Posts Tagged 'site-specific'

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.

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.

From motorcycles to 3,5 million pieces of art

A collaborative post from Marja Salaspuro*, Amsterdam and Sergio Davila, Amsterdam.

Can classical conservative museum structure keep its historically layered architecture, rooms, collections and objects – and still attract the interest of the modern visitors, mainstream tourists and experience seeking travelers? A philosophical reconsideration around purpose of the museums at our era and the architect’s role as a curator are linked to architect Rem Koolhaas’ plan for the next expansion of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Politics and economics are essential forces influencing in Museum architecture, also to the extent of shaping what kind of ‘art’ will be displayed. Every redevelopment project adds a layer on top of the history whether it will be rebranding process of a city through Guggenheim franchising (such as in Bilbao) or creating structures enabling mass tourism experiences such as in Louvre or in MoMA.

 Cue at the MOMA

Architecture as curatorial strategy

The field of architecture is not only defining human shelters anymore, architecture is about understanding culture, history, and even understanding future scenarios. The dematerialization of architecture is a fact, besides the virtual tools to experience a space, architecture, as in design is a field that is exploring more its faculty to define strategies, processes, models; and it is defining topology with human relationships instead of steel and concrete. Mr. Koolhaas expressed his interest in explore the architect’s role in designing a curatorial strategy. As it is seen among commissions and competitions, leading international architecture offices have established their own research think thanks’ analyzing historical links behind museum structures. For example Rem Koolhaas presented his own AMO think thank in a lecture as a part of Holland Festival programme for the fully booked Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ. Honestly, the lecture was very inspiring and gave us a better perspective about the museums of our time.

Motorcycles and copy-pasting classics

From the economic point of view art can be defined as a luxury commodity, ‘an experience’ tied to the ‘judgments’ of the institutional and commercial art establishment. Following that logic, museum is the place where mass audiences ‘experience’ the greatest ‘luxury commodities’, those that patrons or experts of the nations have been collecting to be remembered by next generations.

The museum architecture defines physical structure for the ‘art experience’ whether it will be white walls made for paintings, black rooms for video projectors or for example a huge entrance hall such as in Tate Modern which allows to perceive art as a spatial experience.  

In some leading museums, the experience with the luxury product is separated from the exhibition. Stylish bookshops, unique restaurants and impressive buildings are sometimes enough for satisfying the hunger for an aesthetic experience. Guggenheim for example has built its success by franchising an architectural monuments offering leisure activities linked to the middle class vacation (like in Bilbao or in Las Vegas).

The architectural strategy for combining new and old was, for example in Guggenheim Las Vegas something different than in more classical art institutions. Architect Rem Koolhaas covered 125-by-70-foot ceiling of the Guggenheim Las Vegas with a likeness of Michelangelo’s Sixtine Chapel’s while the exhibition itself showed 130 motorcycles from the late 19th century to the present (originally displayed at the Guggenheim in New York in 1998). The theme of copy-pasting is linked to be apart of the architectural theme recycling, just like similar recycling processes are ongoing in the fields of music, film and design. 

Intellectual approach to Hermitage St. Petersburg

In St Petersburg, the historical plaza of revolution in front of the Hermitage Museum already serves as an ice-skating ring, as the our current era encourages leisure activities. Just to be clear, this blog post is not about the battle of taste and/or quality, but rather introduce the role of an architect as curator of the exhibition spaces, and therefore influential creator of the art experience.

For example the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has 1200 rooms. This spatial fact will influence the visiting experience. The next expansion will add to the complex 800 rooms more. Rem Koolhaas has done a plan for this expansion based on to idea to combine all historical layers without falling to a total Hermi-kitsch.

With the historical layers, architectural plan is representing three drastic societal changes in Russia from tsarism to communism and most recently towards commercialism. Just like the Russian society, one of the worlds’ biggest art collections and its show room, the Hermitage, has been put together by adding new layers on top of each other expressing the values of the ruling power.

The first structure followed aesthetics of Versailles Palace and praised the enlightened monarchs and the taste of majestic Catherine the Great. After revolution the Winter Palace and the surrounding buildings were declared as the state museum. During the Second World War some rooms have even been serving temporarily as hospital for wounded soldiers.

The next contemporary layer which Rem Koolhaas AMO think thanks has been working on includes inspirational, one might say curatorial and philosophical approach: ”The task at hand is to find those changes that will allow the Hermitage in a discreet way, without being too manifest, to function better.” AMO 2008

We like the idea. The architect himself concentrates on customer experience and structures help in assembling huge crowds, keeping the connection to the history of Russia. For the audience the experience can be customized, some rooms can be left for motorcycles. After wondering through endless halls with priceless art from Paleolithic to contemporary, there might also be possibility for ice-skating in front of the Winter Palace. I guess this is our time.

*Marja Salaspuro is MA in Arts Management student from Sibelius Academy Helsinki and she is devoted to follow inspiring approaches evolving in contemporary debates around museum and art as institutions.

 

Empire: a reconstruction

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.

Take-away concerts

WOW! This blog is so nice! Les concerts a emporter (take-away concerts) publishes on a regular basis street concerts, often by well-known bands (Arcade fire, Architecture in Helsinki etc). The high quality filming results into small site-specific artworks. 

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 >>

Go around twice if you’re happy

I love optimistic public art! Seen on Wooster collective


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