Statements of guests of the symposium in march 2004 - selected and moderated by Uwe Jonas and Birgit Anna Schumacher
- → I. The urban space
- → II. The mall and the city
- → The mall and the kids
- → The mall affects the city
- → III. Public space in artistic practice and strategy
- → What happens once we are gone?
One of the symposium's purposes was to undertake a survey of the phenomenon 'public city space' which is based on the knowledge of city-sociology, city-research and city planning and to reassess this survey on it's present relevance concerning artistic intervention in the public space. Three days out of the four-days symposium were used for the discussion, in which lectures and presentations by the artists and guests I 1 IPeter Arlt (Stadtsoziologe, Linz) hosted the symposium and moderated some discussions; Leonie Baumann (Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin) and Monica Schümer-Strucksberg (Senat for city-development, Berlin) were our guests on the second day. were accompanied by discussions. In the following we present those results that seem noticeable to us and primarily quote the participants themselves.
I. The public space
The city-sociologist Peter Arlt opened the symposium with a paper on public space. In this introduction he stated that there never had been an existing public space which gave free access to everyone, which was free of use and, in addition, functioned as a socially integrative space: This was a (bourgeois) construct that insistently was referred to when discussing and criticising the actual present space. Public space did not let itself be defined definitely, because it was subject to permanent change. Arlt's fundamental thesis, which was sharpened with the provocative statement 'public space does not exist', was clearly contradicted by the artists. They demanded a less rigid use of terms as well as a questioning whether public space was really only constituted by its liveliness - this was a beginning of a heated discussion that in its course led from possibilities and limits of public space over the constitution of sensible definition criteria to the phenomenon of the pseudo-public shopping mall and its consequences.
Public space is more than a construction
' The term or the idea of 'public space' is naturally first of all a construct, which is subjected to historism and out of that cannot be totally defined. According to: That is the public space and therefore it is obvious. It is simply counterproductive to use thesis like 'there is no public space'. Instead, one should assume that there is nothing absolute about the public space.'
'Public space, as it once was defined, can lie low for a longer time, be boring or go off, without being denied the right to be a public site. I disagree with the statement that public space only comes into existence through being used - a popular argument, that is misused in that sense to legitimately dispose it. Little used or completely unused public space must be kept as an option for an active public space.'
Possibilities and borders in the public space must be tested through action
I believe that the theoretical discourse of the public space is stuck, does not move from the spot and therefore does not lead to action. But I don't believe that the public space can be saved through theoretical discussions - at least not through this alone. Of true necessity is the concrete action in the public space. What happens if I place a table out there on the street? How long will it stay there? Do I have to pay a fine or not? With what kind of rules am I confronted with? It is about trying it! This is meant as an appeal just to do it, in order to experience where the borders of the public space actually are. And to learn what kind of possibilities I can get out of it.
'Enter the public space and reclaim it instead of waiting for something to happen.'
One should not underestimate the public space, even if plenty of negative examples might be discouraging. The public space can generate qualities, which are specific and can be only experienced within this space. It is of importance to remain active within the public space. Many positive experiences can be only made through doing and they are not conceivable or comprehensible before.
Public space is a democratic space
I do not agree that public space does not let itself be defined. In contrast to art, which does not let itself be defined easily, is public space easy laid out by definition. This seems banal, but it can be put down to a few facts: The public space is defined - in contrast to the private space - through its democratic principle. This means first of all that ideally am I allowed to use the public space. Secondly, that I have the right of codetermination: For instance by voting for a party that tries to shape the public space after my way of thinking. Not that my favoured party needs to win, but I simply use a minimal margin of codetermination. Furthermore I can prevent something in a certain sense. In Vienna, there is this tradition of prevention, which also is a democratic principle. As soon as someone initiates something new there, whether it is architectural or an installation in the public space, will a citizen's initiative try to prevent this before something is decided. This is not always according to my wish, but it is, however, democratic. But in my point of view there is a loss of public space, which gets apparent where my civil rights, such as codetermination- or the right to complain, are restricted by the privatisation. That means if the public hand increasingly withdraws. I think of Berlin as well as of Vienna. If anything happens, I hardly have a chance to complain anywhere. More and more often the simple reply is: We are not responsible for this. An example: Wolfgang Zinggls bicycle, which was chained to a road sign, had simply disappeared. This was because the city of Vienna had had this road-sign removed, and his bicycle along with it. Because a private company, and no longer the city itself, was in charge of removing the signs, was it not possible for Wolfgang to get his bicycle back. This is only a small example. I therefore think that only a change is taking place in the public space but that there is also a loss of public space - as a democratic space. Apart from this, in my eyes, very important definition of public space, there is of course the public space as physical space, which is formed by city-planers, architects and even visually present logos designed by graphic-designers. And there is the social public space. That is the one, which is defined by laws and rules, by traditions and behaviour patterns, as well as different cultures.'
Public space is shaped by 'civil' idea
'It is of interest for my work to sense and observe the public space in terms of its reality, the way it is actually being used and how any starting points for work or for a treatment of this can be found. This is not necessarily visionary. On the contrary: I would be afraid to say that the responsibility lies with artists to search for and design just this visionary ideal space. I would prefer thinking about how the idea of the public sphere can be freed from the image of the bourgeois public space. It is my impression that the 'materialisation of urban spaces', meaning its actual design, still remains in the bourgeois ideal, i.e. the ideal of the European town. And this is in no way adequate, because the bourgeois society does not exist any more. It is a challenge to think about whether the design of urban spaces, how they are presently carried out, and the structures, in which they presently take place, provide starting points for artistic work, which figuratively or actually breaks it.'
Public space is a space of 'collective consciousness'
'In my work I look upon the public space as a space of collective consciousness, in the way that it is a mental space in contrast to a physical space. Of course, these spaces are connected to each other, but I find the space, which is formed through communication, exciting. This space exists quite independently apart from the publicly available empty spaces between buildings, or however you define this physical space. Instead it is a space that is formed the moment it is conceived. Therefore I ask myself in terms of my work: 'How can I implant art in this space of public consciousness?'
II. The mall and the city
Shopping malls or shopping centres, as they used to be called, are a popular example for the mirroring of the public space in the private space. Due to their seemingly perfect consumer-climate are they increasingly being brought out as ideals for the design of urban shopping zones. Malls, therefore, play not only a major role as connector between the public and private space but also in the changing of the public (street-)space.
'The mall is an economical business with the one goal to make as much profit as possible from the people, who go there. The public space does maybe not differ much from the mall in this sense, but it still remains an area, which is democratically structured and therefore an area within which I have more possibilities to influenceing developments. This is the crucial point, in my eyes, when comparing city-space and shopping mall.
A mall forms a small manageable area, which can be functionalised by certain aspects. What takes place within the mall is no invention of the mall, but is an idea of the public place, which is intensified here. Therefore I cannot agree with the common thesis that the manifested 'evil' of the malls is brought upon the public space. In terms of sociological aspects, I find it much more interesting to analyse how the area in the mall is structured regarding practical and functional points of view, and what kind of transferring mechanisms onto the public space take place.''
At least for England I can confirm the following observation: The persons maintaining the shopping malls have the financial power to take over the function, which the municipality no longer can do or cover. For example, the surveillance and guarding of public space. This responsibility, which was inherited by the municipality in the 50s and 60s, was eventually taken over by the private holder. I believe that there is something to learn out of the experiences in England, even if you principally disapprove of the privatisation of public functions: How are formerly state responsibilities shifted because of different financial power and different interest? How is it possible that there is something that is offered as a so-called public space and even is accepted as such by the majority of population?
The mall and the kids
Many youngsters like shopping malls and hang around there daily in their spare time. In the USA you call those, who meet and do not consume, 'Mall-rats'. If they went to the cinema or bought a Coke once in a while, nothing could be said against them. In contrast, does the city sociology understand the mall as a site, in which the youth is being socialised.
'For certain groups, youths for instance, is the mall definitely of big interest. I find it exciting to examine: Why do they find this area enticing? Maybe because they can try things out there! Maybe because in this area they can move around more freely and less controlled than on the streets.'
'I am surprised that the socialisation, which takes place in the mall, is looked upon in a positive way. Are you not, in first place, being socialised to become a consumer and not a member of society, for whom there is - to make it sound simple - a life outside of the mall?!
Of course this critic exists that in malls youths are brought up to become consumption idiots. I personally do not believe that kids, who only hang around in shopping malls, buy more than other youths. This reminds me too much of the thesis: 'if you see too much violence on TV you then you will become violent, too'.'
Shopping centres are immensely attractive to youths, because on these sites they provoke - only by gathering there. On one hand, they develop techniques of provocation and on the other hand techniques of 'being allowed to be there'. This is a type of enjoyable game: How do I move around people, who are irritated simply by my presence?'
'Maybe you can say that in the mall, the virtual space, which the youths know from their computers, remains in existence. This is, of course, hypothetical, but I believe that in the mall are certain things exemplarily acted out.'
The mall affects the city
There are an increasing number of symptoms that the public space approaches the character of the mall: Not only do the commodities and service supply on the streets - as well as in the mall - become more homogeneous, but the public space does also converges increasingly towards the mall in its structural and aesthetic adjustment. In the last consequence it might adapt to its dominant ruling- and controlling mechanism.
'If I say, 'the city turns into a mall', then I first of all mean that the willingness to tolerate greater restrictions on the street will increase. This is because it is already implied and carried out by the malls. To be more precise: The inhibition threshold to accept restrictive structures on the street will decrease for every individual.
'That is an automatism: The people go to the mall, because they think the street is unsafe and filthy. To make the street 'acceptable' it is simply made safer and turned into the same aesthetics of a mall.'
'An example from Bochum: There is a central public square in town, where the youth groups of various scenes coexist. Even some punks. Recently this square was newly designed: Cafés established and benches were dismantled. So the punks simply seated themselves on the plant tubs, until the owner of the cafés banned them from the square. The punks were not violent but they were not an appealing sight for a certain type of consumer groups and not of interest for the bar owners because they brought their own beer. This is a classic example for a mechanism of segregation, which yet has become very common in the inner cities. I disapprove of this mechanism and will not tolerate it, either. Although in Bochum, the business people of the cafés were not lucky, because one of the punks came up with a counter-strategy: He registered a demonstration for every Saturday. As a result the police had to post a police car and two official policemen there, every Saturday. The punks did what they used to do on Saturdays: They listened to loud music, drank beer and demonstrated their rights to be there. This went on for almost a whole year. The punk managed to register 46 Saturday demonstrations. In the second year he was not given any permission due the reason that they were no actual demonstrations. This initiated a very intense political discussion in Bochum on the question of public sphere and public space. One thing becomes obvious: It is always about groupings and different interests. To what extend are groups differentiated? As a private person one does not only define oneself through being part of a single group, but rather tries to mingle between a variety of groups. Therefore the question, in my eyes is, how mono-causal spaces in fact are being used and how much is it possible to integrate differences within the space?
Inner cities are supposed to become 'tramp-free', such as in Hamburg. Certain population groups are even banned from railway-stations. A manager from a railway-station has formulated it like this: These areas are to be accessible only for a 'qualified' public. This is in fact a behaviour practice, which is simply transferred from the shopping malls to the areas of the public space. I fear that those who experience the restrictions in the malls at first impose these mechanisms on certain areas of their own surroundings. This could mean for me that these areas become increasingly unsafe for me, if I spend time in them.'
III. The Public Space of Artistic Practice and Strategy
One of the characteristics of public space is its ability to change. The artistic intervention in such a changing and changeable space has the possibility to draw attention to the mechanisms of change. Hereby the choice of 'tools' is related to the reception of public space physically, socially or mentally - and in which of those dimensions to intervene. The artistic intervention that deals with social evils was the main theme throughout the discussion and was discussed particularly with regards to possibilities and premises for a lasting transition of the artistic into a social or planning practice.
Bringing up artistic arguments
'Why does one participate as an artist in social processes? I mean that all of us here who have this intention, claim that what they do actually is to be seen as art. None of us is so amateurish to say that what we do here is pedagogic or social work. Sabine Stöbesand who also was involved in 'Park Fiction' I 2 IResidents of the Elbhang (slope area next to the river Elbe) in Hamburg's St Pauli area had formed an organization to prevent the building on the costing several millions, and instead succeeded in setting up a self-governed park with the view onto the river Elbe. With partizipation of artists was a 'radically participation-oriented planning method' introduced that was finaced from 1997 by the programme 'art in the public space' of the Kulturbehörde Hamburg. (cf. AG Park Fiction: Aufruhr auf Ebene p. In: Matius Babia/Achim Könneke [publisher]. Die Kunst des Öffentlichen. Amsterdam/Dresden: Verl. der Kunst. p.122 , has once phrased it well why the participation of art in the process of 'Park Fiction' was so valuable: One could suddenly take decisions by means of other arguments. Even poetry, subjectivity or imagination suddenly played a role as deciding factors in the planning and execution of the project. The attention of these criteria could be justified because art was part of it - in my opinion this is a good chain of argumentation.'
Art in public space as process-based strategy
'Park Fiction' is an example for the refunctioning of art in the public space. And I think that this idea is ingenious! It would not have worked out as good if any architects or landscape architect had worked on it. Because they can only reintegrate into processes, that are known and traditional.
'In my eyes the role of art in the public space lies first of all in attracting attention. But the different attractions within the urban space compete against each other enormously! This means for the art that it needs to use theses methods, ways and medias that draw the attention not onto the art its self, but on the subject that it is subjected to. Up to now I have only seen art in the public space that has drawn attention onto physical spaces, onto sites of historical importance, but increasingly also onto deficits, omissions or problems which were caused by social politics. If this is a functional meaning of art - and it this sense it fulfils its job pretty well with a number of examples - all leads to the question of the efficiency of art: What kind of intention are there with a certain art-piece - and was the piece successful according to its intention? If I want to draw attention onto my installation or my performance, will it be seen as a success as people do not remain indifferent towards it or become annoyed? If the piece is not noticeable at all? Or is the art-piece succeeding if men are encouraged to intervene? And can you connect to this efficiency? Should art not be worth for something further than for the production of aesthetics. Maybe that art concretely intervenes into social occurrences, cultural-, social,- or environmental matters, for instance in the sense of a small model? One could try to solve a problem with the means of art and namely use the art as a strategy? Of course this refers to the social public space and less to the city-space as a physical space.'
'Kiosks were suddenly to be removed from the city space for 'cleaning reasons' in Dresden. Because of the tourists. It was said: They do not fit into the city-scape. But if I think of Germany, I think that the kiosk is a striking symbol example for the idea of 'public' and the public space: At the kiosk everyone shares the same round table. The guy with the mustard on his tie and the one who spends half the afternoon there with a beer can. This is a very beautiful image of a functioning public sphere; of different classes getting along with each other in one site. So Eva and I said: Okay, let's build a kiosk. We have prepared this project for two years, and have been lobbying with the Kulturamt and sponsors etc. We have worked so much on the jury-members of the art-commission that the project was made possible. And I think this is a strategy of being present, which one can take up. Through this we could specifically take part in the planning-structure and be of influence. I think this can only be possible if you know the terrain well.'
Art as a voice for social subjects
I think that it is a completely wrong assumption that most people were not interested in what we deal with as artists. They are not necessarily interested that we do that as art. But they are interested in the subjects that are worked on. If we communicate this in an accurate way then it will be far easier to find common interests.
Monica Schümer Strucksberg:
I think that the often expressed statement that the 'average citizen' would not accept or understand the art, is wrong. They understand it or rather accepts it than if I give a lecture on bureaucratic decision making, for instance, or describe how these can be influenced. The openness to actually sense art and to listen to artists is much greater than assumed.'
The situation determines the form
'During our kiosk-project in Dresden we noticed that the interest of the audience was greater throughout the outer districts than in the main inner-city. In this inner-part is an excess of activities being offered so that it is difficult to distinguish ours from the commercial ones. Probably also because the form of presentation was a kiosk. We thought that the people in the inner city did not have time to concentrate on our project. But one should wonder: Does this type of interventionist art in the public space want a concentrated public at all? The experience was different in the outer districts where we have worked: A plattenbau-area (tower block area, stalin box area) in Dresden-Prohlis with 20.000 inhabitants. We were there in the backyard with people who passed by every day and simply wanted to know: Where do you come from? What are you doing in our area, in our lives? What does this mean? Thus were conversations made possible at all. Therefore every single situation acquires another form. A suitable form for each concrete situation.'
What happens once we are gone?
Artists develop concepts for temporary interventions (in the best cases on the spot), realise these interventions (in the best cases on their own and normally within a defined time frame) and finally leave the site of the event and the people involved in the project. But how is it possible to leave lasting effects from the activities - if that, as social interventions for example, is wanted? Which premisses have to be at hand to guarantee the lastingness of the interventions?
The aims decide
'At first it is a question of the artistic aims. It can, for instance, not be an artistic aim to change a site's architecture. It can, however, be the artistic aim to sensitise a change.'
'This discussion also takes place for us. Because the audit court asks: Where is the sustainability? What we plan with all these actions are 'investments in the head'. We have connected these two words but it is difficult for us to prove that such a programme as 'investments in the head' actually is more effective in the long run regarding the solving of society's problems. Proving it in exactly one certain space. Maybe the development will show that we are right someday, but we will never be able to prove it with one hundred percent certainty. In any case, is the sustainability an issue again and again in the discussions about the projects that are organised and financed.'
'The aim can be very different. If it is my intention to provoke somebody for one day, or to carry out an intervention for a night, because I want to point something out, and if I succeed, then I have accomplished my goal and everything is all right. There are definitely artists, however, for whom it is too little. They say: We would like to constitute something a bit more long-term. An example: If we had a one-way street which, in our opinion, steers the traffic in the wrong direction, and everyone in the neighbourhood is annoyed about that, then artists would be entitled to go there and perform a fomenting subversive act. They would turn the one-way sign around over night. The population would laugh about it and approve it - just what the artist had in mind. The next day would the police turn the sing around again and everything was as before. Nevertheless, was the basic intention of the artistic action fulfilled. Other artists could say: We would turn the sign around for at least a week - in the sense of an exhibition and with support from an art institution - to show which positive consequences a long-term change of the traffic concept would have. And then there would be a third variant: The artists would have the intention to turn the one-way sign for as long as possible - even if not for ever. But for this, one must be aware the modalities - in this case all of the social hurdles through politics, media, population, right-winged populist agitation attempts, etc. These are materials, these are the tools. As a painter, I also could not say: I wish that all twelve-year-old girls would cry in front of my picture. And then they do not cry and I say: This just does not work here. But in this case I have failed as a painter because I have not exhausted all the possibilities I had. It is always a question of intention and fulfilment, and if one is aware of the tools.'
The intention of transfer must be established conceptually and communicated clearly
'The continuousness of a project must already be established conceptually from the beginning. In the concept of 'WochenKlausur', for instance, is it already implemented that institutional agencies also have to be found to take over the work of the programme and through this puts continuousness into practice.'
'During the project phase, will we try to secure the long-term financing of what was initiated. Our bus for medical care for homeless people in Vienna, for example, is today run by Caritas. They have committed themselves to take it over. The city of Vienna is paying the doctors. The effort to turn a project into a long-term one is a must in our work. It can, of course, happen that something does not work out. Then we have to say: It was not effective.'
'If a work has the intention to make a long-lasting impression, or even to be carried on, then it must be expressed by the artist from the beginning. Because this is usually not expected at all, that this is the intention. It is assumed that you as an artist make something that is only conclusive and good for yourself, and then leave again. The first criteria are therefore that you clearly communicate and thoroughly analyse your intention. For example: Where in the area are there cross-overs with other institutions or other agencies? The invitation must also be expressed openly from the beginning so other can take part. Because, as I mentioned, most people think that artists do not want to let go of their work and allow it to be passed on.'
'That is exactly the moment that we want to expand on in the different projects. Because there it also becomes interesting planning-wise: How can an artistic practice influence the planning of the public space? I think that the passing-on of a project can be very important and the consideration of how this can take place. I do not think that the artist must be involved in it forever. If the artist must or would like to be, do I often feel that his role changes. He is no longer the one acting on the street but rather takes over the role of a 'consultant'. This change of roles must quite clearly be defines anew.'
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