Revise the title of the Municipal Technical Office!
- Why are you called the “Technical Office” actually? asked Claes Eriksson, head of the national Council for Architecture, Form and Design. Aren’t you more involved with questions of the formation and upkeep of the city?
The representative from Gävle’s Technical Office was asked what happens when they are about to make new changes in the city milieu. (This was with reference to a debate which had recently flared up in the local press.) Marie Edling, landscape architect from the Technical Office replied that they initiate various discussions, they place questionnaires on the Net and they produce exhibitions at Medborgarkontoret (Citizens’ Advice Bureau). Even so, it is difficult to reach the public. Claes Eriksson commented that communication is a central issue and he proposed that the Technical Office should employ a “communicator”.
The artist, Birgitta Silfverhielm praised the Technical Office for how they managed collaboration with her in conjunction with the installation of her sculpture, Iron Scale, at Hamntorget in Gävle.
- I was included at an early stage, and in my capacity as artist I had the possibility of influencing the site the whole time. Artists had collaborative roles during the entire project.
What is important in public space just now?
- It’s terribly important to preserve public space for EVERYONE, answered Mikael Adsenius, director of the National Arts Council, when he was asked what is the most crucial issue regarding public space. He cautioned that we are on our way towards a public environment that is only for certain sections of the citizenry.
- The question is how we can resist letting very strong commercial forces take over public space, for this is exactly what is happening today. Ninety percent of Sergels Torg in Stockholm, which is often seen as a model for Swedish public meeting places, is now owned by foreign companies.
The artist Gustavo Aguerro (FA+) reminded us of the unarticulated areas that exist in every city. For the last 20 years he and his artist partner Ingrid Falk have worked with the street as their working space and are, for instance, responsible for the Strindberg citation on Drottninggatan in Stockholm, one of the culture capital projects that remained after the end of Stockholm’s year as Capital of Culture in 1998.
- Imagine, for example, that bench where a few Iranians sit every day. Even if it’s not written down on any paper, that bench is OWNED by them. How are you going to integrate them?
On the search for sites’ cultural DNA
Lia Ghilardi, founder and director of Noema Research and Planning Ltd in London, talked about her method of mapping places from a cultural perspective. She began by deploring the tendency of decision-makers when renewing areas of a city, to stick to the same solutions.
- Why must it always end up with their deciding on a LARGE museum with just that style of architecture that decision-makers love? It becomes a second-life architecture for fantasy cities, which has very little to do with the existing city.
Lia Ghilardi noted that city building has become so institutionalised that very little space is given to different and creative solutions. She pointed to the renovation of Liverpool’s harbour area and the construction of the contemporary art museum, Tate Liverpool, as a negative example. In her view, Liverpool’s conservative political leadership’s attempts to recreate the district’s identity through a massive re-branding was not at all adapted to the needs of the residents.
- The original residents in the area left, were replaced by others, and the new layer of identity placed over the district had a lot to do with consumption.
Lia Ghilardi wants to expand the concept of culture and asked how many of us counted gay parades, pop concerts and fashion as culture. Her own method tries to identify the cultural DNA of a place. First she surveys the city’s resources. In order to avoid superficial assumptions, many different groups are asked what they think; the views of sub cultures can contribute to a new focus. Lia Ghilardi described the importance of approaching a city’s identities in a sensitive way and of identifying the city’s “software” and “hardware”. Mapping can take several months and should be followed up by a reference group during the ensuing years. The goal is to get people to take the initiative themselves to change things in their immediate environment.
In Sweden Lia Ghilardi has worked in Småland and Malmö. In southern Småland the result of her method was, among other things, “The Storm’s House”, after the storm Gudrun which had swept away large areas of the forest that people in Småland so deeply identified themselves with. The slogan that had previously decorated tourist brochures was “Småland – a wonderful place to live”.
- Yes, but for whom? challenged Lia Ghilardi, who was not content to be satisfied with that image. She said that Småland’s tourist brochure could in principle describe any pastoral environment in any part of the country. When the cultural mapping had been done, she and her colleagues had found a number of specific resources which were unique for Småland.
"Why does it always have to end up like this?" asked Lia Ghilardi.
In time to Skulptur Projekte Münster
Skulptur Projekte Münster is one of the world’s largest sculpture exhibitions and it takes place every 10 years, reflecting a rhythm which was not intended from the beginning but which became a tradition.
- The rhythm guarantees that art doesn’t simply land willy-nilly in city spaces. If we had the exhibition more often there would be a risk of it becoming too commercial, which would make it difficult for the artists, said Brigitte Franzén, one of the three curators responsible for the 2007 Skulptur Projekte Münster.
The exhibition was first put on in 1977 and it came from a climate where the emphasis was on contemporary art. The question of what art is and can be was an important one in Germany at the time. Skulptur Projekte Münster has since its beginning followed on the heels of another mega exhibition, Documenta in Kassels and its 5 year rhythm: the two exhibitions occur at the same time every 10th year.
Just now Brigitte Franzén is involved with choosing pieces that will remain permanently in Munster. After each exhibition a number of sculptures are donated and purchased for the city. However, when the city surrounding the work changes, something also happens to the content of the sculpture. Birgitte Franzén illustrates this with Thomas Schutte’s Kirchensäule, from the 1987 Skulptur Projekte. The piece was originally a comment on the removal of a beautiful cherry tree from one of the city’s more disruptive squares. Next to the cherry tree Thomas Schutte placed a monument with two almost identical cherries. He painted the cherries in the exact same red colour that was then so popular for cars, which were often parked there on the square. However, now the city has renovated the square and removed the parking places.
- So now the irony of the piece is lost, said Brigitte Franzén.
The English artist Jeremy Deller has woven the 10-year rhythm into his work. In the 2007 Skulptur Projekt Munster he doled out diaries to 54 allotment garden societies, who were to document their activities over the next decade. Jeremy Deller, who is interested in social groups and organisations, became fascinated by the German allotment garden societies. To visitors to the 2007 Documenta he gave seeds of a flower that needs 10 years to bloom.
Amongst Munster residents there was initially some opposition to the Skulptur Projekte and indeed there still are many opinions regarding the city’s sculpture collection. However, according to Brigitte Franzén the project really became part of the city and its inhabitants in 1997. Therefore, there were many expectations concerning the 2007 exhibition. When asked what the event costs, she answered that the 2007 Projekte cost around 6 million Euros – but that, she insists, must be weighed against all the tourists it attracted, who spent around 35 million Euros during the exhibition period.
Claes Eriksson, executive secretary for the Council for Architecture, Form and Design talked about a new federation which will reshuffle institutions dealing with art and architecture in Sweden. This federation will combine the National Arts Council, the National Museum, Swedish Form, SVID, the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, and Röhska Museum. Each institution will retain its particular identity but together they will prioritise areas such as urban development, common milieus, architecture and public purchasing. A report on this federation can be found at www.rafd.se
New Beauty Council:
The Stockholm city coat of arms, St. Erik, is transformed into St. Erika in New Beauty Council’s own logotype. New Beauty Council, which consists of Annika Enqvist, Anna Kharkina, Thérèse Kristiansson and Kristoffer Svenberg question prevailing norms concerning beauty and city planning. In Gävle they turned the Beauty Council’s criteria for good architecture inside out. Anna Kharinka said that she would change the expression, “architecture is frozen music” to “architecture is frozen values”.
Photograph: Ylva Åborg & Linnea Holmberg
New Beauty Council showed a film on a happening around the statue The Sisters at Mosebacke Square in Stockholm. The statue is inspired by two girls’ tragic suicide in Hammarby Lake at the beginning of the 20th century. Rumour had it that the girls were in love with the same man, but the stories about them and what was described as a “romantic girlish friendship” rather pointed to a forbidden love between them.
Catti Brandelius alias Red Cloud Carter together with "Kids from Heaven", students at Vasaskolan Jazz program. Photograph: Sandra Englund
Ingrid Falk and Gustavo Aguerre i in the art duo FA+ discussed the reactions to the work they created for Lars Norén’s play War in 2004. The work consisted of quotes from the play which were placed on road signs.
FA+, About war, Hallunda 1
The play toured around Sweden and everywhere the play was performed, the road signs were displayed outdoors. The theme was the exposed and vulnerable situation of women and children in the war in former Jugoslavia.
One of the people who reacted to the work was the former municipal architect in Gävle, Gunnar Lidfeldt, who in his opening speech for the exhibition at Konstcentrum with new work of FA+, asked what responsibility the artists took for their work. Now Ingrid Falk gave him an answer:
- Many people who have seen the signs during the tour have actually thanked us. This includes people who have been exposed to the sort of assaults our work talks about. They think to be silent is worse.
The artists Marie Lindgren and Katarina Jönsson-Norling told us that Andersberg should actually be called Agnesberg after Agnes Farm which was located there. But the woman’s name, Agnes, was considered too complicated to pronounce. This spring they started a project in the Gävle district of Andersberg where they are inventorying the area together with interested residents. The artists have initiated this project themselves – no one has commissioned it. They have hired space in Andersberg’s shopping centre where they’ve undertaken surveys, offered workshops and arranged readings.
- We want art to be a natural part of Andersberg.
Henry Moores Large Two Forms, Ed. 4+1, 1969
Photograph: The Henry Moore Foundation
- No one likes sculpture when it’s new, began Ingo Vetter, artist and professor at Umeå’s University College of Art, in his lecture on contemporary sculpture from 1960 to the present. But then we take it to our hearts in one way or another and begin to use it. It is just this devious utility that Ingo Vetter tried to narrow down through a number of examples. Is it possible to disconnect oneself from all the ways that sculpture is used and find alternative approaches to artistic formulations in public space? Ingo Vetter pointed to how modern sculpture is often used for political purposes.
- Henry Moore’s sculptures are a pleasant evening cigar for any politician: international in style and universal in language – they’re perfect.
Henry Moore’s sculpture outside the parliament building in Bonn was frequently used as a setting for TV statements by the political elite in Germany during the 70s and 80s. The sculptures two-piece form symbolised a divided Germany and its soft contours formed a perfect background for TV reporting. It went so far that as a child, every time Ingo Vetter saw someone on TV in front of the Henry Moore sculpture’s round forms he knew that it was about politicians in Bonn. However, this is only one way of “using” sculpture; in his lecture Ingo Vetter gave several other examples.
He stated that modernist sculptors were the first to begin to use urban space as a background, much like a canvas, for their sculptures. They viewed public space as a stage and a place for art. The idea of the square, the “agora” is intimately connected with the concept of democracy. It was in the Greek square that the first referendum took place, even if it only included free men. Public space is still associated with democracy and many consider that the art conceived there should have democratic ambitions.
Noticing how different minorities move and use it has altered the idea of a commonly shared public space. Ingo Vetter himself prefers the term “public domains”.
At the end of his talk, Ingo Vetter posed a question to the audience:
- How are we to relate to our physical sculptures today? Now when everything is about “branding” and “city marketing”. How shall we as artists work with sculpture? Shall we once again demand special autonomy?
He himself firmly insisted that
- We will not adapt to any demand that sculpture be good for a capital of culture or go well with the building behind it. No, we will not negotiate that utility.
Text: Ulrika Sten