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CONTEMP ART ‘12

PUBLIC ART: ART WORK IN THE OPEN PUBLIC SPACE AJNA ZATRIC The vanishing of modernist meta-narratives, through time, has dramatically polarized the opinions on the status of contemporary art. In the midst of rich pluralism of postmodern narratives today, the purposefulness of this paper is reflected in: the investigation of the effects of art practice in the open public space as a specific incarnation of social reality, but also, the etiological interpretation of artists’ distancing from the institutional art world and exposition of the art work, as understood in the classical sense. After history of Modern Movement, intimately framed by the gallery-entity space, new places of truth for art, are about to be found. Public art emerges as a certain practice during the richest, most controversial, and perhaps most thoroughly confusing epoch in the whole history of the visual arts — the period from the 1960s to the present (Lucie-Smith, 1999). Brief study presented, directs onto the results of artists’ lapse from the White Cube —museum/gallery and, particularly, significance of contemporary critique of society challenged and determined by creative maneuver in open public space. By using the method of dialectical analysis, this paper investigates its main subject through the framework of overlapping theories: production of space by Henry Lefebvre and permanent critique by Michel Foucault, in the circumstances of changing socio-economic ideological matrixes. According to Lefebvre, each social/ individual ideology is primarily reflected in the public space which thus becomes the place of power and knowledge/knowing/. The case studies of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Eduardo Chillida and especially (post)socialist Monuments of Revolution, scattered all over the countries of the Yugo-sphere, are indicative in the temporal appropriation of the open public space, testifying about the space of the street as an intersection of: individual and social, thereby deeply — political. The presence of these public art works, as mnemonic devices and valuable spatio-temporal samples facilitates the questioning of characteristics of social practice and can reconstruct the causative agents and ‘collective memory’ in the making. Museum or gallery — a white ideal space that, more than any single painting became the archetypal image of 20th-century (O‘Doherty, 1999), may be the easiest to come to mind when we mention that magical word: art. However, things have significantly changed over time, and they are much different today than they were few decades ago. As art movements and styles can no longer be categorized by schools of thought, many artists, theorists and critics have strived to educate the art world on what makes for relevant art. Public Art, today, is much more than a lonely monument standing on a city square or a promenade. It is set in the open public space, platform with a possibility for a debate, but also competitive context with lots energy and power, that has, through time, become certain mode of experimental field for critical theory in relation to visual arts, philosophy, cultural-social studies, geography and urban design. Although elements placed in this ‘arena’ are unmistakably representations of 115


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official ideology they are also a context of our everyday lives, where we interact, individually or in groups, in an eternal dialectical production of place bonded identity (Lefebvre 1976, Zatric 2009). Term production of space was inaugurated and critically studied by Henry Lefebvre through series of overlapping theories whose dialectics he extends onto the everyday life in the city. According to his treatise, each ideology is primarily inscribed in space which, thereby, becomes the place of — knowledge and power. Author investigates space through social practice, emphasizing the everyday life and politics of the street as crucial counter-power toward from above imposed urban/ architectonic planning that imposes city’s/community’s functionality (Dirksen, 2011). Lefebvre’s initial reflection on transposition from ‘things in space’ to ‘production of space’ is parallel to Foucault interest which he summarizes by stating: ‘knowledge is a space where subject takes a position to talk about issues he deals with in his discourse’. Even though Foucault does not explain space he refers to, nor how he intends to bridge the hiatus between epistemological and practical space, his theory furthermore, intersects with Lefebvre’s critique of modernity, who claims: ‘Critique attempts to open a path to the possible, to explore and delineate a landscape that is not merely part of the “real” the accomplished, occupied by existing social, political, and economic forces’. Exactly this is where Foucault sees a critique: as a some kind of permanent revolution at the level of procedure which aims at identifying and exposing the unrecognized forms of power in everyday lives. More broadly, it is questioning of the limits and securing dissent, an escape of imposed normalization/ normalcy, and facing up to the challenges of self-creation while seeking to effect changes in social structures on specific regional issues of concern (Olssen, 2006). Transposing above said onto the concept of artists’ work, which is almost always a certain testing, dialectic of the possible and the contained, of the real and imagined (Dirksen, 2011), we understand (permanent) art critique may become one powerful and lived aspect of the imagining of a society. ‘The artist, like the detective in “Blade Runner”, discovers distortions, anomalies or cracks in the seemingly ordinary images that surround him, in one of the layers of the “real”, pointing to the curvatures and slips of the sense from something local toward global, from the subjective and personal toward social or political (Cekic, 2004)’ In the ligth of aforementioned theoretical outline, some illustrative case studies of art work in open public space proved to be valuable for further consideration. Jean Michel Basquiat’s opus, mapped by terms: graffiti, neo-expressionism, art-brut, through etiological interpretation tells a vivid tale about the artist of AfricanFrench origin in an endeavour to resolve the gap in his identity and at the same time show interest for other themes of social reality. 116


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The success and recognition in the ‘fixed’, Andy Warhol-inspired New York City art world during the eighties and sudden tragic death, complete Basquiat’s biography in accordance with the Romantic era’s typical notion of the artist as an outsider and a predetermined nobly fallen genius. His seemingly arcane career, based on the concept of multi-layer transition: from the creolic, (post)colonial history to the context of conservative American reality, from the suburbs to Manhattan’s most prestigious galleries and art-business, is interpreted by returning to the very beginning: to the dark-skinned boy’s first signatures onto the first free city wall.

SAMO© — pseudonym for new anti-art philosophy, and soon expansive graffiti sub-culture, was designed by graffiti writers with a clearly defined aim: to substitute the society’s dominant value system ​​which they considered to wrongly represent them, connoting exclusively with the interests of the labor-market policy and (Reagan)economy. Pioneering graffiti writing in an (sub)urban area, within the harmonious discourse of Western society, revealed profound inter-dependence of subject positions and social identities. Metaphorically, their signature on the wall means 1. I exist, and 2.I exist here, and satisfies the desire to publicly, though incognito, ascertain the existence of one identity - different than the prevalent one (Arden, 2006). If we need to attribute the New York graffiti scene in the late seventies and eighties to the particular social class, the protagonists are the second generation descendants of immigrants from Third World countries and Europe. The emergence of this and other subcultures often reveals the alternative forms of interaction among marginalized groups, illustrating social cohesiveness other than dominant cultural realities. 117


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Subversive messages (such as ORIGIN OF COTTON) contextually placed in the city center, are artists immaterial ideas embedded into the urban tissue, translating one inherited world and reconstructing the collective memory in the making. In this way, graffiti message ‘interrupts the homogeneity and predictability of urban life’, and has a task to make a pause, a rupture in the usual urban sequence , to ‘wake up‘ the pedestrian, in the new context where he could revalue his view of the city, but at the same time — his own role in it. Not really fond of the gallery and museum as an imperative, Basquiat’s street work in a undeniable way contributes to the reform the usual art exhibiting imposed by art history, which is also the history of the progressive triumph of the museums and galleries, that is controlled historical narrative. If we, furthermore, hold and consider this creative maneuver through Baudrillard’s theoretic scheme of simulacra and image overload (mass-reproducible copies), and even, the unfortunate disappearance of art’s aura as postulated by Benjamin, public art aesthetics directly appropriates-includes reality in its field of interest, thereby rejecting simulation which is composed of produced objects and experiences which are supposed to be more realistic than real, that is: to be hyperrealistic. ‘Social space is social product… space produced this way serves as a means of producing thoughts, is also a means of control and as well domination — power.’ Lefebvre arguments that each society, thus each modality of individual action, produces space — one of its own. Consideration of social dinamics of the urban leads us, further, to the examination of dominating and structuring ideology which is through it’s representations necessarily operative in the open public space and urban sequence. Following these lines of investigation, study continues further to the socialist monuments of revolution scattered all over the ex-Yugoslavian region.

Departing from that stated above, artistic tendencies are specific realities that often emerge to disrupt dominant ideological narratives (that of capitalism/ socialism/ europeanization-globalization). Once unmistakably representations of socialist ideology, Yugoslavian Monuments of Revolution in the present context can be comparatively conceptualized as physical remains of ideological discourse that represent ideological and cultural otherness in the homogenizing landscape of the neo-liberal reality. Of course, socialist context is very different than the capitalist one. During this very specific socio-economic model, public art corpus testifyies about the space of the street as a intersection of personal and social, thereby deeply political. Monumental sculptures were commissioned by the regime to commemorate the sites where WWII battles took place; they were designed by famous artists and architects, completely in service of the republic, conveying 118


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powerful visual impact to show the confidence and strenght of the new Yugoslavian self-governing socialist country. These ‘urban icons’, once crucial for the symbolism of Socialist Federation, attracted millions of visitors per year for their organized patriotic education (regular excursions, lessons in nature, holiday celebrations...). They were meant to illustrate not only the triumph of the present over the past, the victory of unity, but also everything that ‘future holds’ for a new country of equity and solidarity. What more briliant centrepieces for it than „monumental structures that occupied sky itslef; anyone could buy a land, but only establshiment could undertake the conquest of the air“.

As already mentioned, ideological matrix , for those who accept its social practices, becomes invisible and cannot be distinguished from knowledge. Therefore, creative expression in open public space, observing socialist memorabilia, represents political usage of knowledge, integrated indirectly in the social relations. Today, when their context is gone and audience disappeared, still immensely domineering over the natural landscapes of the former Yugoslavian countries, monuments proclaim the future that has already passed. Although greatly disregarded in the present post-socialist context, their dilapidated condition and austere aesthetics represent the trace of alterity in the monolithic and homogenizing plane of globalization. Departing from that stated above, we understand them as a layer of the real in the urban palimpsest, ultimately maintaining a strong bond with residents, and opening up complex topics for cultural interpretation such as continuity, nostalgia, identity and memory. How space becomes a place? Space and place are familiar words, denoting 119


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similar experiences. They implicate the experience of security and freedom – we are attached to the one, and long for the other (Tuan, 1977) Through tireless preoccupation with space and its interaction with time, Eduardo Chillida constantly sought to eschew the laws of geometry, symmetry and gravity in his sculptures and to give expression to space. His sculptural series designed for specific public spaces, in the project of amelioration as integral part of their natural surroundings, express artist’s concern for the relationship between spectator and nature. His first monumental art work The Wind Comb (1977), set out on the very coast of Atlantic ocean in San Sebastian, has been integrated in the natural landscape with a great care, during the complex urbanistic intervention. Cultural subtext can be found in the sculptors’ work: materially (by using the corten steel originally found in Basque region), but also conceptually, what author summarizes by words: ‘My sculpture The Wind Comb is the solution to an equation that instead of numbers consists of the following elements: sea, wind cliffs, the horizon, and light. Steel forms mix with the forces and aspects of nature, in a dialogue with them; they are both questions and affirmations. Perhaps they are there to symbolize the Basque people and their country, situated between two extremes, the place where Pyrenees end and where ocean begins’ . From the point of view of social and urban dynamics, the significance of this intervention is reflected in its effect, and how it is enliven; the coastal strip became a place for gathering, pleasurable promenade for walk, medium for play, place of contemplation of The Wind Comb and ocean, common place of everyday existence. Departing from the concept of cultural intimacy we understand the urban space as a polygon of ‘every-day games of hide-and-seek that only “natives” play, unwritten rules of behavior, jokes understood from half a word, a sense of complicity’ (Boym, 2001). Construction of ‘common landmarks of everyday life’ created this way results in constructive intervention in social cohesion and collective memory in the making. Moreover, using anthropological approach, it 120


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also illustrates how our experiences of space and place can “transcend cultural particularities”. As artist claims, his work isn’t simply included in space, but in the project of amelioration creates one of its own. This directly adds to Lefebvre’s and Haidegger’s thesis of spatial production: place, created this way, by specific appropriation of space, opens up a region to gather things and ideas in their mutual interaction. What began as undifferentiated urban sequence near seaside becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value (Tuan, 1977). This article proposed, through its topic, the careful investigation of the possible meanings of creative interventions in open public space. Could it be that the street is the only place where Basquiat could start to exist as inherently Other? Choice of the street for the beginning of his career as a painter, powerfully underpins thesis about art as a work on the existence and democratic expression. More broadly, his creative involvement in open public sphere is relevant because it directs attention to the street as a space of collective equity, but also the one to secure rights of dissent. Produced space, embodied in places: buildings, edifices and art works such as Monuments of Revolution, serves as a means of thought and action, but beside the fact that it is instrument of a production it is also an instrument for control, thereby, domination and power. Each society that history brought to the frames of certain modality of production, shaped its particular space. Socialist Memorabilia in the post-socialist context lost its audience, but still show that ideological matrix, for those who accept its social practice, becomes invisible and cannot be differed from knowledge. Following from what is stated before, the purposefulness of art work in open public space, if we are to take an example of The Wind Comb, is visible through the unspeakable art value, but also through the articulation of the way to open a path to a possible in the social surroundings, while examining what is that negates possibilities (Dirksen, 2011). Set onto the social landscape art work draws perspective of possible, which is not, as Lefebvre arguments, already part of the real, of that what is completed, and already occupied with existing social, political, and economic nexus. In permanently incomplete project of place-identity-culture formation thorough dialectic of possible/contained, real and imagined, critique of artistic work in open public space may grasp future horizons: it is an utopian critique that steps out from the reality without losing the sight of it (Lefebvre, 1976). This analysis concludes by suggesting that the artistic artifact in the public sphere is the spatial-temporal sample which, firmly interrelated with personal history, mediates and performs the experience of the artist, the participant in the society, while revealing through critique the broader systems of social organization. The perspective that this art work thus opens is critical (and, as such, dialectical), relevant because it directs towards consideration of and discussion on — social impact, but also the way permanent (art) critique relates to the lived experience of the society while, at the same time, it strives to (re)shape the future society.

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Lefebvre, H., 1976. Production of Space, Massachusetts:Blackwell. Tuan, Y., 1977, Space and Place:The perspective of Experience, 8th ed. University of Minnesota Press. Ardenne, P., 2004. Un art contextuel:Création artistique en milieu urbain, en situation, d’intervention, de participation. Paris: Flamarion. Lucie-Smith, E., 1999., Art Today, London: Phaidon. Benjamin, W., 1936. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, [pdf] Available at : https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/download/ attachments/74858352/BenjaminArtInTheAge.pdf?version=1&modificationDa te=1296271631000 [Accessed 20 March 2012]. Baudrillard, J., 1981. Simulacra and Simulation, Editions Galilee [e-book] Available through: <http://isohunt.com/torrent_details/106416153/Baudrillard?tab=summary> [Accessed 29 February 2012]. Dirksen, J.,2011, How high is the City how deep is our Love, Fillip, [online]. Available at:< http://fillip.ca/content/how-high-is-the-city-how-deep-is-our-love> [Accessed 03 February 2012]. O’Doherty, B., 1999. Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Boym, S. 2001, The Future of Nostalgia, New York Basic Books. Olssen, M.,2006. Foucault and the Imperatives of Education:Critique and Selfcreation in a Non-foundational World, [article], UK: University of Surrey. Cekic, J.,2004, Layers of the Real, Flu-ID [online]. <http://www.kontejner.org/ jovan-cekic-english> [Accessed 03 March 2012]. Zatric, M., 2009. Sediments of Public Space in the Post-Soc Metropolis a Cross Section, M.A, Barcelona: IDEC-Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Chillida E. 2009, Writings, Chillida Leku Museum Dusseldorf: Richter Verlag. Emmerling, L., 2003, Basquiat, Deutschland: Tachen. *(photography credits unknown)

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