Posts Tagged 'national identity'

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.

Collectivism after modernism

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – This cover could completely go without a book. My first thought at seeing the picture on the book Collectivism after modernism, a collection of essays that “explore the ways in which collectives function within cultural norms, social conventions and corporate or state-sanctioned art”, reads the back.


Needless to say, to a certain degree this weblog is a collective practice as well, and how I’d love to be with our members on that arrow-shaped boat. Even more when I read that the essays explore collectivism in social, cultural and political contexts. They are set in New York after 1975, the Cuban national crisis in the eighties, the sixties in Japan and in the last decade in Senegal. Not to mention the introduction which ambitiously plays out collectivism against the backdrop of the cold war in which collaborative practice is identified as suspicious communist activities and individualism is hailed as the prodigal practice of Western capitalists artists. Hmmm, this begins to look like a tasty menu.

Unfortunately, promising as it may sound, it seems like the authors forgot to add salt, pepper and a nice sauce. Very few manage to really give proper analysis of the relation between collectives and the contexts and surroundings in which they operate, on how they carry out political action, provide discursive places and alternatives and, most important for me, what kinds of strategies and methodologies they have developed.

To enable transformation on a social, cultural or political level, as the introduction promises, collective practices need to be translated to an operational level. How else can you be an actor in such societal fields? Only Okwui Enwezor manages to translate theory into practice in his text The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes.

It is a rich and intelligent text that combines insights from social studies, post-colonialism, community practice and collectivism to describe the political and cultural situation in Senegal. Situated in this complex framework he describes the practice and methodologies his case-studies Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes have developed. It is a theoretically complex and layered story combined with a very insightful, hands-on description of subversive collective practices. In all honesty: one the best texts I’ve read.

Therefore, my advice is to borrow the book, make a big coloured photo copy enlargement of the cover and put it on your wall. Photocopy Enwezors essay and lock yourself in the room with the poster and read it to last word! Inspiration guaranteed!

Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (editors), Collectivism after Modernism: The art of Social Imagination after 1945, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-4462-9
Authors: Jelena Stojanovic, Reiko Tomii, Chris Gilbert, Jesse Drew, Rachel Weiss, Ruben Gallo, Alan W. Moore, Okwui Enwezor, Irina Aristarkhova, Brian Holmes.

Mexican Petrol

A collaborative post from Mariana Niembro*, Mexico City, Octavio Martínez**, Mexico City and Sergio Davila, Amsterdam.

Friday 18th of March of 1938, 22:00hrs The president of Mexico Lázaro Cárdenas declares the expropriation of the petrol. This meaning that the natural resources exploited by foreign companies became property of the Mexican nation. The 17 companies that were taken by the government were mainly American, British and Dutch. The UK broke up diplomatic relations with Mexico, The Netherlands and the US declared commercial embargo.

On the other hand the whole nation was moved by this act and they showed the support in public demonstrations, even the church supported this decision. We were taught in the elementary school to be proud about this action, and nowadays we understand its relevance, it was a declaration of economical independence, the disentanglement of an imperialist pressure that forestalled Mexico to believe in its own strength and capabilities.

The Second World War benefited Mexico obliging USA and the allies to release the embargo and to make strategic alliances instead of protecting the private companies. This situation raised the demand of the Mexican petrol and supported the economical development of the nation until now.

pemex

Seventy years after, the situation is quite delicate in the country. The Mexican Energy Secretariat declared in the last diagnosis that reserves of the Mexican Petrol Company (PEMEX) are going down. The solution that the current president is promoting is to allow international capital to invest in strategic areas mainly the exploration, exploitation and refinement. The analysis that the current governing party made is mainly economical and they claim that urgent action is needed otherwise PEMEX will soon go bankrupt.

The process begun when the president sent to the senator chamber a law initiative that includes promotion of foreign capital investment into the industry that handles the oil in México: PEMEX. This promotion is made on the assumption that PEMEX is a corrupt, anachronic and dysfunctional institution, which is not inserted on the contemporary market logic. Obviously the objective of the promotion of international investment is to insert PEMEX in this market logic, which basically means to adequate the industry to the “Washington Consensus”. To be clear on this, Mexican people have lost credibility on their governors and this initiative sounds convenient for a neo-liberal and global mind but for the critical mind it sounds like the first step to sell PEMEX.

The senator chamber is diverse during this period, and that means an ideal estate for democracy because every proposal can be discussed further. It is a fact that not everybody agrees with the current president, the risk of allowing private investment in the most important industry, basic for the national budget and the development of the country, diminish the courageous acts of previous generations that shaped the national identity.

Is strange that being such a difficult subject the current government does not take the time to review the arguments and more important ask for civil opinion. It makes people wonder whether if it was true or not that international capital has been invested in the campaigns of the two last presidents (both of them belonged to the right-wing party, PAN) specially because of the close relationship that they keep with industries like Halli Burton. Particularly since the 2002 when this company found highly reactive formations of petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico. At least we have to conclude that the topic is complicated and it requires a lot of dialogue between experts, students, lawyers, and citizens.

A huge area of opportunity in this case, in comparison with European countries like Finland and The Netherlands, is the fact that society takes civil action, meaning that they not only express their opinion but they also believe that their action will cause an impact in the national direction. Mexican citizens miss this kind of opportunities to be dynamic actors in the decision process, which is a basic element in the contemporary democratic and representative regimes.

* Mariana Niembro Martínez is a Political Science student working as a lobbing reporter at the Mexican Senate.

** Octavio Martínez Michel made his BA in philosophy and is currently assisting a research about electoral processes in Latin America.

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”.

Put the light out, erase a line

Trial and Error, Stockholm – The Stockholm Pride Festival 2007 has offered many things. The media, for example, still exclusivly focus on the flamboyant part of the gay community, all political parties (except for the christian conservatives) have competed in Pride exposure, and there has been a very good artist run exhibition.

Lord Peter Wright once wrote about the Swedes ”…they have an intonation which makes everything come out flat and boring; rather like Sweden, in fact.” This is one of the things the Swedish people is most afraid of – that we might be too square, and that other countries are funnier. With this in mind, it is not so strange that all the politicians has now been competing for exposure in the colorful Pride context. As long as it is cute and harmless, The Fab 5 glamour is very welcome in Sweden and that part of the non-heterosexual community has for a long time been the main focus in our media.


One recent reaction to this media focus is the book ”Bögjävlar” (approximately ”Gay bastards”), written by five gay men. ”The media has decided to portray the helpful gay as a service institution for the straight sociaty” one of the authors explains. The book and their blog aim to constitute a counter weight to that cliché.
”Bögjävlar” was published just before the Stockholm Pride Festival. The festival has traditionally been focused on gay rights and partying while contemporary art has been absent. But this year, an international contemporary art show has been initiated by two artists: Malin Arnell (curator) and Stefan Forss (working with the artist run gallery Studio 44). The exhibition was named ”PUT THE LIGHT OUT, ERASE A LINE” and, together with performances and a video screening, included twentyeight art works.

Malin Arnell choses not to call the show a queer exhibition, and writes in her statement ”in the exhibition /…/ we meet a number of artists that in different ways, momentarily, act entirely on their own terms”.

I especially want to mention two of the projects that I include with images:
Kajsa Dahlbergs project ”A Room of One’s Own / A Thousand Libraries” is a compilation of marginal notes made by readers in one thousand library copies of ”A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Wolf.
And Malin Arnell had a performance on the opening night, standing on a stool against the wall. Three members of the audience used four rolls of duct tape to fix her to that wall and then the stool was removed while Arnell was left hanging . The peice was named ”A better view”.

Read more about the exhibition at gallery Studio 44’s webpage >>

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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