Posts Tagged 'Public space'

Art, Posters, Graffiti, Stickers and Tags = Smear, Smudge, Scribble and Scrawl

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.

Hierarchical Division

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.

'Foreign' was exhibited by Visual Corresdondents

 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.

Article in Helsingin Sanomat 22.9.2008 (main newspaper)

Article in Helsingin Sanomat 22.9.2008 (main 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.

Calming down the young demonstrators in Helsinki

News material from Helsinki: Calming down a young demonstrators

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.

More information:

Graffiti Research Lab

Outfitting graffiti artists with open source technologies.

Projects like Green Graffiti might claim a better status for Graffiti among entrepreneurial citizens: 

Green Graffiti

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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.

Epitaph for Paul Cseplö

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.

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”.

My Sweden: Clean Spaces, Clean Information

”I dont understand what you mean by street art. If it has no permission, it is regular destruction and should be punished. I think it is equal to destroying someones car.”

Mikael Söderlund, vice mayor Stockholm 

Trial and Error, Stockholm – I recently went to a concert with my father, where the artist Peter Carlsson sang ”You have to wipe your shoes clean before you get into town. You cant leave any fingerprints in town.” Stockholms transformation into a large clean shopping center started long ago, but since the conservative party (Moderaterna) gained control of City hall, it has accelerated. Two examples:
1. They have decided that the subway is a largely unused commercial space. But today I waited for the sub on a platform covered in huge commercials, got into a wagon that was totally covered in a commercial on the outside, and then I counted 40 commercials inside the wagon.
2. At the same time they introduce a zero tolerance policy against graffiti, scribblings and postings in unassigned places.

My first naive reflection is the difference between the underground landscape and the above ground landscape, rather like a city plan made by Leonardo da Vinci, where a whole city was to be built in two floors. The lower floor, without sunlight and wind, was populated by workers. Their goods and services were transported up by stairs to the top floor, where the noblemen, priests and so on lived with sunshine and good air.

The Stockholm City museum has a very popular guided tour which is sold out all the time. It guides people to the street art of the town. ”To have tours in city art is like picking mushrooms” says the guide. ”I never know what is there and what has been taken away.” Since these tours are legimitizing something that the conservative party is against, the newspaper Södermalmsnytt contacted our vice mayor Mikael Söderlund. Here is the interview:

SN (Södermalmsnytt): But the tours are popular and many think that city art is fine.
MS (Mikael Söderlund): I dont understand what you mean by street art. If it has no permission, it is regular destruction and should be punished. I think it is equal to destroying someones car.
SN: Posters, mosaics, miniature summerhouses and decals. Have you not seen it?
MS: No, but Stockholm would look pretty strange if everybody would put up summerhouses everywhere. If you want to erect an art piece you have to apply for permission. Everything else is illegal.
SN: Can you apply for permission for the erection of a graffiti painting?
MS: No, we dont accept graffiti in Stockholm. And we dont think, like others, that graffiti is an art form. We dont want graffiti here.
SN: The English authorities declined from washing away a spray painting from the street artist Banksy because of his great popularity. The value of the apartements in the houses he had painted has peaked. His wall paintings are valued to more than 4 million kronor [about 580 000 USD, writers remark]. Any comments?
MS: He is not welcome to Stockholm.

A hotline will now be set up to take emergency calls on new public art, graffiti or posters in Stockholm. After the alarm, it wont take more than 48 hours before a squad will be sent to the new illegal painting (or what it might be) and remove it. Reading about this on the internet also gave me the information about how to bring down this new hot line with fake alarms, etc.
Searching this information on the net also brings up the issue on Swedish surveillance. Beside all the security cameras in buses, subways, squares, shops and every possible public space, the Swedish government also hope to pass a law which gives them the right to monitor Swedish and international traffic on the internet. This proposition has been debated (lamely) in Swedish media but has also caused Google to compare Sweden with Saudi Arabia and China.

My Sweden from an international perspective: Its not a country in any risk of terrorism, or a country involved in high risk security issues, or war, or large scale crime or violence. And it might not be the home of the brave, but we really take our cleanliness seriously, both when it comes to our spaces and our information.

 

The Art Space Race

Trial and Error, San Francisco – When walking in downtown San Francisco we pass Frey Norris Gallery. The current exhibition is entitled ”American Debut” and shows paintings by Zhong Biao. The subtitle reads: ”First ever American solo exhibition for internationally recognized Chinese artist”. We look at the large scale, skilled paintings and discuss the ever increasing interest for contemporary Chinese art in the West (for example the exhibition ”Made in China” that opened in March at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark).


Then the conversation inevitably touches the subject that next year one million new artists will graduate i China. One million! The number has been mentioned in different contexts (by Chinese art students in Sweden for instance) and even if it includes crafts and design, the amount is still bewildering.

In ”The unparallelled invasion” by Jack London, China starts to conquer the world in 1970 ”with all the certainty and terrifying slow momentum of a glacier”. The mere size of the population made it possible to devour any country and any army. In the rather rasist short story, Europe and the US meet the threat from the east in a joint effort by bombing China with all the diseases that western laboratories have been able to manufacture. Jack London, who published the story in 1914, much cherished the new technology but he had a gross view of how it could be used.

We have a more positive view of China’s ”invasion” though, and have a proposal for a degree project for next years one million new Chinese artists – whicht would also coincide with the Olympic Games 2008:
Each student will make an art piece that measures 12.8 meters. The host country could then encircle the entire globe in what would be the longest Chinese monument so far, and thus underline the motto for the next Olympic Games:

Or why not reach for the moon in an Art Space Race?
In 1967 it was decided that space belongs to mankind (”The Outer Space Treaty”) and should not be used for commercial or military purposes. But since then we have distanced ourselves from that position. Commercials encourages us to name stars after our loved ones and nations leer at the possible resources on the moon. America decleares in the ”US Space Com Vision for 2020” their goal to be “dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment” and “integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict”.
It is about 4000 years since the tower of Babel was ruined but since then we have developed more advanced technique. It is no more than 384 000 kilometers to the moon. If divided among the Chinese graduates of 2008, that makes less than 390 meters per student. The Chinese space program intend to land a mooncar on the moon in 2012, lets say that one million artists are examinated in the same rate untill then, that would make a total of six million new artists devoted to the Art Space Race – and only 64 meter of art per student to reach the moon!


Since outer space cannot be claimed as national territory, the Chinese atists would not be subject to Chinese law (or reached by Google censorship for that matter). Maybe in a near future the Olympic Games could be located on the moon (as above envisioned by NASA) – on truly neutral ground?

Notes:
Thanks to artist Anders Widoff who first informed us of the one million new Chinse artists.
Paintings by Zhong Biao from http://www.artbusiness.com/1open/firstth0507.html
More about ”American Debut”: http://www.sfstation.com/zhong-biao-american-debut-e38451


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