[Photo credit: Danny Lyon]
Rosalyn Duetsche's introduction to the essays, Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, begins to explain that the writings remain fixed within the times they were produced. The essays explore the connections between contemporary art, space and political struggles as described within the combination of cities, parks, institutions, exhibitions, artworks, disciplines and identities and how these mingle with the ongoing cultural and historical debates of such ideas and movements.
She is concerned with these struggles within a public context as looking, producing and maintaining of spaces. The "spatial discourse" of looking at and combining these ideas continue to examine art, architecture and urban design, while mixed with theories of the city, social space and public space as an interdisciplinary field called the "urban aesthetic". The introduction begins to ask what kind of political relationships form when asking the questions about what kind of issues are at stake in the discourse about art and space? What kind of aesthetic debates examine ideas like "openness" and "accessibility" during the oppressive programs of urban reconstructing within the 1980s to redefine an idea of public space. Deutsche argues that within the removal of structures and peoples deemed undesirable within cities, that the attempts to erase these exclusions are apparent. During this same time period, with a rise of rhetoric about public spaces and urban planning under the cloak of urban development is an increase in public art commissions. What is the relationship between these urban happenings and aesthetics?
[Lilly McElroy, stills from video The Square]
Examining the social functions of art in contemporary urbanism, Deutsche looks at the model that utilizes art and architecture to frame urban redevelopment projects, as the social functions are what neutralize the political character of art and the city. She seems to be observing that the art is masking the redevelopment projects, as a use of distraction and takes away from both the public space and the art work. The art work[s] are looked at through a prism of being dependent on one another. It becomes familiar with suburban developments which are sometimes named after the land or place which it has replaced. As Deutsche comments that space is a rather politically charged idea of place, the public is questioned to their responsibility of the urban sphere including having artwork for the people in public spaces, although these art works appear to pacify the act of the urban redevelopment.
Both Rosalyn Deutsche and Martha Rosler [in her essay Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism] look at the mechanisms for redevelopment as destroyers to the very conditions of survival, basics like housing and services for the residents no longer deemed "needed" by the city's economic health as there is a constant push to remove poor housing projects and service which help such populations. With the removal of these peoples' homes and places, it seems to create conflicts and problems with public space and how such space is supposed to be represented and available within the city.
Throughout both these essays, public art in public spaces purposes are investigated as needing to be "socially responsible" "site specific" and "functional". Does the art need to aid in the "beauty" and "utility" of the newly redeveloped urban sites on appropriation of spaces? Their writings ask if public art in public spaces needs to be in partnership with the redevelopment of areas to further ingrain the ideas of the good the redevelopment is doing, or is it an artist's responsibility to covertly or overtly draw attention to the conditions caused by such a new space? But what does the term "public" mean now? Is this state control and maintenance over these public places, tax dollars from the public that pays for the space? What would that mean for people who don't pay taxes? For tourists, or children? Or, could there be an understanding that a space can be public by belonging to everyone?
[Richard Serra, Tilted Arc]
To look at defining public space as a public sphere, an arena in which citizens engage in political activity by redefining art as work that enters or creates such a space, Richard Serra's Tilted Arc, seems to achieve this. By equating public space with political space [which politics?] this installation can be examined by remembering how you can't recover something that you never had and that social space is produced and structured by conflicts. When people in the surrounding buildings of the plaza to where Tilted Arc lived became annoyed with having to walk around the structure and it broke up their path, Serra commented that this was the point, "The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer's movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes."
When Tilted Arc was torn down, the decision raised many questions about public art which are pertinent still today. What is the role of government or state funding? What are an artist's rights to their work? What is the role of the public in determining the value of a work of art and should public art be judged by its popularity? The arguments look to the conflicts over the ownership of public space, vivid and immediate, something which Deutsche's essay reflects.
Within Martha Rosler's essay Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism, she further looks at space as an investigation of cities throughout their transformations from centering around government to moving towards the marketplace, as a merchant-like center. The terrain of a space is a real world currency and allowed to be negotiated. Rosler states that photography has only helped the rise in tracing earthly space and the closing of land as a document.
When examining what the role of the creative class is to reshaping economies, Rosler traces clues to the Situationist postwar movement as their argument is that art cannot be separated from politics within a larger milieu. To investigate the "spectacle" which is "not a collection of images, rather a social relationship between people that is mediated by images". In balance with the 19th century advent of the flaneur, the situationist practiced an engagement with city life called "derive" as this was the exploration of urban neighborhoods and being seen, in contrast to directing the experience of looking more to ones self. When looking at these city movements, Rosler sites Lefebvre's arguments against Le Corbusier's views of the street as a place of danger and living disorder to align more with Jane Jacob's take on street life as really the only thing that reduces crime; the street acts as a self and neighborly-policing institution.
As industrialization increased the flow of peoples to the city and still continues to do so as more people live in cities than do in the country, postwar appetites were ravenous to rebuild the destroyed small and narrow spaces with larger structures, create open places, better roads and public transport. Larger buildings became obvious and symbolic pictures of state and corporate administration and financial power. As cities were clearing out the poor and dilapidated neighborhoods with aims to enliven the city with culture, the developers and planners neglected the peoples and culture it was replacing as the focus was only for the benefit of the middle and upper classes.
[Photo credit: Babette Mangotte]
With the deindustrialization of American cities, Douglas Crimp writes about this experience within New York City in his essay, Mixed Use Manhattan, Action around the Edges as looking at artistic culture of this city during the late 1960s and into the 1970s. He writes extensively on artists' resourceful uses of forsaken spaces with Manhattan's light industry areas and the issues that came along with their recontextualization of spaces. Although artists were able to claim benefits from the neglect of New York City during this time, many others found crisis as jobs, homes and services were eliminated for the poor who were being replaced, especially in areas like SoHo and the Meatpacking district. An artist like Gordon Matta-Clark looked at the city as neglected, but usable, dilapidated and beautiful, a general loss to be turned into possibility. The availability of empty and abandoned structures was a constant tangible reminder of the renewal for modernization and growth anticipation of cities.
[Photo credit: Alvin Baltrop]
Although commentary of Gordon Matta-Clark's piece Days End was seen as dangerous, like a sort of abyss meets Gothic cathedral's rose window, Matta-Clark saw it as a peaceful place, away from the rugged nature of the piers in New York City and their environs of culture. He wanted it to be a form of escapism within a place already fused with escapism, a place of refuge.
[Photo credit: John Baldessari]
A contemporary showcase of looking at people coming back to cities to reclaim what the poor could not handle is homesteading. A simple way to describe this movement is individuals purchase distressed homes to rework them and live within. A more "gentle" way of colonizing neighborhoods and driving out the poor. Rosler comments that this movement is equated with the Wild West, the same principles applied to the "urban pioneer". When looking at the majority of those people who are moving in, they appear to be mostly artists, part of the creative class. Prime examples of this movement are seen in Buffalo, New York here and here, as well as in Detroit, Michigan. Rosler quotes Sharon Zukin "...artists and the entire visual art sector...especially commercial galleries, artist-run spaces and museums are a main engine for the repurposing of the post-industrial city and the renegotiation of real estate for the benefit of elites within urban change...". Within these three separate essays, it appears difficult to compartmentalize the city, art and public space. The imagery posted this week looks to how these artists and movements examine the city as a series of situations when viewed in pieces, but as a whole with the background of their/our collective visual memory which is brought together to form a vision of composites.
[Photo credit: Thomas Struth]
[Photo credit: Gabriel Orozco]