radius of art: Thematic Window - Public Art
By Marcus Graf
Today, public art plays an important role in contemporary art, as it questions and extents in a trans-disciplinary, inter-medial, interactive and participatory artistic attitude the notion, role and function of art for and within society. It is of great importance for artists, who consciously deal with socially and politically engaged issues in their work.
I visited 5 meetings with 16 speakers and 7 moderators discussing various conceptual and formal artistic, cultural, cultural managerial and cultural political strategies of formulating, building and running art, art projects and art institutions that work in public space and with public art. Though, as an observer I realized that definitions of what public art is, and the terms we use for describing it, were often unclear, blurred and arbitrary. The speakers were rather critic about the current state of public space and public art. During the conference, various participators used terms like public space, public realm, or public sphere synonymic. Others found alternative terms. Alessandro Petti called it common space in difference to public space, which is not public as it belongs to the state of Israel, and declares restrictions regarding the use by Palestinians. Sarat Maharaj called public space during his talk civil space in contrast to civic space, and another term used during the conference was outside home.
During the conference, public art was described as referring to artistic practices, which use locations outside of traditional art spaces for the production, exhibition, and mediation of art. It is important, that these spaces should be as neutral as possible, areas of freedom, where no political or capital interest overthrows the needs and wants of the creators and participators of the art work or the artistic event. Often, pieces in public space critically deal with social and political issues, which aim at stimulating discussions, propelling social interaction, inviting locals for participation in the conception and execution of the work, and finding alternative audiences with a broader range of spectators. Often public art is project based, uses hit and run and guerrilla strategies, is more conceptual based than aesthetically driven, merges with everyday life, formulates alternatives to drop sculptures, combines stories with histories, prefers open, rather local narratives and is anti hierarchy. It often creates in-between spaces, un-commercial environments, in which a creative, rather process orientated chaos brings people together for positively contributing to the culture of life (Lebensqualität) of a locality and their community.
Art in Public Space, Art as Public Space, and Art in the Public Interest
This forum examined approaches by artists who, on pragmatic and theoretical levels, have taken discursive positions in the realm of art developed outside museums and galleries. The general outcome of this conference section was that the common state of art in public space is highly unclear and difficult as well as conservative and poor, so that the moderator Gertrud Sandquist finalized this session with the words: “There is no public space, and there is hardly any public art.”
Memory and Commemorative Culture: Artist Initiatives for Public Space
This workshop presented various examples of memorial or commemorative art projects, and, based on these, discussed structures for fostering autonomous artists’ initiatives in the public domain. The moderators of this session, Elfriede Müller and Martin Schönfeld, concluded that commemorative public art mixes private stories with public histories, formulates artistic concepts and forms in opposite to the tradition of drop-sculptures, aims for audience participation and integration, merges with the urban fabric, prefers subjective narratives instead of objective ones and is anti hierarchy.
Urban Cultures in transdisciplinary research: The case of “Global Players”
Against the background of the general project Global Prayers, presented by its initiators from the group metroZones, this forum presented the researches of the Argentinean video artist Lia Dansker and the Turkish urban planner Eda Yücesoy.
The moderators Anne Huffschmid and Kathrin Wildner of metroZone after introducing the basic conceptual and formal characteristics of their project Global Prayers, they stressed that the interconnection of religious movements and urban fabrics in contemporary metropolises leads the researchers and artists of Urban Prayers to a review of current religious and urban space relations in order to find out how religious movements change the urban fabric.
Public Art- Plenary Session
The essential and possible contribution of art to the culture of the public realm
In the plenary session of the section public art, three projects exemplified that art can make political constructive and social valuable contributions to the public realm. The ensuing debate examined these examples in terms of their impact on their respective urban societies, and focused on their participatory approach.
In the beginning, Rainer Werner Ernst, underlined that complexity within the various art disciplines are necessary, so that art in public space becomes inter-disciplinary, works with multi-disciplinary cooperation, and has trans-disciplinary goals. In general, the presented art projects were based on participatory moments between the artists and the audience or the inhabitants of the area, in which the project took place in. They were about interaction and making the living conditions of the people in certain neighbourhoods better and more beautiful. The artistic work consisted mainly of the creation of a frame or platform for social interaction and activism. Often the works were situated between private and public space.
Art in Public Space: Democracy and Participation
This final workshop presented various models for competition procedures, and discussed the prospects or achieving standard international or European guidelines.
The aim of this session was to discuss, whether art is democratically organized. The moderator Elfriede Müller summarized the results of the workshop by saying that competitions have to change regarding their form, content and concept. As an example of a poorly organized competition, she referred to the disaster of the Einheits- und Freiheitsstatue in Berlin. She also underlined again the problem of the jury, as she questions the selection mechanism of finding jury members. So, she resumed that besides adjusting art completion to the current notion of art, we need to have a greater sense of democratization within art competition. Nevertheless, as Leonie Baumann stated, today, we do not have an alternative to the current forms of art competitions. She also stressed that she has problems with the idealization of art competitions as it excludes some art fields and practices of contemporary art.
In the end, the various discussions about art in public space pointed out that contemporary artists and experts criticize the drop sculpture, and aim at finding more participatory methods of creating works in public space, which interactively and transdisciplinary form projects and environments, in which politically and socially engaged art, which is aware of its various conceptual and formal contexts, can happen. At the same time, the conference showed that there is a sense of rejection against the instrumentalization of the artist, as the participators neither wanted to be social workers nor autonomous, individualistic, self-centered subjects. Public Art is situated in an urban in-between, which is a non-space, a liquid sphere, which constantly has to be fight for in order to be constructed and deconstructed according to the wants and needs of artists and various audiences.