Appropriating space, art and the public

In social sciences the leading opinions observe the public space as participatory. James Young uses the term counter monuments to invoke a contemporary view on contemporary monuments, less monumental, more abstract, and therefore interactive (engaging). The analogy enforces a new principle, even fashion of producing these engaging forms of public art, which as its most mainstream form (official monuments), hold a very definite, yet undefined position. This places less official sculptures in an even broader sea of definition, but with strict parameters-the content must be left open for interpretation.

Positioning public art goes down a two sided alley, it is a highly supported and subsidized activity that is conditioned by financial surplus and political agenda. Rosalyn Deutsche writes: “Given the nature of contemporary urban transformations and of the new public sites they develop for art, this message is perilous for democracy. For redevelopment programs are profoundly authoritarian, technocratic mechanisms, transforming cities to facilitate capital accumulation and state control.

Within this process, the presence of “the aesthetic”- whether embodied in artworks, architectural style, urban design, or museums-helps give redevelopment democratic legitimacy since, like “the public”, “art” often connotes universality, openness, inclusion. “Public art” combining the two terms, comes doubly burdened as a figure of universal accessibility”. Even without reflecting on art, the public in public space opens many questions. As do connotations of the term museum.

On one hand, this ambivalence arrives from the crisis of museums, in their classical structure, and on the other, the musealization of cities as a whole (Venice, as a typical example). As museums are adapting their program and accessibility, so are cities becoming more visiting sites, mapping their attractions for visitors to easily navigate through. Using Rotterdam as a testing ground for a situationist experiment is particularly interesting for its non historical tendencies (it doesn’t attract visitors out of historical attractions as classical museum cities). Since the bombing of the city centre, the city has become an architectural constantly (re)building future oriented playground.

Because of this reason, buildings are the subject observed as a group of sculptures, and specifically buildings that underline their own temporary nature. The group of buildings in Oranjeboomstraat used for this project have, as many others to be torn down in Rotterdam, doors and windows covered in metal plates, and red and yellow sprayed x-es, as a sign of their non inhabitability. By not fulfilling their purpose anymore, these buildings stop being homes-houses, and become objects in space, although objects inside a very defined context. Practically they become sculptures. Dramatic and visually appealing, this strategy of closing down buildings is in itself a large-scale urban intervention.

If the buildings are observed as sculptures what are their sculptural characteristics? The visual and conceptual analysis of the sculptures is given in the audio guide, through a mash-up of different sources interpreting different subjects, giving viewpoints of artists as authors, art theory, various standpoints on public space in Rotterdam, and factual information on the buildings from the cadastre of Rotterdam. The hijacked content accounts to the arbitrary nature of giving (artistic) value, in the first place.

The South Collection audio guide stems from a museum guide tradition, offering the visitor a museum like experience on location of the sculptures, by playing the audio files while walking along the crossed out numbers of houses in Oranjeboomstraat, one can actually get an authentic impression of how these buildings could be observed as artworks. From Richard Serra to Gordon Matta-Clark, from relational aesthetics to cadastre information, the visitor can look at the reference list to make sense of the literally multivocal sources. Even when listening to the same voice, there could be different sources combined in one, for this purpose, as in the case of Richard Serra, actually talking in different occasions about different sculptures. A User’s Guide to Détournement says: “Restricting oneself to a personal arrangement of words is mere convention. The mutual interference of two worlds of feeling, or the juxtaposition of two independent expressions, supersedes the original elements and produces a synthetic organization of greater efficacy. Anything can be used.” For the purpose of the museum experience, audio tours were organized in a few ocasions, starting from Oranjeboomstraat 135 until number 85 and continuing across the parking to Rosestraat, where the tour ends.

By reenacting the process of giving value to an object, using prototypical tools to create a scenario, the structure of the project tries to demystify through mystifying, to underline elements creating an image by creating it.

The South Collection postcards exist as regular exhibition accompanying material, filling the backside with information for the viewer on where to find the artworks and how to get there. The postcards were spread out around the city, in gallery spaces, information spots and fast food shelves around Rotterdam, pointing the viewer to the exhibition, whereas if he were to reach the location, he would arrive to the building block in Oranjeboomstraat without any further information. Possibly, with the only information given, a visitor would be convinced of the artwork on location.

The South Collection cups function as souvenirs, extracting a visual element of the sculptures, the red x, as the main marker of the artwork, mimicking the same principle applied to art related products. An addition to the museum setup is an announcement pointing to lists of text left for people to take with them and interpret if they want, by recording their voice and sending the files to an e-mail address, to be incorporated in the audio guide in the future, showing the open, participative structure of the South Collection .




 James Young The monument and the counter monument Susan Buck-Morrs, The Dialectics of seeing: Walter Benjamin and the arcades project, 1989, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts (London, England) Guy Debbord, Gil J. Wolman, A User’s Guide to Détournement, 1956. Rosalyn Deutsche, art and public space: Questions of Democracy, Social text, (1992), Duke University Press Moma audio collections: Richard Serra, Shahzia Sikander De Player audio material from a professional meeting on public space in Rotterdam’