Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – - November 4th: two more weeks from today! There’s No Business Like Show Business and Some Like Hot. I can’t wait.
Mr. Brainwash, from Wooster Collective
Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – - November 4th: two more weeks from today! There’s No Business Like Show Business and Some Like Hot. I can’t wait.
Mr. Brainwash, from Wooster Collective
Martijn van Berkum, Svolvaer — From my fifth until my 16th I set out every year with my parents on a holiday trip to France. We had huge a orange tent and a station car with a metal construction on top that my father filled with a one meter pile of plastic chairs, a table and loads of toys and other junk. Then a bright blue plastic cover went over it and the whole thing was fastened with a couple of meters of neon orange rope. Squeaking under the tremendous weight it was carrying, the car would sink around twenty centimeters and it’s a miracle the axes never broke on the way.
Inside the car every cubic centimeter was filled, minus a small space exactly matching the dimensions of my body. There I would sit for twelve long agonizing hours while temperatures were slowly crawling over thirty degrees the further we approached our destination. To add insult to injury, I had to sit with my feet up all the way, because the space in between the front and back chair was exactly large enough to fit in a cooling box. A light brown cooling box, with a dark brown lid on top and round corners, the loyal travel companion of every average Western family in the eighties.
Now, if you were to travel today to Lofoten, in the far north of Norway, and visit a tiny town called Svolvaer (a trip I can highly recommend), you will find at the sailboat harbor in the center a cooling box exactly similar to the one my parents owned. The colors are different, a soft pale orange box and a bright orange frame, but the design is just the same. It was put there in 2004 by the artists Elmgreen & Dragset for the LIAF 04 (Lofoten International Art Festival) exhibition.
Elmgreen & Dragset
Tiergarten, Berlin, May 21th, 1991
LIAF is a biennale and therefore the 2004 edition collected the “best of” biennale material: Henrik Håkansson, Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset and Pipilotti Rist, among others, all Nordic or international art heroes. Being the biggest exhibition in Norway, together with Momentum in Moss, it is rather strange to be located in Svolvaer, which accounts for only 4000 inhabitants. Why organize such a huge event in such a remote area? I’m not sure whether the 2004 edition managed to answer that question and hitherto, every second year discussions about the legitimacy of LIAF’s being at Lofoten surfaces again. The Elmgreen & Dragset piece always plays a central role in that discussion and given the number of occasions it has been vandalized one can argue whether it is a successful public art work.
On the other hand, I could also argue that the merits of the work are super interesting. It takes up the ready-mades by Duchamp and puts it into the context of a growing local tourist industry and the romantics of outdoor camping. Being casted in bronze and over painted to look exactly like a plastic box, it issues questions around mass production, uniqueness and prize vs value. But these are very much ‘white cube issues’ and don’t speak very much on a site-specific level, let alone that they’ll mange to answers questions around the legitimacy of LIAF at Lofoten. Why should inhabitants be so interested in such boring questions about what art is? And why should they care about international artists making statements about their tourist industry? in a way they don’t care about and financed with a chunk load of public money that could also be put in maintaining local fisher industries or other public matters. Could that be too big a discussion for such a small art work?
Despite the arguments that surround the work, the fierce debates and misunderstandings, the cooling box has a quality, or rather, it has developed a certain quality. Each and every year the box gets kicked into the water; it’s been mocked, debated, covered by snow, attacked by storms, loved and hated. Nonetheless, it survived and I admire the little fellah for its resilience. It’s small size, apparent vulnerability and triviality turn it into a perfect actor in the debates surrounding public art and LIAF’s legitimacy. It’s a chameleon that can shift from representing two internationally acclaimed artists, to being a controversial public art work, to an expensive solid bronze object, and to being an innocent, beaten little child, abandoned by its spiritual parents and left at its own devices. In other words: it’s a little big man.
I love these schizophrenic characteristics the work embodies. But what fascinates me even more is the fact that all the violence and critique the work has endured over the past years yields one crucial result: the much sought-after legitimacy. The box is battered and bruised, but still stands proudly on the jetty by the water. It has earned its place there and has become a proper citizen of Svolvaer.
A report about LIAF 08, which ended a little while ago will follow shortly.
Marja Salaspuro, Amsterdam — No discussion, No tolerance, No Smudge in the Clean Image of Helsinki. Zero tolerance towards graffiti includes a strong resistance against an open discussion around what is allowed in the public space.
Last week in Helsinki, a celebration of the Anti-Smudge project gathered as a counterpart, a public demonstration demanding legal graffiti painting places. The battle was ready, several participants of the demonstration got arrested, newspapers were filled with discourse of war. To be honest, I don’t care who is right and who is wrong (I guess nobody is perfect), but I want to spread a dream of more open discussion around what is allowed in the streets of Helsinki.
Yesterday I found from my unloaded moving box following post card. It is presenting Slovenian artist Igor Stomajers project called ‘Foreign’. Foreign was displaying current verdicts about the different countries and was especially emphasizing the stereotypical division between East and West Europe.
In Stomajers’ art work, the hierarchical division between the East and West changes once you try to read the sentences. The words tumble and meanings become interchangeable, just like in the current Graffiti/War discourse in Helsinki. There is a need to break stereotypes between ‘East’ and its scrawling subcultures and ‘West’ the Public Work Department of Helsinki city. In the end, a discussion about what visual elements are allowed in the urban public space should be an ongoing dialogue following the changing needs of the citizens and done in a manner which respects diversity and freedom of expression. Unfortunately, tolerance towards more diversified street communication is zero.
For those who are not aware, an Anti-Smudge Campaign has been in charge of Helsinki’s effective cleaning process towards all kinds of unauthorized street communication in the public spaces. The definition of ‘SMUDGE’ includes graffiti paintings, posters, stickers and basically anything added in the urban public space. The zero tolerance means that there are no legal graffiti painting places and even ordered paintings have been eventually removed. The project has been going on for 10 years, but effective cleaning hasn’t stopped the dream of more open discussion around what is allowed in public space as this weeks demonstration showed.
West has solved the Problem
On Tuesday the ‘invitation only’ event in Finlandia Hall gathered Clean Image supporters for celebrating 10 years success of Anti-Smudge campaign. According to their statistics: in 1998 there were in excess of 67.000 smudges or graffiti in Helsinki, while last year the figure was a mere 5771.
The ‘invitation only’ event meant also effective gatekeeping. The reporters were kept out. According to Helsingin Sanomat, a national daily, even two Helsinki city councilors Paavo Arhinmäki (left party) and Kimmo Helistö (green), were evicted to enter the event. Not to mention that possible contradictory voices such as Youth Department was not invited neither.
Not everybody are convinced about the efficiency of zero tolerance policy (neither that Anti-Smudge has proved anything else that cleaning is done effectively). In fact, the demand for neutral non-aligned research around Anti-Smudge Campaign was even headlined in the main national daily newspaper.
Meanwhile in the East
Around 500 people took part in a “Smudge Fest” public demonstration, which was organised as a counterblast against the Anti-Smudge campaigns’ Anniversary celebration. The demonstrators were gathering around Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art to demand legal graffiti painting places. By nine o’clock in the evening, the police had apprehended 27 demonstrators for throwing bottles, vandalising police vehicles, and spray-painting shop windows.
Afterwards the City is pressing charges for 1500 new smears which appeared during the chaotic “Smudge Fest” demonstration. Meanwhile demonstrators are accusing police force for being too rough, and the newspapers headlines emphasize emphasize ‘war’ position.
How about some tolerance and understanding?
This blog post is an open invitation to explore more tolerant ways to approach the battle around visual street communication in Finland (and everywhere). Actually stickers have already taken room from paintings.
If you have seen some incredible projects that were celebrating urban visual language, feel free to share. Helsinki needs new tools for expressing (legally) more diversified voices in the city space. Maybe creativity can be solution.
Example of Concrete Ideas:
At the moment in Amsterdam, there are several projects related to Graffiti as a part of urban play and more sophisticated methods (easier to ‘remove’ or temporary by nature). Two of them are presented as a part of the Experimenta Design and Picnic cross media week.
Projects like Green Graffiti might claim a better status for Graffiti among entrepreneurial citizens:
Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – - Great things in life don’t last. We’ve learned it last week when, after two decades of depression, the Dutch soccer team finally shook off the superb style of the old Dutch masters and defeated France and Italy with stunning postmodern efficiency. We saw it yesterday and learned that the new style had no more than a one-week lifespan… and the Dutch team lost against Russia… Despite the odds, Anna Tilroe, curator of the Sonsbeek 2008 exhibition, decided to organize this year’s edition around the theme ‘Grandeur’. But will this greatness last?
I invite you to join a discussion about the future of art in public space.
Sonsbeek traditionally stands for the largest outdoor exhibition in the Netherlands, a legacy it owns largely to the legendary edition of 1971 that presented the first land and performance art of that time. It sought to extend and challenge the barriers of art: its location, the white cube, the relation to its environment and audience, and its presupposed autonomy and universality.
Whereas the 1971 edition was the first one to leave the Sonsbeek park and integrate the art works into the city of Arnhem, Tilroe has decided to revert this dispersion and return to the park. Alongside, the tradition of examining the relational and site-specific aspects of art has been abandoned as well. The works seem to be out-of-place, self-contained entities that bare little or no relation to the environment, its historicity, nor its visitors.
Zooming out of the exhibition and looking at art in public space from a larger perspective, I see more problems. The public domain traditionally represented a highly dynamic place where opinions and world-views were published and public discussions were situated. That quality is diminishing, a process that is caused by a number of factors: the privatization of public space for one (read more about that in this article on Point of view, by Janna Holmstedt), the commodification of public art works and, above all, the gradual dispersion of the public debate itself into new and more vital sites and media such as weblogs, internet forums, schools, community centers, comments sections of news papers and art initiatives in neighborhoods.
Therefore I ask you the following question: What is the future of art in public space?
You are invited to join a discussion in the comments section of this article.
Po Hagström, Stockholm – About a village that didn’t recognize the value of art, and about the artist who painted anyway.
A dear friend of mine, artist Paul Cseplö, died May 12 after many years of leukemia.
When I was a child, Paul was the only artist in the small village where I grew up. He came to this northern part of Sweden with his family as a child, escaping the war in Hungary. Soon he began to paint this changing landscape and continued to do so for the rest of his life.
In our village art could be nice, but it was never considered valuable, and the artist himself was regarded as a queer fellow. Paul was told that posters were cheaper, so why buy paintings? This didn’t stop him though, he trusted in art as a force in itself and he knew what it could do. He proved to be right.
Despite people’s low esteem of art and strong opinions about his paintings, they still wanted his services. So when the old school was rebuilt to a hostel, Paul painted all the walls with scenes from nature – for free. And when they built a new dance floor, Paul painted its background. Not that he wouldn’t have appreciated something in return, and not necessarily monetary, but it always turned out to have been for free. And he kept painting for free for 30 years. Few places in this village are without the signature of Paul. Art is everywhere, in homes and the pizzeria, in offices and in boathouses, on trailers and in the old people’s home.
Did the village deserve this? I don’t think so. But Paul made a choice and he painted, and he made sure that art would be present everywhere.
According to Paul nothing really disappears, but this world still is a duller place now that he went off to wherever.
Empire State Building [...] It’s the nearest thing to heaven
Deborah Kerr in “An affair to remember”
Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — A couple of months ago the City Art Museum in Amsterdam showed an overview of Andy Warhol’s work. I was thrilled to see my favourite Warhol for the first time: Empire. It reminded me of a haunting story the Swedish artist Christian Andersson once told me.
Andy Warhol filmed the Empire State Building on a summer night in 1964 from the 41st floor of the Rockefeller Foundation, which is just a couple of blocks away. The film is an 8-hour static shot of the building. Nothing happens and after 7 hours foreplay, Empire rises to a climax when the building’s floodlights, which highlight the top, are switched on.
According to Andersson the original view had been blocked for several decades by, yes, the World Trade Center. Therefore, the destruction of the Twin Towers not only re-established the Empire State Building as tallest building in New York, it also re-enabled the original view of Warhol’s Empire.
I’ve never been to New York, so my suspicious mind needed proof. Unfortunately, in reality it seems to be the other way around and the Empire State Building was blocking the view on the former World Trade Centre instead. The Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the World Trade Centre are exactly aligned, kind of like the ‘voie triomphale’ (the triumphant view) of Paris, the axis of the Louvre, the Arche de Triomphe and the Arche de la Défence.
Nevertheless, the comparison between the 9-11 attacks and Warhol’s Empire kept following me and remains interesting I think. Both deal with the symbolic power of a New York / American monument. Al Quaeda attacked it; Warhol celebrated it. Or does he not? It’s always difficult to say what Warhol’s intensions were, for any of his works for that matter. His inscrutable character and incomprehensive statements completely obscure any reading of his work, at least with regards to his own intentions. Of course, we can draw some conclusions from the title. ‘Empire’ tentatively points out the imperial nature of global economy, ‘a universal order that excepts no boundaries or limits’ (from ‘Empire’ by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt).
An earlier version of Empire provides some more clues about the intentions of Warhol. It included a voice recording of a conversation between Warhol and Henry Romney, owner of the Rockefeller Foundation, who is complaining about the use of marihuana by Warhol’s associates and is utterly displeased and riddled by the film. The conversation holds one charming and poetic statement by Warhol (about the floodlights going on at night):
It’s so beautiful. The lights come on and the stars come out [...] It’s like Flash Gordon riding into space.
Yet, the one that went into history is a description that leaves no doubt about Warhol’s true feelings towards the building:
It’s an 8-hour hard-on
When I started to dig further into the histories of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Centre it turned out that they share more similarities. Oddly enough, the Empire State Building has also suffered a plane crash. In the early morning of July 28th 1945 an army B25 bomber got lost in the thick morning fog and pierced into the 70th floor of the building, which, ironically, housed the Catholic War Relief Office. The pilots and 11 employees of the War Relief Office were killed. But there was also one survivor. A woman, trapped in the elevator, fell down 75 floors and survived. And that’s not the only miracle the building has witnessed. It accounts for 34 suicides, two of which failed when these unhappy ‘happy few’ were blown back on the building by strong wind.
Empire’s notorious reputation has also reached the virtual world. When I was mapping out the World Trade Centre, the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center, I discovered that Empire doesn’t only reign in the sky over New York, it has also conquered the cities’ cyber ‘space’ in Google Earth. The 3D feature in the program enables you to construct a 3-dimensional image of the city and I was able to re-enact Warhol’s masterpiece in today’s cyber space. Underneath you see the view that Warhol had approximately from the Rockefeller Center. ‘Empire’ was filmed with a telelens and unfortunately Google Earth isn’t advanced enough to recreate that view, yet… I would guess that pretty soon we won’t need the real world anymore to make such great art.
I have a gut feeling that Andy would have loved it.