Working With Art in Public Space
23.04.2007 by Urban Interface Berlin


Many of my projects stem from an interest in a direct confrontation with public space, and with objects and phenomena constituting that space. An artwork placed in a public space like Pulsing Path – ambiguous vision (Madrid Abierto 2006) or Zone – out of vision (Article, Stavanger and Urban Interface Berlin) could be seen as an attempt to establish communication. It is an ambiguous statement rather than making questions pointing in one direction, it is a comment on something that has already been made, the structure of the city and the habits of its citizens. What has once been made is possible to criticise and this project is a kind of critique, critique seen as an expression done after an analysis, and using an existing structure, building, construction or grounds – i.e. an institution that is part of the society – in this purpose the artist and his work is trespassing the social community.

Private in Public

In a society that, through technological advances, seems to be moving and changing rapidly, commercialism has taken a further step out into the public space. Boundaries between private and public, privacy and universality, have become harder to define. Commercial forces work in these borderlands and the individual’s control over their personal situation and privacy protective functions is increasingly hard to sustain. Fewer areas in society are preserved from the forces of marketing and trading.

Alienation – contextual response

The fear of the unknown is strong amongst most people. Whether it is fear of what lies hidden in darkness, or a fear of something beyond one’s knowledge, to ignore this fear could have devastating consequences. Fear is an emotion that can be explored in unexpected ways through art, and this is one reason for such a project as Zone – out of vision , which is placed in one of the most public of spaces: the street. A street, square or other public space allows a meeting with a non-specialized audience, which brings to the work a vast array of possible readings. Because these spectators don’t necessarily come from similar social or educational backgrounds, the work is therefore placed in an inevitably difficult social context. An artwork in public space may be overlooked or ignored by some, while to others it may appear as interesting, stimulating, provocative, or irritating. As human beings we can only interpret what we encounter with the help of our individual experiences and knowledge, therefore ending up with differing views.

As an artwork in a public space might differ from objects normally expected to be there (thus appearing as an abnormal or alien object) it is almost inevitable that the work will arouse fear in some people, and be rejected by others. It is not necessarily my main concern to provoke fear in viewers, but as an artist it seems important to deal with – rather than avoiding – such fear, and other preconceived notions, wherever they may appear. Above all I see my public-space works as obstacles for the mind, able to trigger differing viewpoints and responses.

Any person who states uncomfortable opinions in public is ultimately responsible for both voicing those opinions and dealing with the attendant risks. Working with art in public space is like walking a tightrope, whereby the artist has the opportunity to reach out to an audience outside the usual art institutions, but does so largely without any institutional safety nets. Placing art in public space requires certain strategies, including a kind of humility on the part of the artist. For art in public space encounters the same problems as architecture and societal or political planning: that is, it materializes directly as a part of society as well as playing a more indirect part as an aesthetic entity.

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