Posts Tagged 'Amsterdam'

Mega Engraving

Sergio Davila, Amsterdam — The beauty of the chaos in Mexico City is that anything can happen. The lack of regulations and the oligarchy of the government might be frustrating sometimes, however in a few special occasions is the perfect space for unique ideas to become real. Is quite likely that Mexico City would never have a regulation on graffiti making as the zero tolerance nowadays in Helsinki, therefore prohibition is not the answer for a mega city, it is otherwise orientation. City governments in this century should see the possibilities that cultural agency can bring, and one outstanding possibility for cultural agency is the PUBLIC SPACE artistic production. 

This technique is widely explored in the Netherlands, during the EXPERIMENTADESIGN festival in Amsterdam several designers were introducing a social behavior with their different proposals for public space art. For instance the ‘Moving Forest’, a piece by NL Architects, is thought to be an answer to the lack of green spaces in the contemporary urban environments, trees on shopping carts that people can rearrange and distribute around the city.

Moreover, the piece of Marti Guixé engages the participants in a common creation of a sculpture. The idea consist in a monolithic square surrounded by a bench and with chisels attached so that everybody can participate in the design development and modify it with their own ideas. 

These and other pieces in this festival are opening the conversation about urban issues and participation. This social art in public space is not only expressing beauty, it also engages the society in the discourse that the art piece aims to communicate. The possibility for city governments that are open to public space art production has a lot of potential. I mentioned in pasts blog posts what happened in Bogota when the government of Antanas Mockus decided to implement cultural agency in public space. The government in Mexico City has been also very inspired by these techniques and they have tried to mimic some of them, however every city needs to find their own methodologies:

The 15th of September is the celebration of independence in Mexico. In this day people normally celebrate on the streets, and the president is expected to come to the central plaza and pronounce ‘the shout’ a proclamation of independence and praise of the national heroes. This year the celebration happened as it should be in Mexico City, with the only difference that during the 15th and 16th of September 200 artists were called to participate in a ‘Mega Engraving’ throughout Reforma avenue. This Avenue is, by the way,  occupied normally by public demonstrations of syndicates and political parties, but in this occasion the pavement was not punished by the feet of masses in anger, instead it became the showroom of the Guinness record largest engraving.

Among the participants were some Novel prizes and famous artists like Leonora Carrington, Boris Viskin, José Luis Cuevas,  Vicente Rojo and also students from the art academy, writers, youth brigades and volunteers. The piece of more than one kilometer long became an space for cultural creation in a collaborative way, engaging the society in a deeper understanding of the national identity and teaching the use of engraving in a massive two days workshop assisted by huge plates and a road roller.

In my opinion we are still at the starting point of the exploration of the techniques that can be used for social enabled art and art in public space.

Amsterdam / JR / Photo Museum Amsterdam

To stretch the discussion on the relation between public art and ‘real politics’ a little further and to show how illegal public art can still be very legitimate, I’d like to point out the work of French artist JR, opening yesterday at the Photo Museum in Amsterdam and present at the Venice Biennale.

As discussed in previous posts to work in public space implies that you engage in a political discussions, since people discuss issues in public space, and whatever happens in public space is subject of discussion.

Unfortunately, many artists aren’t able to handle these tools properly. They speak on behalf of people that don’t need agency or feel they’re being misinterpreted or misrepresented. As such JR went on terribly thin ice when he started a poster project on the safety walls in Israel. To make a statement on the political situation at hand, while navigating through this political minefield seems a Herculean task that JR matched with equal competence.

He made caricature photographs of Palestinians and Israelis with the same profession and glued them larger-than-life-size on opposite sides of the safety walls (face to face), confronting the quarrelling parties with a hideously funny picture of ‘the other’. Perhaps I’m being naïve to think this makes a difference, puts a weight in the balance. Nevertheless, I think the work is really clever and its quality doesn’t lie in making statements about the current conflict, but rather to suspend them shortly and create a moment for air and a smile, hopefully…

In FOAM until 2 September 2007.

Amsterdam / Mapping the city / City Art Museum


A series of posts relating to the exhibition Mapping the city in the City Art Museum in Amsterdam

Part #2: the dérive. (click here for part #1: the exhibition)

One of my favourite subjects the exhibition takes up is the dérive. In short, an instruction for a city-stroll in which the itinerary is determined by the participants’ intuitive response to the terrain.
What interests me from an artistic point of view is the double meaning of the dérive. In the situationistic sense it means ‘to wander off‘, however, it could also be understood as a ‘thing that leads to another’ (as in English, to derive out off…). Thus, when combined, the dérive could be interpreted as a method that leads to sudden or unexpected insights, by means of wandering off.

It reminds me of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who defined knowledge not as given facts, but rather as an ongoing process of “becoming’. To study this process, Deleuze says, we shouldn’t ask the question ‘What?’, but instead questions such as ‘Where?’, ‘Who?’, ‘When?’ and ‘How?’. Which brings me back to the dérive, a method that allows you to directly respond to the terrain and put these questions into practice.

“When you are walking, you are aware or awake to everything that happens in your peripheral vision, the little incidents, smells, images, sounds…”
– Francis Alÿs

In the exhibition we see some works of Francis Alÿs who applies these Deleuzean methods in his work. Mexico City has been the setting for several walking performances, one of which is shown in the exhibition. Alÿs pushed a huge melting ice cube through the streets of the city, walked around with magnatic shoes that gather all metal garbage, drags a drumstick along the surface of city fences and walks around with a gun in his hand until he gets arrested. All these works explore the urban terrain, trigger events and encounters and ultimately reveal the dynamics and diversity of Mexico City.

More on Francis Alÿs here and here.

Amsterdam / Mapping the city / City Art Museum


A series of posts relating to the exhibition Mapping the city in the City Art Museum in Amsterdam
Part #1: the exhibition.

The exhibition Mapping the city in the City Art Museum Amsterdam sets out several subjects relating to site-specific art and urban art which I’d like to discuss in a series of posts.
The curators have taken up the theories of the flaneur (coined by Baudelaire) and the dérive (coined by Debord) as starting point for the exhibition. Both theories approach the city in a non-functional way. The dérive is an instruction for a city-stroll in which the itinerary is determined by the participants’ intuitive response to the terrain. Such methods open up possibilities for an experimental way of reading the city and have become starting point for many art works.

Unfortunately only few artists in the exhibition manage to maintain such an experimental attitude. Francis Alys, Wim T. Schippers, Doug Aitken and Valie Export prove that performance is the best technique to use the dérive as an artistic method. Only their work manages to explore the urban terrain, to respond directly to the environment and to provoke reactions among passers-by.

Of course, you can wake me in the middle of the night to come and see a real Jeff Wall photograph. The pictures of Beat Streuli and Philip Lorca diCorcia are beautiful frozen portraits. And I must admit that I couldn’t wait to the see the latest Sarah Morris film, and Miami lived up to all expectations. However, all these works study or document the city, just as it is.

I think the theory of the dérive is more than just a method of experiencing the city. As an artistic practice, it enables the artist to work with the dynamics of urban environment; to create works that adapt, respond, interact with the terrain and that ultimately manage to become part of the city flux. The themes the exhibition sets out, as well as the participating artists, are all individually very interesting. But all together they fail precisely on that point: they don’t become part of the city.


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