SPACE MATTERS I
Type of project: public space project
Where:
Facade of the Concert Hall, inside the City Library, Karlskrona, Sweden;
Oline, Mobile Application, TV-channnels, Artists Books
When: 13 October 2011
Artists:
Nicola Bergström Hansen (SE) & Valdemar Lindekrantz (SE), Excavation II
Grant Watkins (SE), Go Beyond Conceptualized Thought
Pike & Nug (SE), Best Things In Life For Free
Thomas Broomé (SE), HellHunt 666 sekunder
Iris Smeds (SE), Estetiken.com
Performing Pictures, Offspring Taking Off
Andreas Sandström, Undantag Förlag (SE), Saving Clones
Ghost Writers, Undantag Förlag (SE), Ghost Rider – Fuck Police
Undantag Förlag (SE), Stockholmopen.be
Curator: Oscar Guermouche (SE)
Organizers: Art Exhibition Hall of Karlskrona City, Karlskrona, Sweden

SPACE MATTERS II
Type of project: public space project
Where: Square of Karlskrona, Fisktorget, Bastion Aurora and Skeppsbrokajen, Karlskrona, Sweden
When: 30 June–19 August 2012
Artists:
Nicola Bergström Hansen (SE), Over the Rainbow
Dmitry Bulatov & Alexey Chebykin (RU), That Which Lives in Me
Nug & Pike (SE), Best Things in Life for Free
Mateusz Pęk (PL), Windows Eclipse
Grant Watkins (SE), Go Beyond Conceptualized Thought
Ruben Wätte (SE), Space Control
Curator: Oscar Guermouche (SE)
Organizers: Art Exhibition Hall of Karlskrona City, Karlskrona, Sweden

Space matters

by Oscar Guermouche

Art is spatial. The starting point, as well as the perspective, has as many variations as there are artists. But artistic practice is invariably oriented to both real and imaginary space. This applies regardless of whether it is an exhibition of paintings, a performance, a video work, an artist’s book or a sculpture in a park. Even in an expanded definition of the concept of art, including, for example, tattoo artists and graffiti artists, the focus is space.

I think I understand something about space. I think the job of a, so to speak, sculptor is spatial as much as it is to do with form.1

Art Line is a cultural exchange project involving five different countries in the South Baltic area: Sweden, Russia (Kaliningrad), Germany, Poland and Lithuania. The aim of the project was to “investigate and challenge the concept of public space” from a “digital platform”. For the artists and curators involved in the project, it was obviously central to sort out which space was intended. What is the definition of “public space”? Where can we find it?

A public space is a social space that is generally open and accessible to people.2

According to Wikipedia, public space is a social, ”open and accessible” space. A picture of a town square is used to illustrate the article while streets, parks, and libraries are also examples of public space. The town square in particular is regularly used as a symbol of the urban society’s common space, a shared place for meetings and expressions.

One of the most powerful symbols of that tradition is to be found on a parcel of land which lies roughly between the site of the old Tyburn gallows and the Reform Tree in London’s Hyde Park. There for over a century men and women, some famous (including Karl Marx, William Morris, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell, Marcus Garvey and Lord Soper) but most not, have dissented and denounced, canvassed and converted, preached and proselytised, and in so doing given expression to the fundamental rights of citizens to gather together to hear and be heard.3

But how well does that image fit reality? Are there spaces for public meetings and expression? Spaces where we can walk, stand, sit, lie wherever and however we want? Spaces where access isn’t limited by clothing, age, consumption or sobriety? Spaces for vagrancy and oblomovism? Spaces for mental illness? Spaces for art? One day I woke up feeling sleepy, sluggish and sour. I drew the bedcover over my head because I didn’t want to get up, look around or talk to anyone. Under the covers I said to myself, I’ll lie like this, completely still, without saying a word, as long as I want. I’m not going to do anything, just close my eyes and let my thoughts come and go. Now, what would happen if everyone did this?4

The lines of text above ran on a digital display, which hung over the bed into which Elin Wikström was tucked in her work What Would Happen if Everyone Did This? performed in 1993. For three weeks she lay in bed in a supermarket in Malmö, Sweden, during store hours, surrounded by products, customers and staff.

Today, real public spaces are taken over, bit by bit, by sidewalk cafes, advertising campaigns, and supermarkets ensuring predictability. For the last couple of years, we have witnessed protesters beaten down both on the Tahrir Square in Cairo and on Wall Street in New York. Stortorget, the great square, in the centre of Karlskrona, which has been claimed to be Northern Europe’s largest, is occupied almost entirely by parking lots.

In parallel with the development of our town squares and streets, different kinds of spaces for meetings and expression have emerged on the internet. It has developed into an integral part of our society’s infrastructure with its own public spaces. Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook are just a few examples of digital rooms that are increasingly taking over the role of our town squares. The concept of virtual spaces must be reconsidered as they are evolving into locations where people gather to socialize, exchange knowledge, and express themselves.

Sign Up. It’s free and always will be.5

Nowadays, digital medias are an accepted, if not inevitable part of our everyday lives. For many artists, it has become natural to live and work in relation to them; they utilize the same media and forums that characterize the society that they intend to question. Digital technologies, along with the internet, have created entirely new forms of distribution, offering artists access to an endless resource of inspiration, material and forms of expression. Questions about the original and the copy, time and space, the artist and the viewer, fiction and reality, are at the same time ignored and highlighted, becoming even more complicated.

Initially, from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s, public art was dominated by the art-in-public-places paradigm – modernist abstract sculptures that were often enlarged replicas of works normally found in museums and galleries. These artworks were usually signature pieces from internationally established male artists (favored artists who received the most prominent commissions during this period include Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, and Alexander Calder). In and of themselves, they had no distinctive qualities to render them “public” except perhaps their size and scale. What legitimated them as “public” art was quite simply their siting outdoors or in locations deemed to be public primarily because of their “openness” and unrestricted physical access – parks, university campuses, civic centers, entrance areas to federal buildings, plazas off city streets, parking lots, airports.6

But the accessibility even of these places is uncertain. The operating companies can start charging, they can go bankrupt, their activities may be censored or completely stopped by states or other companies. Everything we, the users, share at these forums, a tremendous amount of personal information, is registered and we’re constantly being monitored. The question recurs, is there such a thing as public space?
In autumn 2011 the first Space Matters exhibition was set up in Karlskrona. It included works with artists from Sweden and Kaliningrad, Russia. The works consisted of publications, websites, videos and a mobile application, with public spaces in relation to digital media as the common denominator:

Nicola Hansen Bergström and Valdemar Lindekrantz (SE): Excavation II (video)
Thomas Broomé (SE): HellHunt 666 sekunder (video)
Dmitry Bulatov (RU): Evening star (video)
Common Vince Group (RU): Yasnoye (video)
Yevgeny Palamarchuk (RU): Half Kampf (video)
Performing Pictures (SE): Offspring Taking Off (mobile application)
Pike & Nug (SE): Best Things In Life For Free (video)
Andreas Sandström/Undantag Förlag (SE):
Saving Clones (artist’s publication)
Iris Smeds (SE): Estetiken.com (video blogg)
Undantag Förlag (SE): Stockholmopen.be (website)
Yuri Vassiliev (RU): Russian Red Grove (video)
Grant Watkins (SE):
Go Beyond Conceptualized Thought (video)
Ghost Writers/Undantag Förlag (SE):
Ghost Rider – Fuck Police (artist’s publication)

During the preparations of the exhibition in 2011 several public and semi-public spaces were examined as possible exhibition sites. Based on the square’s links to public space, Stortorget in the center of Karlskrona outset the given location. The feedback from the various institutions and establishments, public and private, adjacent to the square, was highly variable. It was interesting noting that the private establishments who were asked to par- ticipate immediately said yes, without any of them even asking to first get to see the content of the works. Trefaldighetskyrkan, the church of the holy trinity, also located by the square, however, couldn’t take a stand about whether to participate or not, without seeing the contents of the works.
Finally we decided to show some of the works at Karlskrona public library, in the southwest corner of Stortorget. A reading table was established for the publications, Saving Clones and Ghost Rider – Fuck Police; monitors were set up for Best Things In Life For Free and the Russian videos, and also for the live video blog, Estetiken.com, and the website, Stockholmopen.be. At the restaurant Castello, in the southern end of the square, the video Go Beyond Conceptualized Thought was screened, and on the facade of Konserthusteatern, the concert theater, in the northwest corner of the square, the videos Excavation II and HellHunt 666 sekunder were projected. In the lobby of the concert theater, visitors were assisted by the artist duo Performing Pictures in installing the mobile application Offspring Taking Off.

Site-specificity is not of value in itself. Works which are built within the contextual frame of governmental, corporate, educational, and religious institutions run the risk of being read as tokens of those institutions. One way of avoiding ideological cooptation is to choose leftover sites which cannot be the object of ideological misinterpretation. However, there is no neutral site. Every context has its frame and its ideological overtones. It is a matter of degree. But there are sites where it is obvious that an artwork is being subordinated to/accommodated to/adapted to/subservient to/required to/useful to… In such cases it is necessary to work in opposition to the constraints of the context, so that the work cannot be read as an affirmation of questionable ideologies and political power.7

Within the Space Matters project a Facebook page was also initiated, for the public to share perspectives and experiences on public space. Furthermore, the artist Nicola Bergström Hansen held a workshop, Art and activism in social media, together with students at Blekinge Institute of Technology:

Marshall McLuhan began his book Understanding Media with the statement that every media always contains a different media. Although the book was written in the 60s, it is more relevant than ever in today’s society. The digital world, with its abundance of information, has created a copy-paste culture where everything is reusable. Mash-ups, cut-ups, edits and remixes are just some examples which highlight the “paraphrase condition” manifested in today’s society.

The purpose of this workshop is to go one step further. Instead of creating new contexts and meanings by sampling two different materials we will be using the same material to create something new. The only ingredient required for this is the popular and somewhat worn out concept of interactivity. We start with the record player (changing the pitch or playing a record backwards can change a gospel recording into a Satanic manifesto) and land in today’s advanced computer games. We will look closer at concepts like “counter gaming” and “culture jamming” in which digital software in the public space are used (or abused) to create social and political awareness. The purpose of the workshop is to get students to analyze a digitalsocial media platform in the public space (an app, a community, a game, etc.) and then use its interactivity to comment upon, develop or criticize the platform in itself or its context. The idea is that students are free in their choice and that the results will vary from the performative and practical to the theoretical and visionary. Throughout the summer of 2012, on various places in the city of Karlskrona, shipping containers were placed as temporary exhibition spaces where video works by artists from Poland, Sweden and Kaliningrad, Russia were shown. This was the second Space Matters exhibition, and again the works included were examples of relocation or perhaps even the dissolving of the boundary between real and virtual space. The containers were meant as a symbol of the sea-lane connecting the participating countries.

Nicola Bergström Hansen
Over the Rainbow, 2012, 6:57 min
In the classic film The Wizard of Oz, the main character Dorothy is asked to go someplace where she cannot cause any problems. Dorothy wonders if there is such a place and bursts into one of the world’s most famous film songs: Over the Rainbow. In Nicola Bergström Hansen’s video, the same song is performed by the BAE Systems Brass Band - the partly Swedish-owned arms industry giant BAE Systems’ own orchestra. The video contains a storm of news images from distant lands where fighter jets and blue skies are not always associated with festivals. Campaign texts taken from the arms manufacturers Saab AB’s and BAE Systems’ marketing are integrated into the composition. The texts convey the weapons industry’s views on their own contribution to a safe and protected environment.

Nicola Bergström Hansen (SE); born 1983 in Vilhelmina; Master of Fine Arts 2012, Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm; lives and works in Stockholm.

Dmitry Bulatov and Alexey Chebykin
That Which Lives in Me, 2011, 4:38 min
That Which Lives in Me uses Augmented Reality technologies to enable the dynamic rearrangement of real and virtual spaces. Dmitry Bulatov and Alexey Chebykin have “augmented” the shells of Achatina Fulica snails with an electronic presence, adding an interactive layer of digital visual information. The image of the snails in their constructed environment is given an extra layer of interpretation determined by the snails’ behavior and the intensity of their inter-communication.

Dmitry Bulatov (RU); born 1968 in Kaliningrad; Master of Science 1992, Aviation University, Riga, Latvia; lives and works in Kaliningrad.

Alexey Chebykin (RU); born 1961 in Lysva, Perm Krai; Master of Architecture 1987, Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, St.Petersburg; lives and works in Kaliningrad.

Nug and Pike
Best Things In Life For Free, 2002, 2:17 min
In their films, Nug and Pike create a balance between fiction and reality, while bringing up one of graffiti culture’s most recurring subjects of discussion: what is yours, mine and ours? Best Things In Life For Free shows a masked person that enters a store and proceeds to shoplift sixpacks of beer. The person then goes to the train station and grabs onto the outside of a commuter train, drinking the beer. The images are filmed in different fixed perspectives from above, resembling documentation from surveillance cameras.

Nug (SE); born 1973 in Stockholm; Master of Fine Arts 2008, Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm; lives and works in Stockholm. Pike (SE); born 1972 in Malmö; Master of Fine Arts 2006, Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm; lives and works in Stockholm.

Mateusz Pęk
Windows Eclipse, 2011, 6:18 min
To daydream about reality, a journey through digital reality and back. Based on the anthropologist Marc Augés’ idea of “non-places”, Mateusz Pęk uses images from YouTube, the virtual platform Second Life, and his own mobile phone to investigate visual effects in this borderland between real and virtual places. Windows Eclipse merges fragments from a fleeting digital world and provides an insight into its internal landscape.

Mateusz Pęk (PL); born 1978 in Lębork; Master of Fine Arts 2002, Academy of Fine Arts in Gdańsk; lives and works in Gdańsk.

Grant Watkins
Go Beyond Conceptualized Thought: urban remix, 2012, 3:33 min
Ghost Rider is a motorcycle rider who drives on public roads at speeds far exceeding the legal limits in order to produce exciting and provocative videos. Using cameras mounted on the motorcycle and helmet, public space is portrayed at angles and speeds beyond the grasp of common man. In Go Beyond Conceptualized Thought: urban remix 2012, Ghost Rider videos have been edited, slowed down and given a new soundtrack, all inspired by the slow “chopped and screwed” music initiated in Houston, Texas by DJ Screw.

Grant Watkins (SE); born 1973 in Irving, Texas, USA; Master of Fine Arts 2009, Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm; lives and works in Stockholm.

Ruben Wätte
Space Control, 2011, 2:45 min
Somewhere in the woods, an automatic feeder is transformed into a rocket ship and a hunting tower into the control station. A rocket takes off from Earth in the service of humanity. In Space Control different aspirations compete for control over “space”, whether it be outer space, the forest, or the urban environment. Social constructions such as recreation, art, and ownership are temporarily put on hold when their boundaries are ignored.

Ruben Wätte (SE); born 1985 in Hudiksvall; Master of Fine Arts student at Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm; lives in Järna and works outdoors.

During the exhibition, some of the Karlskrona residents reacted to the fact that all the containers were closed. According to them, it would have been nice, and even in accordance with the concept of the exhibition, if the containers had been open. They had wished for the possibility to enter the containers, as a public space. But the intent of Space Matters wasn’t to open up spaces for the public, but to create a space for art. If we want to experience and explore a public place, accessible to everyone, we must find ways to create it ourselves; we must take it. Neither capital, the municipality nor European Union funded cultural projects will do it for us.

It is 2015. Art is almost completely instrumentalised – regardless of whether its financing is private or public. Art services either national or European interests, where it is especially useful in the construction or reinforcement of specific identities. At the same time, art is a desirable commercial product. It is ideal for collecting and it contributes to regional development whilst providing society with new creative employment opportunities. Visiting art museums and centres is a popular, easily digested leisure activity.8

Oscar Guermouche is an artist who lives and works in Sweden.

References:
1. Tusa J. (2003), Anish Kapoor Interview, BBC Radio.
2. www.wikipedia.com
3.Corner Trust, A Brief History of London’s Speakers’ Corner Speakers’, (www.speakerscornertrust.org)
4. Wikström E., What Would Happen if Everyone Did This?
5. www.facebook.com
6. Miwon Kwon (2004), One Place After Another, The MIT Press.
7. Serra R. (1994), Tilted Arc Destroyed, Writings/Interviews, The University of Chicago Press.
8. Lind M.(2005), European Cultural Policies 2015, EIPCP/IASPIS.

Performing Pictures (Geska Brečević & Robert Brečević), Offspring Taking Off, 2012



Space Matters II



Nicola Bergström Hansen, Over the Rainbow , 2012



Dmitry Bulatov & Alexey Chebykin, That Which Lives I That Which Lives In Me, 2011



Nug and PIke, BEST THINGS IN LIFE FOR FREE, 2002



Mateusz Pęk, Windows Eclipse, 2011



Grant Watkins, Go Beyond Conceptualized Thought



Ruben Wätte, Space Control , 2011