Posts Tagged 'monument'

Little big man

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
2004

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.

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Now, lets talk about football

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — To stand in the middle of the arena and let the cheers and buzz of the crowd run through you; to feel the grass, control your breathing, know where your teammates are, blindly, at any time; to experience the game as if it were in slow motion, seeing every action before it happens. That’s when you truly inhabit the game; that is Zinedine Zidane in his best days.

When I was contemplating on an article that would discuss all those great art works dealing with football as subject, the one underneath, ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’, stuck to me. It is a feature film by the artists Philip Parreno and Douglas Gordon. In 2005 they filmed football player Zinedine Zidane during the match Real Madrid – Villa Real with seventeen film camera’s, real-time, 90 minutes long.

It stands out from other ‘football art’ because, rather than turning the sport into a metaphor, it examines the essential quality of the game: a highly concentrated site where performance, narrative, sound and movement interplay with each other. The video, in relation to that, is a symphony and dramatization of these settings. It filters out all disturbing elements and focuses on Zidane moving, breathing, scanning the game and playing the ball.
In complete… control.


Fragment from ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’ by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

Those few occasions when I really excelled in my work, I remember having that feeling of complete control over all the circumstances. I’d reckon that in a football match, in order to succeed and win, you would need that feeling all the time. Therefore, a field, or a stadium, isn’t just the stage for a match as such, it also functions as a setting that meets all the conditions required for gaining that complete control and filters out everything that frustrates it. That’s the setting of Parreno and Gordon’s film about Zidane.

“I can hear someone shift around in their chair… I can hear someone coughing… I can hear someone whisper in the ear of the person next to them… I can imagine that I can hear the ticking of a watch”
– Zinedine Zidane

Examining these circumstances reminds me of some of the great works by the early conceptualists and performance artists in the sixties. They too focused on the characteristics of their environment: Bruce Naumann measured his studio, Douglas Huebler photographed the sky over different cities and Dan Graham described his audience in one of his performances. ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’ fascinates me because it captures all those conditions in one work and celebrates Zidane as one of the best football players ever, for being able to master and control all those circumstances and excel.

Yes, the Dutch do great at the current European Championship and I am absolutely thrilled! But this first tournament without Zidane… I guess I still have to get used to that…

Please find more fragments from ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’ here, here and his most gorgeous action of the match here.

Monumentos para las masas


Trial and Error, San Juan – What sites in the city provoke strong emotions and opinions? What narratives can be found beneath the surface of a contested, neglected or much loved place? This workshop was an attempt to activating old and new sites in the city by connecting the personal, historical, and political narratives that accompany them.

The participants, mainly from the the Faculty of Architecture, Urbanism and Design at the National University of San Juan, Argentina, were asked to choose sites and objects in the city that they wanted to alter, replace or highlight for different reasons. This way the city was mapped. The participants guided us through many layers of official and unofficial stories about the city, Argentina’s turbulent history and everyday life. The debate sometimes went high and conflicting readings of certain sites were revealed.

All the contribiution from San Juan can be viewed in our online park (click on the objects to read more about the individual contributions) >>

Some places attracted more attention than others and often the same object was contributed twice, but for different reasons. For example a small replica of the Statue of Liberty, that is said to have arrived in San Juan by mistake in beginning of the 1900s. The real goal should have been San Juan in Puerto Rico! What does it mean to have this strong symbol of USA in the Freedome square of Pocito? Why is it there?

Also the war monument to commemorate victims of the Malvinas/The Falklands War in the 1980’s was debated. The architectural shapes are surronded by army vehicles and weapons, which ended up at the site because of prestige and competition between different army units.

Apart from already existing monuments there were also several suggestion of sites that should be declared monuments – a popular water fountain for example, because of its everyday usage and importance in San Juan’s hot climate.

Last we would like to mention Cesar Pelusa contribution – a monument that had not yet been inaugurated at the time of the workshop. It is a monument to Brave Leopoldo, governor in San Juan assigned by the military dictatorship, situated in an important place near the Civic Center.
”I choose this monument since I don’t want it to be erected. It represents a lie for all the community, mainly to the new generations that know little history.”

Thank you, all the participants at the National University of San Juan, and thank you for the warm welcoming. We had a great time!

Go to the park >>

A Buffalo in Omaha and the Pleasures of Misinterpretation.

Janna Holmstedt, Omaha, NE – This is a short journey through the American Midwest and four examples of public art I think we might see more of in the future.

The character of First National Bank
Walking in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, you will at some point encounter a buffalo – slightly larger than life and cast in bronze. It looks lost and a bit scared among the skyscrapers trying to navigate in this modern urban landscape, but soon you realize it is not alone. Scattered remnants of a herd can be found further down the block. One of the buffalos is trying to escape as it is being consumed by the concrete in the corner of a house. I backtrack the trail northeast and to my surprise there is a group of pioneers with wagons, horses and cows making their way through the city. First I’m like a kid at Disneyland, exhilarated and amazed at the sight. As I discover more of the monumental installation though, I start to oscillate between laughter and disdain. Then it becomes eerie. Are they ghosts? Refugees? Reminders of the fact that this area was explored by the white man only 200 years ago?

The women and children in the trail stops to overlook the demolition taking place across the street. The former headquarters of the Union Pacific Railroad, built in 1924, are dismantled brick by brick to give room for Omaha’s third-tallest building, the WallStreet Tower – a steel and glass construction that will house 275 luxury condominiums.
Omaha used to be an importan railroad hub and the grand Union Station, a showpiece in art deco style, was built 1931 to celebrate this. But already 40 years later it closed, at the same time as the equally grand Burlington station right behind it. Suddenly the silent bronze installation strikes me as perfect for the site; the romanticism of it all, the scattered and nearly extinct animals it depicts, the brick conquering the prarie, then steel and glass conquering the brick as the Union Pacific Headquarters is being demolished in the middle of it all. I wish that too would be cast in bronze, frozen in time just as it is with the workers and machines poking around in the open wound.

But I included more in the reading than I should, the relations and historical facts activated by the sight wasn’t intended at all. A plaque tells me it was built to represent ”The Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness and the character of First National Bank”. To be a bit more precise, the goose and bison seen among the skyscrapers symbolizes: Great Strenght, Free Spirit, Intelligence, Adaptability and Loyalty.
Ironically, the giant Canada goose was thought to be extinct in the 1920s, but their return together with the bison is on the plaque called a ”conservation success story”. I guess that’s also a very precise description of bronze monuments.

In support of the arts
Another public sculpture that got my attention is to be found outside Qwest Center, a convention center and arena for entertainment opened in 2005. My fondness of it is again based on a fatal misunderstanding. Giant, shiny spheres are balancing on top of each other, reflecting the fence that surrond them as well as the support mecanism that makes the spheres stay in place. I appretiate the apparent combination of materials until I realize that the wooden stick with duct tape and foam wasn’t made of painted bronze as the rest of the sculpture. It is simply there to prevent the balls to fall apart. Disappointed I step back to get a full view of the entire piece. According to the artist it ”vividly symbolizes the arts and humanities that take place at Qwest Center”.

Misinterpretations of temporary appearances made me appretiate these installations. In fact my interpretation was the direct opposite of the intended one. The transitional, mishappened character set them free for a moment from the symbolic load they were designed to carry.

In a previous post Martijn calls for an ethically concerned and somewhat enlightened artist when dealing with the delicate matter of producing art for public space, since it involves the aspect of speaking on behalf of a community. In the cases I mention above the initiators do not speak on behalf of the community, they speak of themselves and their aspiration as corporations. And the comissioned artists are happy to employ their skills (why shouldn’t they?). This is private land and the installations and parks created are offered as gifts to the community. Corporations thus seems to continue the tradition of monumental art, or public art on the whole, when national and local governments are becomeing more aware of the difficulties involved in initiating public art projects without risking protests or complaints in terms of representation and democracy.
The solution in many cases seems to be to avoid dialogue and engagement. When local governments on the other hand do dare, they tend to argue in terms of ”creating a landmark” or ”putting the city on the map”. This way they manage to ignore the (important) questions of representation, democracy and the use of public space altogether. In a situation when the overall purpose of public art is to promote and attract, the alternative ways to ”speak back” through for example street art, then becomes either very subtle – almost private – or bombastic. But to criminalize the phenomena (as in Stockholm, described in this post) is nothing but grave arrogance.

But let’s continue the journey northwest, to the Black Hills in South Dakota.

Making a statement, making money.
A monument impossible to misunderstand is Mount Rushmore with the four presidents carved in the mountain. My spontaneous reaction to the sight was ”America, fuck yeah!” (somehow the tune from the film Team America World Police has got stuck in my head). The monument fascinates first and foremost by the skill and labour invested in it. But yet again it is overloaded with symbolism. The artist Gutzon Borglum wanted to celebrate the birth of the United States of America and the nation’s first 150 years of history.

In an Indian souvenir shop in nearby Keystone I encounter another version of history: four Indian chiefs are potraited in front of Mount Rushmore. The caption reads: ”The original founding fathers”.
The mountain was known to the Lakota Sioux as the Six Grandfathers. The United States seized the area from the tribe in 1877. Nevertheless, Mount Rushmore is now a huge economical success, attracting tourists from all over the world and listed as a National memorial.

Finally, a tribute.
About two-three hours drive south there’s a less well known site. Actually, Mount Rushmore wasn’t my main goal when I traveled all across Nebraska. It was Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge, but instead of stones, American vintage cars have been used. I must confess I love this place. Conceptually minded as I am, I regard it as a great contemporary American monument.
Again I’m running the risk of reading more into the place than intended by the creator. Jim Reinders started to build in 1987 and got help from his family and relatives. Originally a result of Reinders’ fascination with Stonehenge and a memorial to his father who had a farm on the land, Carhenge is now owned and preserved by a local group. Carhenge attracts more visitors and attention each year. It seems Reinders and his family by their private initiative unintetionally have put the little town of Alliance on the map

This was four examples of public art that has affected me recently. Skilled or not, clever or stupid, funded by private, corporate or state interests, this is what we will se more of in the future I think, when art is increasingly legitimized as landmarks, attractions or trademarks.
It also means we will see more of (sometimes illegal) counter statements, interventions, actions and volontary misinterpratations. Skilled or not, clever or stupid, they are an attemp at dialouge. An effort to set the apparently static order in motion. As if to say: ”This is not a closed case”.

Director Ingmar Bergman and Sweden

Trial and Error, Stockholm – Ingmar Bergman died July 30, 2007, 89 years old (on the same day that director Michelangelo Antonioni passed away). I’d like to mention his influence on the image of Sweden, and the Swedish view on Bergman.


INGMAR BERGMAN AND THE IMAGE OF SWEDEN:
Bergman’s way of portraying his country in his films had a massive impact in the 1950s and 1960s. Around the world the people of Sweden was regarded as brooding, depressed and consumed by guilt. And Sweden itself was, according to the American Associated Press: ”the claustrophobic gloom of unending winter nights, its glowing summer evenings”.

Then, in the 1970s, Bergman involuntary changed the international view on Sweden again. It was in 1976 that the Swedish tax administration began a witch hunt on the director, who was brought from the theater by uniformed police. This was later recognized as the work of power hungry administrators and he was freed from all charges, but he was mentally broken. Around the world, the view of Sweden as a Soviet in miniature was cabled out.

This made not only Bergman aware that ”anyone in this country can be attacked and humiliated by a special kind of bureaucracy that is growing like a raving cancer”. At the same time, Swedish author Astrid Lindgren (writer of ”Pippi Longstocking”) was supposed to pay 102% in marginal taxes. Stories like these did not only change the view of Sweden, it also had its consequences within the country and the social democratic party lost the next election after 44 years in power.

THE SWEDISH VIEW ON INGMAR BERGMAN:
Sweden doesn’t have that many inernational celebrities, but we are very focused on formulating our country, inwards and outwards. Ingmar Bergman is therefore important to us in more ways than first meet the eye. Our icons are getting too old (like the botanist Carl von Linné and the mysticist Emanuel Swedenborg) or to well used (like the pop group ABBA or tennisplayer Björn Borg). What we want is someone to represent Sweden NOW, and rather not just anyone internationally important (like Hans Blix), but someone who put our country on the map. Or, to be frank, someone who indulge us by devoting time on the Swedes.

Ingmar Bergman did this. He has (reluctantly) become a natioal monument in Sweden, and now that he is dead we want to honor him. But how, where and by whom? The competition is on, and many voices are heard within a few days after his death.
How many Ingmar Bergman streets can we have in Stockholm, for example? If there is more than one there might be some confusion, so one enthusiastic politician reasoned ”one can change the name a little, call it ”Director Bergmans street” or something like that.” A lot of new books are being written, TV is finally showing his films again, and a few days after his death we learned that we will get a new stamp with Bergmans face on it. Further more, we already have one important Bergman monument since the massive Ingmar Bergman Archive has been inscribed in the UNESCO ”Memory of the World Register”.

I personally like Bergman a lot, I think there is nothing more natural than some form of memorial. But lets not get to whimsical – lets focus on what counts. Danish director Lars von Trier (”Dogville”) put his finger on it the other day:
”Bergman is by many charactarised as a genius. But there is only one way to celebrate the genius and that is by making his films accessible. He might be concidered as kind of a national monument in Sweden, but it is the films that is the monument. It is a scandal that they are not available for everyone to see!”
Lets start there, I say.

Some recommended reading: Ingmar Bergmans two fundamental books, ”The Magic Lantern” and ”Images: My life in film”; The official Ingmar Bergman website; Interview with Lars von Trier (Swe); The Daily Astorian on Bergman; and a Playboy-interview with Bergman from 1964


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