THIS troublesome, uncomfortable and questionable RELEVANCE of ART IN PUBLIC SPACE. In Search Of a Possible Paradigm



Art in Public Space, out in the wilderness, so to say. Art beneath its protected context of the exhibition space is uncomfortable for almost everybody. For artists and exhibitors, the amount of unpredictability is sometimes overwhelming: weather and light, humidity and ambient sound can’t be fully controlled. And on top of this, there is the audience! People who often aren’t even aware of encountering an art work. Sometimes they would probably be very surprised, if someone told them that they are considered to be the audience of something. As a consequence, often enough people confronted with public art feel helpless in front of or even disturbed by what the art world accounts for an important work of art. That happens in exhibition places too, but the advantage is that the museum audience choose this experience deliberately.

So, why bother? Why don’t we just stay inside our protected compound of the gallery? Or at least in a place that is clearly marked as an exhibition space? Why do time-based, immaterial interventions have to happen in public space, why do we have to challenge the public? Artists, curators and institutions have answered this question in very heterogeneous ways over the last decades: Public art was and is seen as non-commercial, as anti-elitist, as the attempt to embellish even poorly designed living environments, as an opportunity for a broader audience, which does not have the means to frequent museums or galleries, to access contemporary art, and many believe that public art has the power to change urban and social systems.

These are ambitious goals for such a doubtlessly difficult enterprise as public art. Beside the above quoted problems of public art activities, one has to take issues like economical inequity, uneven knowledge–distribution and tiredness of common participatory practices summoned by current democratic systems into account. Because one thing goes without saying: public art can’t be carried out in solitude; interaction and collaboration are part of its nature.

In the seven years of its existence, The Outdoor Gallery of the City of Gdansk has invited 31 artists to propose interventions in the public realm, has judged 8 projects worth to be realized and has produced 5 of them. The curators and architects, invited by Laznia Center for Contemporaty Art to be involved in the long term development of the Lower Town area of the City of Gdansk, feel that the moment has come to present the first results of their activities to a broader national and international audience and to bring together debates from varied perspectives and practices in an attempt to evaluate which roles artists, curators, designers and architects can actually play in revitalizing and regenerating urban space. The conference will be organized as follows:

After a keynote speech by Chantal Mouffe on Friday night, on Saturday the symposium will be divided into two parts: The first session will be opened by a lecture from Mika Hannula, followed by a panel discussion entitled Close Encounters. Strategies of Collaboration. Participants are asked to present their public art practices in a 15 minutes contribution, focusing on questions like: what are the strategies to access existing knowledge systems and to foster collaboration between different stakeholders? Which are the current best -practice models?

The afternoon session will start with a lecture by Simon Sheikh, followed by a panel discussion entitled Museum without Museum. Tactics of Emancipation and Autonomy. Panelists will be asked to present their public art practices in short lectures of 15 minutes, pondering the question, how far public art can be a complement or an alternative to museums and reflecting on strategies of enhancement for self-organization.

Curators of the symposium: Julia Draganovic & Adam Budak

Bert Theis, Ślepi / Blind, project for the Outdoor Gallery of The City of Gdańsk, 2011