Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The "Spectacles" of Public Art.

Last week a public sculpture titled “Perceiving Freedom” was revealed on 6th November in Cape Town, when South Africa celebrated 20 years of democracy; it is meant as a tribute to Nelson Mandela. I learned about this project on Facebook where disgruntled commenters called it out for its shameless use of Mandela’s name and for being a billboard for the brand Ray Ban. It got me thinking about our project we did, and also the "butplug" incident of Paul McCarthy and public art in general.  

Two years ago two friends and I created a work in Milan, a pair of 3 meter long “Ray Ban” style sunglasses made out of cardboard titled “Monument” that we left in a public space to be torn apart by passersby. Our work was born out of a workshop during our studies where we were challenged to come up with a proposal for a public work that took in consideration the collective memory and history of the area where we were based. This was hard for us, as we were three foreigners who have only been living in Milan for a few months. Instead, we chose something; a symbol which we thought encapsulated the Milan of the moment, pink Wayfarer shape sunglasses. Sunglasses for us was the smokescreen of Milan and all its insecurities, all the fashionable people hiding behind their sunglasses and the precarious lives of immigrants selling the fakes on the street (there were a lot pink ones). For us the idea of a monument could never be permanent and our work wasn’t clean and sleek, it was messy, vulnerable and held together with sticky tape and kept up with stilts made out of wooden broomsticks. There were many flaws in our work, we were terribly disorganised. We did not involve the public very much in the initiation of the work, but we included them by allowing them to strip it apart and break down a "Monument". Our sunglasses had a  completely messy appearance which saved from looking like an ad campaign for sunglasses. Now in the light of the new sculpture revealed, I am reflecting on this work again and also the meaning of making in art in public spaces.

I ask myself these questions:
Does the work leave space for interrogation of its context?  Does it acknowledge the vulnerability of public space? Does it consider its public? Does it ask its public to participate and to reflect or does it only offer fashion and consumption, holiday photographs and selfies? 

I found this beautiful reflection by Rebecca Hodes on the new sculpture, I also remembered a text I read years ago by W.J.T Mitchell on the violence of public art.

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