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Intervene/Shift/Compel: article two

Seminar synopsis

The contribution that artists make to the way that towns and cities are experienced is considerable and forever expanding. Ranging from stand-alone artworks to ephemeral or socially engaged projects involving large numbers of people, these projects create opportunities for members of the public to look at their lives afresh; to consider their position in the world; and to imagine other ways of thinking and doing.

Involving artists in the development of new neighbourhoods offers its own particular set of circumstances and challenges: Who is the audience? What is the role of the artist in this new, unchartered territory? For ‘Intervene/Shift/Compel’ we brought together five artists and curators to consider these questions, moving from a set of detailed, practical issues to a broader discussion about the role of the artist in 21st century life.

The most pressing question, raised by all five speakers, was the decision-making process involved in urban development programmes. Who gets to make important decisions and why? Whose voices are heard and whose are excluded? How much of this is to do with an inbalance of power?

Artists were considered to play valuable roles as agitators, facilitators and outsiders, particularly when developing socially engaged projects with residents for housing developments. Their ability to step outside of a given situation and present alternative approaches, realities and possibilities was understood to be particularly helpful. Two of the artists presented projects in which their role was primarily to create a route of communication between residents and other parties (planners, developers, local authorities, agencies), while another positioned their work as a sculptural response to the context which facilitated a critical dialogue with the audience.

The knowledge of the lived experience by residents was deemed to be of huge importance. Planners and developers are generally lacking in this type of experience; it should be embraced and cherished within an urban development context.

When discussing the Råängen programme, members of the audience and a few of the speakers questioned whether the Church’s values were compatible with contemporary planning procedures and developers’ system of economic gain.

Existing systems of development, management, advertising and design prioritise the white, male voice. Audience members and speakers questioned how the Church is planning to bring a broader selection of voices into the conversation, including women, people of colour, children and unwaged citizens.

The subject of documentation and the archive was raised by the chair. How can we develop an archive for these types of projects? Unlike the gallery world, with its established system of catalogues, reviews, online archives and institutional memory, art commissioning programmes often involve limited, ad hoc archives and critical debate platforms. Råängen is a learning tool for others – it’s important we create a publicly accessible repository for the project. Our partnership with the Skissernas Museum will help in this endeavour, along with the public programme, text commissions and comprehensive website.

And We Are Everywhere
Nathan Coley

Nathan Coley, ‘And We Are Everywhere’, 2018. Photo: Peter Westrup.

I’m thinking of this event as an opportunity learn about ‘And We Are Everywhere’, the sculpture I’ve made for Råängen. Eight months after it was installed in June 2018, it’s a good moment to revisit it and reflect on what the work has achieved.

When I first met with representatives from the Cathedral (Lena Sjöstrand and Mats Persson) to discuss the commission, we talked about the values of the church and how they could be expressed in their programme of commissions and ultimately their new neighbourhood. I thought that was fascinating.

I drew up a long list of potential approaches which included:
Build another cathedral
Think of gods
Create a falsehood
Ignore the context
Avoid public sculpture
Propose something that should never be made

Out of this process, I arrived at a number of key words to work with:
Value systems

My proposal is a sculpture that is a replica of a temporary makeshift church found in the refugee camp near Calais, before it was cleared. The work has an unofficial language which is transient by nature yet is made with care and purpose. It begs a number of questions: Who has made this? Why is it here? Does it have permission to be here? It is a church?

‘And We Are Everywhere’ relates to biblical tales about displacement, seeking salvation and shelter. It is humble, close the earth, made of found materials. It is a reminder that faith exists in urgent and desperate situations and that certain symbols take us beyond our everyday reality.

Looking at it now, I’m wondering what the reception would have been if I had proposed a replica of a mosque. Would it have remained on site for the duration? Would it just be too contentious?

Public Enquiries
Kerstin Bergendal

Kerstin Bergendal, ‘Park Lek’ community meeting, 2014.

I am a visual artist whose material consists of the combined use of time and modes of enquiry. My studio is basically my bag-pack. My practice is a transitory movement across glitches, divides and demarcation lines of different professions, authorities and search fields.

In the urban development projects I work on, I’m interested in creating a dialogue with local people, architects, municipalities and developers to create platforms for utopian thinking and democratic participation.

It’s hard to create an audience or connection when there are no residents yet. This was the case with a project I worked in Roskilde and, as I understand it, is the situation with Råängen too. With that project (called ‘Trekroner Art Plan’), I intervened in the planning system and attempted to write the ‘saga of a city that was not yet there’. Through workshops, seminars, exhibitions and temporary artworks I created opportunities for new residents to make contact with each other and improve the proposed plan of the area. They became part of a design team that created a neighbourhood ‘hub’, for music, BMX activities, walking and parties. This space later became a green and wild space.

My project ‘Park Lek’ in Sundbyberg (Sweden), was more like a journey than a planned project. I was involved in the project over four years. I set up a programme of events which gave local people and municipality staff a chance to communicate with each other. Local people have knowledge of the lived experience of a place, unlike planners, architects and developers. This cannot be underestimated. Priorities for the groups I met with were free public spaces and increased green spaces. The outcome was a radical rethinking of the masterplan by the planners; local people’s views were taken into consideration and more green spaces were created.

Regarding Råängen, I have a number of questions: How will the Church’s Christian values create a driver for a way of exploring the urban imaginary? How will this translate into reality? Who will make crucial choices about zoning, land purchase, scale and types of development? What will be the driver for these choices – economic gain and efficiency? Are the contemporary planning procedures compatible with the church’s values and Råängen’s utopian processes? How will Christian beliefs align with xenophobia in Skåne? And finally, to what extent are we (artists) contributing to any increase in land value in Brunnshög, becoming complicit in a profit-making endeavour?

What are we afraid of?
Emma Ribbing

Emma Ribbing & Heather Barnett, ‘Spatial Negotiations’, 2018.

I’m a choreographer and artist based in Malmö. I carry out projects and research into collective decision-making processes and behaviour in the public realm. I’m interested in movement as a language with a non-narrative story.

I’ve developed a project with UK-based artist Heather Barnett called ‘Slime Mould/Spatial Negotiations’ which looks at the city beyond the human. Taking ‘slime mould’ as a self-organising entity, we ask: are there ways that we could create decision-making-mechanisms for non-human entities?

I’m currently working on a project with children and city architects in Malmö which considers the ways we can create an egalitarian system for our physical bodies to relate to each other in the public realm. We’re particularly interested in the role that children play in this. Through workshops, conversations, drawing and movement, we consider the ways that children can channel their desires into the planning system. We’re developing a mapping system, locating where the children’s favourite places are on their way to school, why they feel safe or excited to be in certain areas, where they feel most connected to the elements, or most free.

What are we afraid of? It’s important to be reminded of our physical relation to public space. It seems that this is often forgotten by developers, planners and architects when designing neighbourhoods.

Intimacy, diversity and power structures in the public realm
Eleanor Pinfield

Advertising and proposed artwork on the London Underground, a selection of images from Eleanor Pinfield’s presentation for ‘Intervene/Shift/Compel’.

As Director of Art on the Underground in a city of eight million people (London) I’m interested in finding ways of reflecting and engaging with social reality from a wide range of inclusive perspectives. In 2018 we devised a year-long programme of temporary commissions by female artists to mark the centenary of votes for women in the UK over the age of thirty. This went some way towards highlighting the huge under-representation of women in public art in the city.

The spaces of our cities are not neutral. There are many hidden levels of systems of control. I’m interested in challenging these invisible, dominant power structures. Through working with artists such as Heather Phillipson and Linder, we have developed a public conversation around racism, erasure, institutional indifference and censorship by inaction.

Diversity is an issue for the Church in developing Råängen. How can it ensure it creates opportunities for under-represented groups and voices? How can it bring a level of intimacy into the public realm that is dismissed by existing frameworks?

At the moment, Råängen (raw meadow) is the opposite of the very urban Art on the Underground programme, but the same issues apply: the need to ask questions, stimulate debate, not maintain the status quo.

I’m a believer
Apolonija Šušteršič

Apolonija Šušteršič, ‘Neighbours & Citizens’ public walk, 2016

I’m interested in democratic participation and the intersection between cultural politics, urban planning, art and architecture. At the outset of any project, I ask what kind of thing we want to instigate and consider context, process, participation and questioning. I work with local people – they can tell me ‘where I am’.

My ‘Neighbours and Citizens’ project in Gävle, Sweden (2016) involved residents in a discussion about the role of the ‘neighbour’, future development of the town and the importance of meeting places in which communities can come together.

At the outset, residents had a well-developed confrontational attitude to contemporary art! There was deep suspicion in what I was doing there but also a big interest in sport – a new stadium was being built nearby – so I chose to bring this into my project.

I proposed meeting places for neighbours to congregate which included an apple orchard to be cared for by the children at the three schools in the area; a huge sand pit that could be transformed into a temporary beach volley ball location in the summer months.