December 18th, 2008
ixia is looking for your responses to the New Writing on our website! If there is something which you would like to say, please email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org and title your email ‘New Writing feedback’. We will add your comments to this page and we hope that this will generate discussion and give you the opportunity to share your thoughts on public art with others. If you would prefer us not to put your comments online, or would like us to pass your comments on to the author but not to add them to the online discussion, then please indicate this on your e-mail.
June 9th, 2008
Nela Milic’s response (09/06/08):
After reading all the essays submitted as part of critical writing, I was both disappointed and happy. It looks like we have not moved much since the time Loraine Leeson started her career in the arts with communities. It might have become even harder to work with the structures developed since the times of her beginning, but it is so encouraging that even nowadays we see the nurtured rebellious spirit embodied in Freee. The artists seem a timely (Habermas is leading on intellectual discussions re public space), articulate and brave bunch furthering the experimentation, even though it looks a bit too pamphlety. I also enjoyed reading David Pattern’s piece, reminding us of the origin of the words (titles) we so frequently use as it is the current language in the sector and can not be avoided, however inappropriate it is.
So, thanks – keep it coming.
April 24th, 2008
Carla Della Beffa’s response:
I’ve read with extreme interest the essays of David Patten and Loraine Leeson, but the one that gave me more was the Freee text. It allowed me to see my own work as a whole, and up to now I tended to look at the final product, overlooking the process.
I don’t know whether the project I’m working on could be considered “public art”. In fact, I launched a research about a text by Rabelais and his hero Gargantua, obtained the support (never the financial one!) from the teachers of a French school, and have been working with a group of twenty-eight 12-year old students to realise a video. All around it, and before being able to film it, I suggested a series of conferences, lectures, visits to museums, and everybody was happy to help (I’m still bewildered). The language of Rabelais and the things he writes need a lot of knowledge to be understood and compared to today’s situation, in food and science and also in the language’s evolution. So I decided to document all this preliminary work, and at the end, I’ll have produced a documentary and a video. I’m a video artist, after all. But if before reading Freee I used to think of the video as the final artistic product, now I see that the whole experience is an artistic one. Is it also public art? Does it matter? I don’t especially care for definitions, but apparently they matter.
April 7th, 2008
A short response from David Patten to Nathaniel Pitt’s comments:
In describing the slippery roles we increasingly assume, Nathaniel raises the issue of ‘intentions’. He says, “We are making artists of curators, and networking collaborative roaming curators out of relational artists…do we know our true intentions?”
As a side issue, it might be interesting to understand how roles have become so slippery – and whether this is to do simply with current academic interests and imperatives, or whether it is part of the same process that has turned town planners into urban designers, and 4:4:2 into a Christmas tree. More interesting, though, is this issue of intention and its near neighbour, impact.
In a situation, say a built environment development, where the general intention is to ‘have’ art, then obviously the shopping strategy comes into play – and the impact of the artist is only indirect and superficial.
If, though, the situation intends to ‘be’ art, then the artist becomes a prerequisite, and, like the Poet Keats, the process becomes “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts, without any irritable reaching after facts and reason” (1).
The question, then, is whether we are doing anything in the built environment that can ‘be’ art, or whether our ways of going on (our percent for art mechanisms, our commissioning processes, our evaluation strategies, etc.) are like the certainties of the shopping list.
(1) John Keats, letter to his brother George dated December 1817 – but also see this in the context of Adorno’s ‘Aesthetic Theory’ (1970).
April 6th, 2008
Louise Bristow’s response:
In response to the articles by David Patten, Loraine Leeson and Freee, I particularly agree with Loraine Leeson’s point (“What can we adapt from the earlier experience for the current climate”) about selecting artists for commissions based on previous work rather than a proposal, so that the research, development and consultation phase is funded and recognised as an intrinisic part of the (paid and commissioned) work. (I think this is equally relevant to many artists’ residencies and other commissions not for the public sphere, which often require artists to put forward a proposal as a means of selection – this can be so inappropriate to the way particular artists work and seems to be the default method of selection). It can lead to a way of thinking that sees artist’s involvement as something that can be bought ‘off-the-peg’, which David Patten hints at in his article. Also, I think Anna Schrober makes a very good comment about the hierarchising of contributors in art works.
April 4th, 2008
Michaela Crimmin’s response:
Arts & Ecology is the new ‘art in the public domain’! Art addressing the massive issues of our time in a way that can be participatory, engaged, visionary, practical. We are at a pivotal moment in our history and there’s so much artists can bring with respective to different perspectives to complement those of scientists, the media, politicians and others.
April 1st, 2008
Anna Schober’s response:
It refers mainly to the article-conversation by Mel Jordan, Andy Hewitt and David Beech; I agree fully that it is today easy for artists who engage in creating a public sphere in a quite conscious way to move between different areas: squares, streets, homes and galleries and that there is no need to exclude one of these spaces, the gallery, a priori; but that is a very old and worn out discussion! Just do it! But my point is another one: when you use all these different spaces in order to attract attention and to trigger processes then you create, as an artist, also a work; that is different from what political activists or PR-managers of certain goods do; the political activists for example are engaged in a fluid, elusive process and the PR-managers want to increase the attention for certain things and to lead consumers to buy; but artists trey in the end to subject everything (discussion, involvement, attention, not only material things) into “a work”; such a work can also circulate as public speech, it is still “a work”, and as such it is printed in catalogues, written about in journals, etc. There is nothing wrong with that: an action can be a public action questioning the status quo AND an art-work in the same time; the problem starts only when some works are made to be identified as a “work”, for example by Jordan, Hewitt and Beech; and other contributions are staged as being part of an almost nameless “crowd”, what happens when you call people who respond to the articles only by their first names: “Wendy”, “Glenn”, “Stuart” in this way you establish a hierarchy between those, who participate and are able to build a work and those who participate as mere “public” for that works but cannot create a work by themselves too, cannot change the side – that’s why I would like to have my full name written beside this comment!
March 25th, 2008
I would like to comment on David Patten’s A New Year Provocation for 2008:
Lunatic or not?
I recently attended a very good symposium organised by Celine Condorelli (support structure) and Andreas Lang (public works) ‘Institution and Initiative’. A lot of the issues raised here were also present at the symposium. The audience and speakers were made up of mainly artists and architects and although a common language emerged amongst the group, I still felt there was a distinct difference in psyche or attitude? The architects were very utilitarian in their approach to public projects; they were concerned with quantifiable outcome and sort of ‘quest for good.’ Even so a sort of American pro-bono fifty hours exercise (is to probably to harsh) kept popping into my head. The artists on the other hand were much more unashamedly selfish. They took their particular form of art into the public realm, into the institution with an ad-hoc, suck it and see sort of attitude. This approach is one that I believe many artists have in the present, especially when the work of many artists is still relational in approach and outcome. And I do wander if the lunatic (relative to popular public opinion) is the common position of artist.
This position will lead to separateness in a projects development, but in some ways this is the strength of the artist. The aloof space an artist occupies is also a very furtive space where they can be reactionary and creative.
A double-edged sword.
Artists as curators, curators as artists.
We are increasingly seeing new types of exhibits in our galleries and museums. Curators are boxing up social interest items in slick Perspex boxes and art is placed in foyers, atriums and corridors, the lines of art object, artifact, museum piece and a new type of social interest readymade are blurred. We are making artists of curators, and networking collaborative roaming curators out of relational artists. Can we, as artists as curators, even come clean if we wanted to? Do we know our true intentions? If we are after the artist fee, after the exposure of a public work, using one-another’s skills and attributes to further careers or forge new ones, does this make us guilty of ‘theft and shenanigans.’?
I love David’s use of the wikipedia entry on the personal shopper. And I agree that, because agencies are a business, that this is a strange conflict of interests given that a public art project shouldn’t be privatised.
On Getting there first
I think that the relational nature of art today, the de-skilling, de-commodification of art, has led to everyone wanting to be a curator, convener or even agency, and many of these roles are being consumed by artists anyway. So I think David is right – we all need to put our cards on the table, those in the position of releasing funds and commissioning artists should clarify why they want an agency, why they want an artist, why they want a curator, and not be ashamed or made to feel ashamed of their motives. Even better, as David rightly suggests, they should: “learn how to hold the door open and not stand in the way.”
March 18th, 2008
This is about how we should commission artists for public art projects. It is a plea for public involvement in the process and I hope it will provide a confidence booster to those who don’t feel they have the ability to make judgements.
Who should run the project?
Public art projects need a champion. The person who leads should be appointed by, and preferably part of, the funder’s or initiator’s workforce. They should have an affinity with the art world. If an organisation does not already employ such a figure then there are a whole series of courses that can give a suitable person confidence. Art is not a secret society. It is perfectly possible for an interested layman to hone their judgement enough to fulfil this role. Though I do feel that there is an imperative for the project leader to be a consistent and committed part of the team, rather than an outsider.
The project manager
The project manager may also be part of this workforce and should preferably be involved in managing the whole project as well as the art bit. The project manager must understand the physical, planning and legal implications of putting artists’ work into the public domain. However that person need not be an arts specialist. They can often be members of the planning department, the developer’s project manager or a professional like an architect, engineer or landscape architect.
The artistic advisor
Even if the team leader or project manager has a good artistic sensibility I always recommend that the team engage an advisor from the local art world, though it is important that this person has a knowledge and understanding of the wider art world and is not too rooted in local artistic politics. In projects I have led that individual has been an advisor from the Arts Council, a teacher from a local art school or a curator from a local art gallery. That advisor could also be a commissioned curator from the consultancy world, but in my view they should not be left alone to manage the project. Why? Because the project needs ownership from the funder and from the community. It may be possible to convince the advisor that they can fulfil this role as part of their existing job description. A professional curator will require remuneration.
The final and most import part of the commissioning team will be the community. In most projects there is already some sort of community regeneration board or community group who can form the sounding board. I also often encourage the group to set up a small sub-group. This group should consist of people who are trusted by the whole community but who also feel they might have an interest in public art. At some stage the sub-group, supported by the rest of the team, will have to go back to the wider community to justify their decisions.
Before advertising can begin the shortlisting team, consisting of the leader, project manager, the artistic advisor and the community representatives can take advantage by learning a little more about public art. The advisor or the leader or a mixture of both can take the lead here offering to give a slide show or to host a tour of public art projects. The aim should be to explain the breadth of different types of public art rather than to push one particular strand of work. I often invite as many of the wider community group as possible to this as it helps in later stages. The discussion during and after the slide show is often very stimulating. By this stage the uninitiated are beginning to understand and beginning to realise that their views are as valid as anyone else’s.
Though people fear it I recommend an open selection process which involves advertising the commission and short-listing. This may be essential if the project is a large one. If there is a considerable budget I also favour commissioning more than one artist. You can use the opportunity to select a diverse mix of artists, local and national, young and old, established and fresh, etc. This allows the team to more easily display that they have adhered to relevant equal opportunities and diversity agendas. It also gives a diverse selection committee a change to exercise their diverse tastes.
By selecting a shortlist we can select a range of artists and allow different sectors of the group to include their favourites. It does not matter that different people on the panel may have widely differing views. In my experience by treating everyone on the panel as equal and by respecting the judgement of everyone we will get a better shortlist.
By inviting the artists to interview we allow them to speak for their own work. Though allowance has to be made in a varied list between the established artists, who one would expect to present their work in a more polished fashion, and younger or local artists who may not have the same experience or confidence.
I have never found that the group argues at this stage. It always seems to pan out that everyone is relatively satisfied and confident about the selection. I would like to think it is because in the end, whether educated in art or not, we are all able to make a judgement about the integrity, the quality of execution and the meaning of a piece of art work. For example on a recent selection committee I led the community group felt strongly that they wished to select artists who did not actually propose a piece of work. Instead they took the brave decision to select the artists who seemed genuinely to wish to engage with the community before deciding on the work. Selecting the artist and not the work is very sophisticated thing to do in my view.
I have found that the community often gains great confidence by discovering that they can make sound judgements about such things as modern art. In regeneration projects the community will be called upon to decide about a whole series of complex and important issues. By cutting their teeth on decisions surrounding public art they can soon graduate to making informed and sound decisions about the long-term future of the community. An artist knowing that they have been selected by the community will have more confidence and will be able to call on the sport of the community at a later date.
For example I have known communities who protect the work from crime, who feed and house the artists and who will support them in the press. I have never run a public art project which has not received stacks of very good publicity even from the often critical local rag! I have also seen the community argue forcefully with the funder, in this case the Local Authority, for more money for the work, in a way I would find impossible.
We are often made to feel small and uniformed by the art-world advisors – the critics and the curators. However I believe that we all have the ability to distinguish good work and the more we exercise that skill the less we will be bamboozled by so-called experts. Long live the ability of everyone to exercise their God-given skills of judgement!
March 16th, 2008
(This response can also be found at: www.artsjournal.com/aestheticgrounds)
Once in my life, I gave the two ten minute talks back-to-back. The same ideas were written for different audiences: 1. architects and 2. buyers of architect’s services.
Like the other public arts – movies, architecture, landscape, graphic design and fashion – public art has extremely different conceptual structures for the visual or cultural critic and for the casual, yet serious observer or participant. And in the middle is the third point of view: the public buyer of public art.
Visual/Cultural Critic: Very little writing. Most serious writing focuses on temporary works that engage the social/cultural connect of the physical place or community. Almost no serious writing on permanent works except when prominent museum artists are commissioned. But this is also rare and many of the museum artists ignore the context in permanent works. The top professional public artists are more likely to receive critical assessment from the design critics (architecture, landscape, city planning) than art critics.
Casual, yet Serious Observer: A lot of published writing in local newspapers and online that focuses on the person of the artist, the method by which the artwork came into being and the opinions of citizens and visitors regarding the artwork. Generally if the artist is known personally and the making of the art was participatory, the opinions will be positive. If the work was selected and installed, the story will be initiated by negative opinions. Ignoring the “government should not spend $$ on art or overpaying for art”, the negative opinion is “Not appropriate to this community” relating to the content or specific execution of that content. Another true and valuable concern of the casual observer: the very limited government dollars for art should be spent intelligently.
Public buyer of public art: The buyers started as an introduction of museum art to the general public (education function) and enhancing our public spaces with contemporary artwork (visual function) as had been typical of Roman culture and the neo-classical plaza and city design. In the 70s, buyers tried homemade work from the community as did the landscape architects. In the mid-80s, the buyers changed from a neo-classical role to a more universal role of decorating the architecture in collaboration with post-modernism. In the mid-90s, the buyers started purchasing from “professional public artists”. Today, enhancing the pedestrian experience dominates plus the buying civic icons of a grand scale for the tourist photograph.
As I look over the list above, I realize that I write from the position of the public buyer of public art. What are new products and new methods? Who has a fresh way of thinking about public art? What intellectual framework exists for public art evaluation? Joyful and angry observations. When my blog sparks a dialogue, it is always about the validity of the method or elements of the evaluation.
Who is writing for the casual but serious observer? Is everyone ignoring the client? Or is the “general” client an impossible task when the functional and fiscal excuses are removed? Does the best public art only appear where a sub-group of the general public is identified as the client and that is OK within the local political system?