of expressions and addresses.
During another art-in-public-space seminar arranged by Kalmar konstmuseum, the lecturers focused on art as a catalyst for social change, activist interventions, collaborative projects and also for political acts. For instance we learned about the transformation of public space in post-soviet territories when the Moldovan curator and artist Vladimir Us showed a historical overview of different sculptures of men which had stood on the same central pedestal in Chisinau during different times in history, where each replacement thereby erased and created history. He meant that today, public space in Chisinau is mainly a political or commercial area. Together with other artists, architects, curators and activists he ran the project, Kiosk, in which they created an alternative to the traditional culture institution in Chisinau. Kiosk was built as an open arena for inhabitants and cultural workers in the city in the format of an apartment from socialistic times. Apartment exhibitions were a part of art-life in the former Eastern Bloc, when artists who didn’t follow the rules weren’t allowed to show their work in public art institutions.
Towards the Third Culture conference arranged by Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art (Laznia CCA), focused on the relationship between art, science and technology and presented, among other things developed in collaboration with scientists. One example was the interactive, Blue Morph butterfly by Victoria Vesna and the Nano scientist Jim Gimzewski. It was magic to enter St. John’s Cathedral in Gdańsk, to step inside the installation, to put on the turban connected to the soft proboscis hanging from the ceiling and by the sound, movements and color try to imagine the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. We suddenly experienced and actually heard the silent act.
Netzspannung.org is the ground-breaking digital public art archive by Monika Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss where one can take part in interactive media, interdisciplinary projects, lectures, artworks and a community. They also presented their public space projects in which mixing realities and participatory environments are vital. In this catalogue you can read a text by Fleischmann and Strauss presenting their work.
In a series of international seminars arranged by Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH) the focus was on the relationship between artworks created in digital space and its transition to, or relationship to, the more familiar format, the physical space. As curators, artists and researchers we listened, for instance to the pioneer artist, Teresa Wennberg, who presented her early computer-based works and videos. The curator and art critic, Jacob Lillemose, talked about how to translate computer-based art into physical space by using two different strategies. The first showed online work in offline space, the second created a mixed IRL and online-experience and went beyond the white cube setting. The researcher, Rebecca Rouse, talked about the similarities between immersion and interaction in historic panoramas and Augmented Reality panorama environments.
Mateusz Herczka spoke about his artistic practice as a mediator between art and science and between art and nature and asked what would happen if an artwork provided an answer, would it still be art? His work does not need a label but continues to get labeled. We can think of him as an artist driven by curiosity who has experience exploring different media and subjects. In his experiment Out of body experience you use your body as a joystick to move and follow an avatar in front of you in a city space, an avatar which is actually yourself seen from behind. Gradually you become the avatar and your physical body is not important. Your perception and mind are as much a part of the situation as the readily available technology. We recall 3D action games where your character is at the front of the screen in order to shoot and how modern warfare uses unmanned aerial vehicles, where the shooter is in another place.
Laznia CCA in Gdańsk arranged a symposium that reflected upon the experience of the Outdoor Gallery of the City of Gdańsk, which for many years has commissioned public artworks as part of a long-term revitalization of the Lower Town area. The conference, This troublesome, uncomfortable and questionable relevance of art in public space. In search of a possible paradigm, concentrated on how public art projects can be a complement or alternative to museums and the idea of self-organization, as well as strategies to access existing knowledge systems and how to foster collaboration between different stakeholders.1
Ephemeral installations and semi-permanent works
In this text I present examples of Art Line projects for public space and also share experiences about public art with examples from Sweden and Poland from my practice as a project leader for both temporary and permanent public artworks and as an independent curator before starting up Art Line, as were presented during our conference in Gdańsk. Two of the speakers during the conference were the first artists from Poland that I curated solo exhibitions with in different art halls around the Stockholm area more than ten years ago, and with whom I have done other projects since then. Julita Wójcik made a unique semi-permanent public artwork outside Karlskrona, Sweden, in a preschool some years ago. Her work has a special feature; it diminishes every year, at least from the perspective of the municipality. Julita Wójcik installed two hundred handmade birds on one of the walls in the main room. Each child may choose one of the birds to bring with him or her when they reach six years of age and leave the preschool for elementary school. In addition, Wójcik built a bird table, for “real” birds outdoors, which thereby allowed both children and birds to take an active part in the work.
The artistic practice of Julita Wójcik is actions in public space outside the traditional realm of the arts. She made one action when we worked together in the project Sew together. The ephemeral, The Loop, was made on a ferry in between Sweden and Poland. Wójcik sewed together the countries by having the captain of the ferry do an extra maneuver in the middle of the sea, a loop. Wójcik embroidered an insignia on the sleeves of her captain’s jacket, a loop, and stood with the passengers on the aft deck with a pair of binoculars during the action. Only a few minutes later, all traces of the action had disappeared from the surface of the sea and lingered only a little longer on the GPS monitor. Although very transient it seems like the work is still on the minds of many people and this is interesting to bear in mind. It will stay in the memories of the people who took part, or on memory cards in cameras and mobile phones and will be shown again in new circumstances and on other occasions, reinterpreted by people who look at the photos and who did not see the actual work but rather only the representation of it.
The ephemeral is also part of the work of Dominik Lejman, whose works alter our idea of space, scale and time. His video murals and façade frescoes revolve in the borderland between architecture, locality, spatiality, reality, metaphysics and digital space. In his installations, the projections merge with the locations and open the possibilities for the public to become part of an imagined space, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction. There is a certain electricity between the visitors and the projections when light transparent figures move on the pavements, streets or facades and hence stage the viewers’ movements. Many years ago we discussed that we should propose a permanent video mural that would be the first of its kind in Sweden, a work that was not “there” when you turned off the lights. The idea preceded the era of the video projector and after calculations it turned out that the entire budget for the commissioned work would only cover the equipment and 10 years of maintenance.
Questions about art in public space
Public space projects are an almost unquestionable part of biennales all over the world today. The list of questions about art in public space: What? Where? When? How? can be continued: Who is the audience? Do we expect the audience to not just be observers, but also participants and collaborators? What function can public space have?
Does every work in public space have to be site-specific? Can an artwork in public space have the right to be itself with no connotations to the area around it? Does a public artwork need to be involved in the problems or discussions of the place? How can one talk about the local, regional and international context at the same time as being sitespecific?
The architect, art historian and curator, Miwon Kwon, defined three public art practices and shifts within the United States during the past thirty years, changes, which are visible in Europe too. In brief, she wrote about the decorative abstract sculptures in plaza areas as the first practice and about the collaboration between artists, architects and city planners in urban development projects as the second practice. The third practice was art in the public interest in which collaborations to develop an area together with a community or marginalized social groups are in focus.
These three paradigms of public art reflect broader shifts in advanced art practices over the past thirty years: the slide of emphasis from aesthetic concerns to social issues, from the conception of an artwork primarily as an object to ephemeral processes or events, from the prevalence of permanent installations to temporary interventions, from the primacy of production as a source of meaning to reception as a site of interpretation, and from autonomy of authorship to its multiplicitous expansion in participatory collaborations.2
Are there other and more descriptive words which can be used to entitle the public space/the public domain/the public sphere? The artist Łukasz Surowiec suggested the words “Community space” or “Social space”.3 He asked - “Who needs who?” and went on to say that both artists and institutions want to go out in the streets to participate in the problems of a place/a city and to get involved in its structures and the expected effects.
There is a lot of art in public space made outside the public art funding system. Activists or guerrilla artists make interventions in public space like actions, murals and installations. The main body of permanent public artworks, however, are paid for by an official body, a city, a company, a region or a state. Does it mean that an artwork belongs to everybody when it is placed in public space, our joint living room? Who has the power over public spaces, over semipublic spaces and commercial areas in a city? Who has access? Can you do anything you’d like here?
Few people walk out into a main square and look upon it as a free stage for art. The increased commercialization of public space creates a silent consensus to allow, for example, a multinational company to put up a large neon sign in red and yellow on a central building in a city center or by the main road, but if the same place is used for an artwork the debate can turn aggressive. Does it only have to do with who funded the sign or the artwork, if it is a private business or local or state money? Who is the natural sender of installations of any kind in the public domain?
Why do art institutions, or artists, want to show art in public space when there is an almost safe haven in the gallery space? Temporary art projects in public spaces have a long tradition to look back upon. In the 1960s, artists wanted to break free of the restraints of the white cube, often for ideological reasons. One can think of land art, performance, actions, murals or artists’ books for instance. It is brave of the artists to go outside the context of art. An expanded audience or participation is important in the decision to work outside museum or gallery locations. Work in public space can however be a risky and vulnerable process, seen from the perspectives of artists and the art institutions.
The Greek Agora is often used as a symbol of public space. The ideal and idea of democracy prevails in our minds when imagining public space and we often think of it as a meeting place where people talk in a civil manner and where everybody has a say. However, the philosopher, Sven-Olov Wallenstein reminds us that historically not everyone has been allowed to speak freely in public space. Women and slaves, for example, were not allowed, as it was only a space for free men.4 The idealized construction of public space needs to be challenged and reinterpreted over and over again. A civil uprising where masses of people meet in a square has been actualized during last years in the Middle East. The symbolic power and provocation of people gathering is strong. The connection to social media and digital realms is also interesting to note here. The curator Simon Sheikh argued for the art institutions as embodiments of the public sphere and that consistency and consensus do not have to be the vital ingredients in the public.
…we need not only new skills and tools, but also new conceptions of “the public” as relational, as articulatory and communicatory. I would suggest that we take our point of departure in precisely the unhinging of stable categories and subject positions, in the interdisciplinary and intermediary, in the conflictual and dividing, in the fragmented and permissive - in different “spaces of experience”, as it were. We should begin to think of this contradictory and non-unitary notion of a public sphere, and of the art institution as the embodiment of this sphere. We can, perhaps, think of it as the spatial formation of, or platform for what Chantal Mouffe has called an “agonistic public sphere”: According to such a view, the aim of democratic institutions is not to establish a rational consensus in the public sphere but to defuse the potential of hostility that exists in human societies by providing the possibility for antagonism to be transformed into “agonism”. In her work on the agonistic public sphere, Mouffe, significantly criticizes Habermas for his separation between the private and public realm.5
Finally, a woman on the horse! “-Finally, a woman on the horse!” one of my daughters exclaimed when we drove around a roundabout in northern Germany.6 The exceptionality of seeing a bronze sculpture of a woman on a horse as a public sculpture was astounding to her. We are all so used to seeing male kings and heroes riding forward on their horses or standing on a pedestal pointing with firm hands in one direction.
If we come across a woman represented as a bronze sculpture in Sweden, we meet her in the bushes. She is a virginlike, young, teenaged nymph; the commission probably went to a male artist during the time when the Swedish welfare state was being created. She is not placed in the Main Square, but in the parks, in what traditionally belongs to a woman – nature. She is not making history, she does not take the lead and she is anonymous or maybe a mythological figure. These sculptures were mostly made between the 1930s and 1970s, and were a part of the new welfare state and the idea that art is the property of everyone. In her doctoral thesis the art historian Jessica Sjöholm Skrubbe stated that the nude nymph is the most common representation of a woman in public space during the 20th century in Sweden.7
There is a Swedish institution, which has made an imprint on society in terms of public art, Statens konstråd, Public Art Agency Sweden (formerly The National Public Art Council Sweden, founded in the 1930s). They are “Sweden’s largest commissioner of public art. The Council commissions some 40 professional artists every year.”8 Art in public space was referred to as “public decoration” until some years ago when the new formulation “to give artistic form to public space” became more widely used to tell more about the work of an artist.
Public Art Agency Sweden used to work with a rule saying that whenever new public buildings were to be built or reconstructed, 1% or more of the building costs should go to art. The content of it was easy to understand and remember and the 1%-rule has spread and is often used on a regional level and sometimes in municipalities. Today the Council has a broader responsibility to cooperate with national, regional and municipal bodies. The creative practice, experience and knowledge of the artists should be used in city planning processes together with the skills of architects, builders and users, etc.
As of a few years ago, the handling of permanent public art projects in Sweden is regulated by law, and the public procurement process is difficult. According to the law, proposals for public artworks are supposed to be presented in a process where it is open to all artists as a fair competition and there have been several lawsuits in Sweden lately when that law was not followed.
A dedicated art program has to be written for each public art commission and procurement, in which an artwork that is sustainable is important. The Hippocrates proverb, “Vita brevis, Ars longa” - Life is short, Art is long, fits the situation. All the works commissioned by public bodies should withstand graffiti, destruction, being touched, etc. In my work as a project leader for public art projects I have been able to try some new perspectives of the idea of eternal artwork, as with Julita Wójcik’s birds, for instance. Klara Kristalova realized another project for a preschool, a labyrinth with a hare and a fox. The artwork has one changeable feature and one sustainable; it is functional and plays with all of the senses. The artist planted different plants in a nonsymmetrical maze in the yard by a dense spruce forest. You can taste, touch, pick, smell and plant yourself. The children can run, hide and take different paths when facing difficulties. Traditionally, there is often a monster or a Minotaur at the end of a labyrinth, but there could also be a reward of some kind, as here where a hare and a fox are shaking hands as if making an agreement. Labyrinths were already present in ancient Egypt and in Greece and stone labyrinths were made during the Bronze Age. Today, labyrinths are a common feature in many computer games. Poland and the former Eastern Bloc had a complicated history of public art during the socialistic era. Large monuments and wide boulevards were dedicated to celebrate the leaders and manifest their power in public space. Public space was a political place, not a personal place and the commissioned public art was a tool for agitation and propaganda. Art should raise and praise the official reality to the skies. The division and breakdown between the official and unofficial art scene was prevalent and the most creative ways to use public space for art were invented by artists. Performances, concept art and actions were some of the strategies and art could be shown very temporarily in, for instance, private apartments or in the trunk of a car. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, art was free from national obligations and it was time to take public space back from the state and alter mindsets about ownership and the possibilities of public space. Commercial interests in public space had a paradisiacal time at first, but artists were fast to intervene in many different kinds of projects. One can linger over the history of Poland and on its changing borders when it was divided and annexed by other countries. Whose identity or which ethnic group is being represented in respective official public artwork? Whose cultural heritage is it?
Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art has organized The Outdoor Gallery in Gdańsk since 2004, a long-term project where new large-scale public art projects revitalize rundown areas of the city. The first art commission is a large truck seemingly stuck under a bridge close to Laznia, a stone’s throw from the old city center but in a neglected area by the Wisła river. All kinds of cultural activities, especially for young people, in the Lower Town area and beyond, have been organized inside and outside the truck, since known as the LKW Gallery.9
The modernist tradition is visible in European cities. Certain types of abstract stone or bronze sculptures are familiar to many. It is like a monopoly stemming from the modernist tradition and still new sculptures are erected today as if stuck in a mind loop. The traditional role of art in public space still prevails.
The public domain has been a male territory and art and city planning has been a mirror of society. If we fly over Europe and look at the cities we will find an astounding number of pillars and obelisks. Traditionally public art has also been a tool for cultural politics, predominant aesthetics and values of European societies. Today, hopefully art is not a parade and presentation of the power of the government, nor a manifestation of the welfare state.
The monument and the memorial tell a story about the past and urge us to remember and learn. In their anthology about European memorials, Jonas Frykman and Billy Ehn write that memorials are contradictory, and continue to say that monuments should symbolize things that are and that continue to be: states, nations, ethnic groups, gender, power and dominance. And, at the same time, everybody knows that life is changeable and nothing is solid. Our time is characterized by variability, complexity and diversity, and yet new monuments are erected.10
What do we want to say with art in public space today? Do we want to give people some resistance in everyday life? Is the art we present in the public interest? Does everybody really have to understand all art in public space, or does art have its own right to be complex? Public space belongs to everybody, but art in public space has no obligation to cheer every person up.
Site-specificity and debate
Public artworks often evoke debate in Sweden and hopefully it makes more people aware of art. The debate can depend upon where the location of an art installation is or how ‘public’ an artwork in public space is.
SAFE, was an international art project I curated soon after I had moved to Karlskrona, Sweden, in 2005. The idea for the project SAFE came from thoughts about Karlskrona as a city of military and defence. In 1680 it was decided that a naval base should be built in Karlskrona to serve as a Baltic military center. Some areas in the city center were strict military areas until 20 years ago. Most of the islands of the archipelago were military defense areas, forbidden places for “foreigners” and “aliens”. Was there still a feeling of being secure and protected, or being a target? International events like 9/11, the Bird Flu and terrorist attacks created an atmosphere of uncertainty. SAFE included exhibitions in the art hall and museum, and several public space projects and interdisciplinary projects.
I introduced Artur Żmijewski in Sweden at the fortress Godnatt, a solemn place at sea only accessible by boat. Visitors go directly inside after being dropped off, and the boat leaves for almost an hour, leaving them trapped. The fortress is a seemingly scary place where you can easily get lost. Two film installations by Żmijewski were shown there. One was, Berek / The Game of Tag, in which nude adults of various ages play a game of tag in a claustrophobic cellar. You learn later that it is a gas chamber in a former Nazi death camp. The location in the fortress was similar to the room in the film. In the other film, KR WP, the Representative Guards of the Polish Army parade and march outdoors in uniform and then in a dance studio, where they undress completely, but still present arms. People who visited this public space were engaged and sometimes strongly disturbed, and the connection between the military site and the films was strong. Since the installation mostly reached people who knew they were going to meet art, there was no upset debate around these works. The installation by Żmijewski was in a public space with limited access. The audience had to make an active choice to go and also stay for an hour. They expected art installations in an unfamiliar place and to be challenged.
Another installation in SAFE was made by Peter Johansson and was constructed on a small island in the city center where a small bridge led to the island. The installation, May I?, was a prefabricated house with major additions like wooden details and was painted both on the facades and in the interior in a screaming red-orange color similar to the color of lifeboats, and at the same time close to the color of the National symbol of Sweden, the Dala horse. The house was in a large scale compared to the island, creating an unreal atmosphere as if being photocopied onto the island. ABBA’s song, Dancing Queen, enhanced the installation.
You could not miss his work when in the city; it was “like a red pimple on the ass of Karlskrona” as one art critic wrote in a major newspaper. It was a very big contrast to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and its historic monuments. The site for the installation was on an island where small red allotment houses and gardens served as a background on another island. The same red wooden houses are on many postcards entitled Sweden and were visible in IKEA warehouses all over the world as the picture of Sweden. The safe haven of Sweden and the proverb “My house is my castle”, or Sweden as a gated community, came into mind.
There were many reviews, articles, radio broadcasts and letters to editors. People loved or hated it. Few people were unaware of it and the installation turned into a symbol of change. It led to a well-attended lecture series about city planning and discussions on what it is allowed to do in a World Heritage city. It is a recurrent reference point in new debates. Recently it turned up on a nostalgic Facebook site: “You know you are from Karlskrona if you remember the red house.” The installation by Johansson was in an open area and people who usually don’t go to art halls and museums were reached just by being in the city, and they stumbled over something almost familiar. It was a catalyst for discussion about the possibilities of public space and still vibrant in people’s memories.
The Baltic Goes Digital
The internet is a rather new social meeting place, and it has a role similar to the idea of the public square, the Agora. We meet there and we share information and content, rather than in the main square of a city. Our private realm is a vital part of the digital public realm, but not in the physical public realm.
The presence of art institutions and museums on the internet most often means that they use the internet as a marketing and information tool and it has the same function as former printed invitation cards. In Art Line we wanted to use the internet as an extra exhibition space for online artworks and as a platform for artistic exchange. In the future, the next desired step could be to offer open source tools for creation, sharing and publishing. When listening to the curator and critic, Jacob Lillemose, during one of the BTH seminars I scribbled down his words, “Technology is a human right”, when he spoke about a hackers lab and how to introduce people to free software. Digital media can be part of communication with an audience and can reach out to people in all the participating countries, locally and internationally. We did research and learned that there is a high percentage of people in our partner countries who are internet users and the highest percentage of those people are part of the young population.
The contest, The Baltic Goes Digital, was announced by the Gdansk City Gallery and the Baltic Sea Culture Centre in Art Line. The winning projects were to be realized and exhibited cross media, in both the virtual and the physical space. The projects aimed to involve the audience – both in situ and online – and the artworks were incident to and formed by the interventions of the visitors or by unknowing participants.
Baltic Agora by Mateusz Pęk and Klaudia Wrzask was a piece in two parts, one online work and one installation at Gdansk City Gallery. One part still exists as an online artwork. Everyone who logs into the work is presented with a 3D topographic map of the Baltic Sea in a reverse way, the deepest sea bottom is the largest mountain on the map. The server gets information on where you are situated geographically and starts to build on a structure, using different colors depending on where you are. When anyone from cities around the Baltic Sea logs in new arches are built and the Baltic agora under constant construction and open for discussions over the internet and the sea. The new meeting place, the online Baltic city, is being built by you and it is in a constant state of change. Mateusz Pęk and Klaudia Wrzask examine the dialectic borderland between real and virtual, between body and computer, between artist and participants, and between countries. Technique extends the human body and becomes more and more an integral part of us.
AudioElsewhere by Marek Dybuść was an artwork also using an interaction between people on different sides of the Baltic. There was a chair, a table, a computer and headphones at Gdansk City Gallery and a robot in disguise as a mannequin with a golden face installed at the café in the Blekinge Institute of Technology. The robot transmitted film and sounds from Karlskrona to the visitors in Gdańsk. When in Sweden, you could pass by the café and see the mannequin suddenly move her head, since each head movement of a person with the headphones in Gdańsk created the same movements for the robot. You could also spin her head around. The languages spoken when I visited both sides were Urdu, Indian, Chinese, English, Swedish, Polish and body language. It was a work about human interaction, both existential and humorous. The political side of it recalled the situation of surveillance cameras and people around felt familiar with her movements as with most digital supervision today.
Baltic Sea Radio by Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet Sola symbolized and transmitted a soundscape of the vessels and ships travelling on the Gdańsk Bay in real-time in an installation including a rowboat which had been sawed in two. The movements of every ship were followed and transformed into a sound installation, which was meditative, disturbing and unpredictable at the same time. Unknowing participation and the uncontrollable situation are vital parts of the work of Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet Sola. The listeners became the sounding board for the real-time movements of the ships.
Hydro Active City
Participatory, interactive and relational artworks involving people in the Baltic countries were looked upon as especially interesting when the Hydro Active City contest was launched by the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre and Gdansk City Gallery in Gdańsk. It was a contest for an artwork using digital media technologies in a location anywhere along the Radunia River in Gdańsk. The relationship between digital/ virtual space and the physical location was vital. A requirement was also that the works should be able to relocate to any other location close to water in the Baltic countries. The works are within the idea of anti-monuments. In an interview, the Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer spoke about this works as temporary creations between the site and the public. People meeting and sharing an experience together in one place, at a certain time, was the most important part and the outcome is not programmed into the work. The anti-monument is an alternative to the prevailing fetish of using monuments as a representation of power.11 The works created a personal and intimate atmosphere in the area and the possibility to talk to neighbors and passersby. Participation is a necessary part for the creation of the work in situ.
Piotr Wyrzykowski orchestrated the movements of people in a specific area of Gdańsk where his augmented reality piece, Water Memory was presented. People walked around in deep concentration carrying borrowed tablets in front of them to see objects and text appear in the same locations where they were situated. A kind of double vision was required, as the physical real world merged with the objects, texts and digital memories on the tablet. Through GPS coordinates different objects, notes and photos, like an old carousel, whirled up on the screen, and created a virtual space in the place you were standing. Local references and also stories from other places appeared. The work layered multimedia content onto a place, and it layered past and contemporary times, and different locations on one spot. Its narrative is not only local but also universal. It is like reading the scattered thoughts and memories of another person walking the same route as you.
To physically throw a message in a bottle into the sea is an uncertain project. You never know if or when it is going to reach anyone. With the help of technology the communication was faster in the Message in a bottle project by Maciej Wojnicki. Anybody with a smart phone or a tablet could send a message at certain locations connected to a sign of a water bottle, close to graffiti on the apartment buildings and close by the Radunia River. A person coming to one of the spots could receive the message, answer it and also send a new message by a virtual throw of the bottle into the river. The participation of the public and the new connections that occurred was the essence of the piece and the trigger to more events.
When entering a bridge over the river people stopped or backed off because of a sound in the “wrong” place, a loud sound of ice breaking. The sound was triggered by their movement and escalated when several people walked over the bridge. It was springtime, the river was flowing, and the sound relocated people in time and space in the installation, Little Ice Age by Olga Zofia Warabida & Mariusz Samól. The American bio acoustician Bernie Krause has recorded natural soundscapes over decades. He estimates that 40% of the places he made an inventory of were disrupted by sounds made by humans, called antrophony. The word biophony was invented by Krause to describe how the world sounds without the presence of humans.12 The sound of nature is no longer natural in many environments today, at least not in urban areas. With the sound installation, nature was brought back to the city by technology and we get to experience nature in the city. Can the city sound like nature? Did you know that people once walked on the ice in between Poland and Sweden? The installation recalled the ice as a symbolic bridging between the countries.
The jury, which consisted of Jacob Lillemose, Ryszard W. Kluszczyński and Peter Hagdahl together with the Baltic Sea Cultural Centre, stated that it was “a surrealistic intervention into urban reality – a pragmatic function of a bridge, understood as an architectural construction, is transformed from communication to experience”.
I remember an artist who made parallels between fly fishing, creating art and flow. It came to my mind when trying out, Post-Fishing Post by Justinas Gaigalas and Rytis Urbanskas which got a honorary mention by the jury. The idea was to stop by for a moment, hold a fishing rod and not wait for a fish to bite but concentrate on listening to the sounds of the underwater world. Fishing is a familiar practice which made it easy for a passersby to try. Space Matters was a series of projects in three parts by the Karlskrona art hall and the curator Oscar Guermouche in urban space. It was shown in physical locations and at the same time on different digital platforms to connect and examine ways of connecting these public realms. The first intervention emerged from the large main square in Karlskrona where the possibility to use this public place seemed difficult at first. What is public here? The works were screened on facades, in a private restaurant and on local TV-channels. A live blog, artists’ books and videos were shown in the city library and a launch of a mobile art application was presented.
Offspring Taking Off by Performing Pictures, Geska Brečević and Robert Brečević, was an application for a smart phone. The artists had it for a month on AppStore until Apple said that it was not entertaining enough, that it was not a game and it was not entertainment. There are no headlines for art, Apple said, and we can’t create headlines for everything. Geska Brečević and Robert Brečević call their work “pictures that perform” in a meeting with a visitor. The story can begin, but only when somebody starts moving in a certain way or stands at a certain distance from their artworks. There are children waiting for us in the mobile application and each of them stands in a in a different environment with a large balloon in their hands. Waiting to grow up, waiting for answers? We have to physically jump to get them flying. Geska Brečević gave a lecture during one of the BTH seminars and also talked about other public space projects and a research project where they investigate how different types of large events in public space are received and reinterpreted by social media and digital media.
It was logical to perform the next phase of Space Matters in various places in the city of Karlskrona. Three yellow shipping containers were placed by the sea on the main island as temporary exhibition spaces. If there are few public places to show art, let’s create more. The containers were meant as a symbol of the sea lane connecting the participating countries and the video works about digital and physical public spaces were screened 24 hours every day during some months.
The third part was the INTER-ACT! workshop with the artist Nicola Bergström Hansen, “Art and activism in social media” where concepts like “counter gaming” and “culture jamming” were explored and experimented with. Students created interactive subversive projects for auction sites, online games, social media, company sites and online contracts. Kalmar konstmuseum started to arrange Beta Tests in the close vicinity of the museum, in the city park by the museum and the castle, and continued with a crescendo of a series of different public art projects.
Artists made projects for shopping malls, in the city center, performative works like city tours or actions in a greenhouse, workshops in the tree tops, on the sea outside the museum, in the city park – posing the question – what are the possibilities for public art today? Artists and art students tested different methods of working in public space. How does art in different environments function? Where can it be shown? Some works were very visible as art, others were not. Some lasted half an hour, others the entire summer.
One is still there, as a part of the museum, a parasite architecture camouflaged into the building. The work of Gustav Hellberg, In your head, makes the visitors to the park or the museum uncertain of a slightly opened door on the back of the museum, from which both sound and light stream. Connotations of a safe public space and the curiosity of passersby can collide. Is anybody there?
IKOF, Ingvar Kamprad Order of Friendship, was initiated by the San Donato Group from Kaliningrad when they recreated the Kamprad Volvo into the official honorary car to transport people between the museum and IKEA and at the same time recording a road movie of passengers.
Krzysztof Żwirblis made Social Museum in the suburban area of Oxhagen in Kalmar, together with the tenants. The tenants collected artifacts; they painted, and filmed and finally had an opening of their own museum in one of the yards. Everyone “became their own personal museum”, said Krzysztof Żwirblis during the public space seminar Kalmar konstmuseum arranged, and continued by talking about the desire to create activities with people who usually don’t go to art galleries and instead meet them in their own everyday environment. Every person is her own museum and private stories moved out in the public. Żwirblis was inspired by the writings of the modernist architect, artist and educator, Oskar Hansen who said that art is not space in itself, it needs viewers and participants.
Karolina Breguła conducted a city-tour, with interpretations of public art, a performance in which the artist talked about permanent artworks in Kalmar. She suggested translations of the artworks, by taking inspiration in contemporary society and from history. Both fact and fiction were presented as obvious and natural and the audience was invited into a dialogue.
Ingela Ihrman performed The Giant Waterlily Victoria Amazonica, which blossomed in Kalmar in the middle of a fountain in a greenhouse during two exclusive evenings. The visitors could watch the waterlily go from a phallus-like bud to full bloom, first in white, then in pink. There was a scent of pineapple and a garden expert talked about the exotic plant as it moved and blossomed. A newspaper placard accompanied the stunning news as part of the artwork. Helle Kvamme created her own public sphere in her floating studio space, The artist’s eye, on the water in front of Kalmar konstmuseum. Visitors were welcome to row to her studio for a dialogue with the artist while looking at the castle, the museum and the sea, and the artist was ready to cast off.
During the Art & Apparatus workshops, where artists worked together in laboratories with waterjet cutting and 3D modeling, several artists made proposals for site-specific public art projects. Jakob Ingemansson presented Sun and Rain Pavilion; Kordian Lewandowski Nerds’ Thinker and Izabela Żółcinska The Body of Rivers.
#Mixitup was a transdisciplinary event with performances, a seminar, a workshop and an online worldwide reading marathon that were arranged by the Department of Culture and Communication at the Blekinge Institute of Technology. Installations where the artists deployed digital media technologies in their practices were shown outdoors and indoors at the Blekinge museum.
Barbarum Fretum is an old name for the Baltic Sea, but also an interactive installation created by Elektro Moon Vision, Elwira Wojtunik and Popesz Csaba Lang, together with Magdalena Pińczynska, for the yard of the museum during the #Mixitup event. The black cube architecture was both alluring, like a brilliant diamond, and mundane, as it was made of foil. It reflected parts of the outdoor environment and at the same time acted like a black hole sucking all light into its’ surface, that was in a constant state of minimalistic movement. On one of the walls, peepholes were arranged so that the visitors could watch four different Baltic city harbors in real-time. The threshold for people to enter a secretive digital installation can be high, but the artists lowered it because of the familiarity with the material and with the telescope-like peepholes that most people know how to use. Upon entering the dark cube, one saw seawater in the far bottom of three walls. Not the wild dark grey water from the Baltic Sea, but rather an imagined sea that created a sense of tranquility. As one continued further inside, the water level rose. The visitors swam in the water which virtually engulfed them. Random texts about the Baltic Sea appeared on different spots.
The work Light clock (25 901 514 031 485 metres in 24 hours) by Jesper Norda was screened indoors during the #Mixitup event. The light summer evenings in Sweden made an outdoor screening difficult. Norda wrote about his work: “A video starts with a single white frame - a flash of light - followed by a counter measuring how far the light will travel during the following 24 hours. The counter is updated every second, like a clock. A meditation over time, speed, light, wideness - eternity”. Nothing can move faster than light waves, although when learning about how many minutes it takes for the light from a star to reach us we imagine light a bit slower. The speed of light is the same no matter how fast you are moving - and when you accelerate, time slows down.13 “A traveller, moving at the speed of light, would circumnavigate the equator approximately 7.5 times in one second”.14 Light clock would be a fine monumental public artwork for the facades of the world in our impermanent time.
1. Art and Public Space. The first symposium of The Outdoor Gallery of the City of Gdańsk, (2012), Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art in Gdańsk.
2. Kwon M.(2002), Public Art and Urban Identities. www.eipcp.net/transversal, European institute for progressive cultural policies.
3. Do we really need yet another piece of public art? An Art Line-seminar in Sweden, at Öland, arranged by Kalmar konstmuseum May 7–8, 2013 http://artline-southbaltic.eu/event/save-the-date-a-seminar/
4. Wallenstein S.O. (2001), Bildstrider. Föreläsningar om estetisk teori. Göteborg.
5. Sheikh S. (2005), In the Place of the Public Sphere? Or, the World in Fragments., in: Sheikh S (ed.), In the Place of the Public Sphere? On the establishment of publics and counter-publics, Berlin: b_books Sheikh quotes Mouffe C. (2002), ‘For an Agonistic Public Sphere’, in: Enwezor O. et al. (ed.), Democracy Unrealized, Ostfeldern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje-Cantz.
6. Sculpture on the main street of Ludwigslust, Germany.
7. Sjöholm Skrubbe J.(2007), Skulptur i folkhemmet: den offentliga skulpturens institutionalisering, referentialitet och rumsliga situationer 1940–1975.
8. Statens Konstråd www.statenskonstrad.se
9. Rijkers L., Milohnic D.(2008), LKW Gallery.
10.Frykman J., Ehn B., Bokförlag C. (2007), Minnesmärken. Att tolka det förflutna och besvärja framtiden. An anthology based on a European research-project.
11. Lozano-Hemmer R.(2002), Alien Relationships from Public Space. Trans-Urbanism, V2_Publishing/NAI Publishers, Rotterdam.
12. Mildner A.(2012), Koltrasten som trodde att den var en ambulans, Volante.
There is a thin line between public and private, just as there is between art and life, and perhaps it is the way this line is articulated that explains the ability of certain artworks to move us, emotionally as well as intellectually. Submersed, as we are, in a world replete with expressions, representations, claims and opinions, it seems that the art of making distinctions is now more crucial than ever. Captured by a film in the Art Line online archive, The Best Things in Life are Free (2002) – a 2:17 minute piece featuring a masked shoplifter whose movements are recorded as if using a surveillance technique – I am led onto other works by Nug and Pike that similarly seem to address these thin lines of distinction. In one of their more recent pieces, It’s so Fresh I Can’t Take it (2007), the setting is a station in the Stockholm underground system. What we see is a body thrashing in space, compulsively holding onto a spray can that seems to have acquired autonomous power, throwing the person this way and that whilst leaving violent scribbles on the tiled walls and floors. It only lasts a few minutes: an explosive act of physicality bursting forth in an interstitial space-time, leaving incomprehensible and indelible traces of writing. Rather than being represented by tags, symbols or otherwise intelligible images, “graffiti” here is reduced to its bare essentials: the making of lines as evidence for a depersonalized presence in generic public space. The settings employed by Nug and Pike – the supermarket, the underground, the railway tracks, the digital screen – are defined by technology, infrastructure and consumption; a hyper-striated urban space marked by surveillance, zero-tolerance, and the austerity of neoliberal urbanism.
What arises through films like these is a precise and complex
articulation of our present condition, as bodies and
political subjects, notwithstanding our particular identities
as artists, public offenders, or normal law-abiding
citizens. Framed in a recent publication as metagraffiti,
what is held in common by these “grafitti art films” (and
what justifies the “meta” term)1 is a self-reflexive gaze,
one distant from its own practice, yet embodied and informed
by it. In as much as graffiti remains a sub-culture,
transgressing the line between public and private,
and blurring distinctions between art and life, it remains
excluded from the realm of what is “proper”, but nevertheless
illustrates the kind of fragility I would like to forefront
here. The playful and ironic enactments performed
by Nug and Pike reveal the dangers of going public: the
risks you run when exposing yourself to the outside world
whilst attempting to put your indelible mark on it. Whether
writing on the backside of doors in public lavatories, inventing
personas by putting tags on walls in unreachable
places, or contributing to the elaborate semiotic registers
of large-scale painted public “pieces”, the motivating
force behind these practices clearly transgresses the simple
desire to communicate. Rather, the desire (and the
thrill) seems directed towards attaining an absolute selfexpression
that is not only dependent on being seen by
others but on absolute recognition. There is a yearning
for belonging contained in most of these practices, some
of them entailing a sophisticated system of sub-cultural
coding and peer appraisal; a yearning that surely runs
parallel to all individualization processes. But it is only
when (re)presented through a distant and self-reflexive
gaze – transmitting equal measures of desperation, wit
and irony – that such practices are brought to a level of
general understanding that allows them to be shared
and reflected upon by others. The self-reflexive gaze is
what turns them into art, and moreover, what makes
them public, dislodging them from their original settings
in a closed and internal system of self-referentiality.
Basically, as once noted by the philosopher Nancy Fraser in her reflections on “actually existing democracy” (beyond abstract rhetoric and idealisations), what remains as criteria for a discussion to be public is that it concerns all members of society. That is to say, the decisive element of what is public or not is linked to issues of communality. But there is a problem in how we tend to think of public space as an entity in its own respect, as an object or significant “out there”. We readily come up with examples of spaces and localities that seem to fall under this heading, but things get more difficult when we are pressed to say what these places have in common, and hence what decisively defines them as public rather than private. Much has been said about the privatization and commercialization of public space in Western societies, yet comparatively little on how the private is made public through “personalised” media, communication technologies and the undermining of personal integrity that by now is a job requirement.2 The “destruction” of public space is thus also a destruction of private space, or rather, of values and practices that historically have been mapped onto certain spaces and thereby associated to an array of meanings ranging from the existential to the political. But it must be stressed that divisions between private and public are socio-historical constructions. Rather than constituting universal or timeless ordering devices that reappear whenever and wherever human beings co-exist, public and private take on different meanings and forms of expression in different times and contexts. As categories they are fluid, dynamic and transitory; their boundaries subject to constant and sometimes violent negotiations. Moreover, the dividing line is only partly maintained by material means, more often being determined by social norms, legal regulations and economic conditions. Walls are in themselves but a reflection of the imaginary institutions of society that, increasingly today, are being put under pressure by totalizing tendencies and regimes of repression. We cannot address “public space” without also addressing the private.
Thus, there is a thin line between private and public, just as there is between art and life, and it seems to me that what the best pieces do is to address that line by giving it singularity: density, content and setting. I am consciously adopting another language here, one spoken some 50 years ago when artists first broke out of their “cultural confinements” to seek a more direct and obtrusive relation to the everyday. It was people like Robert Smithson and Donald Judd who spoke of “best pieces”, and who contributed to a discourse that revolved around re-thinking the identity, significance and legitimacy of art exposed to (what was coined by Rosalind E. Krauss as) “the expanded field”. After all, if artists were now free to use any material, adopt any medium and claim expertise in anything at all, it necessarily also brought about a whole series of questions to do with the conditions for passing judgement and the art of making of distinctions. Much of this involved a quest to find the limits of art in relation to everything else: objects, phenomena, practices and skills in the surrounding environment. It was through their engagement with “real places, real people” (as suggested by Lucy Lippard) – by transgressing the boundaries of the art world, which (already at that time) was being critiqued for being commercialized, aestheticized and institutionalized – that these artists looked to establish a more upfront relationship with the world of commodities, buildings, landscapes, infrastructures and communities. The paradoxes and contradictions inherent to this movement – which tends to rely on, and indeed strengthen, the relationship between artworks “out there” and the institutional framework on which they depend, not only as producers or commissioners, but also in supplying manuals for interpretation and in signing the necessary guarantees that preserve these pieces as “art”, and thus protect them from becoming indistinguishable from the conditions they address – are obvious, and very well known. But the issues at stake and the underlying motives for what hence has been known as the site-specific tradition may nevertheless be called on as proof for the thin line of distinction between art and life, between the public and private, witch I am addressing here. Much of what goes on today within the sphere of “public art” rises from, knowingly or not, this particular historical shift, and exists in continuity with it (at least its “critical”, if not always self-questioning mode). Nowadays, we are more hesitant to pass judgement, however, at least within educated circles – leaving opinions on “good” or “bad” art to amateurs.
Contemporary public art is not a new phenomenon, but neither is it identical to what came before it. There is a disturbing tendency to wipe out events of the recent past (its insights, problems and achievements) in ways that constantly nail us to the present – a situation like scribbling on a blackboard that is continuously wiped clean before the next session begins. The absence of a strong tradition and a mode of remembrance that allows for reference and self-reflexivity add to the fragility of public art. But despite the lack of historicity, or perhaps even because of it, it seems to me that the sphere of “public art” – as a concept, setting, project or artwork – continues to provoke. Thereby, it provides the means for asking the most crucial kinds of questions and for making the most pertinent articulations on the conditions of our contemporary communality. The plethora of issues, confrontations and innovations framed by a project like Art Line shows how “public art” continues to generate acute and detailed elaborations of what are, or should be, matters of shared concern. Recognizing the fluidity of the boundaries between public and private creates the opportunity to also claim spaces as public, precisely through their insertion into the fabric of art, and its sphere of sensibilities, critique and discourse. A glade in the forest, a motorway, a laboratory or a shop only become public in the proper sense of the word when turned into sites for conscious action, reflection and articulation. But, as we know from the body thrashing in space, working in public means running the risk of exposure. It means exposing the groundlessness of the social by addressing the kind of spaces it produces, a token of what we are and what we have become, but it also exposes the fragility of personal identity and that which we call the self. It means to voluntarily be exposed to the judgement of others, to be subjected to the hatred and harsh condemnations that are harboured in society, but also, and perhaps in equal measures, to its compassion and love.
Dr. Catharina Gabrielsson is an assistant professor in urban theory, School of Architecture KTH.
1. Barenthin Lindblad T. (ed.) (2009), Metagraffiti: Graffiti Art Films, Årsta: Dokument Press.
2. At the time of writing, newspapers exploded with reports on the whistleblower Edward Snowden who went into hiding after revealing how the NSA (the National Security Agency, a US governmental authority) systematically records our movement and use of the internet. Yet the enormous global success of social media as such reveals a need to expose one’s private life in public – tantamount, perhaps, to the creation of that life, that ‘self’ – with far-reaching effects; not only illustrative of the fluidity of borders between public and private but also of how much is at stake.
Nug and Pike, BEST THINGS IN LIFE FOR FREE, 2002