Pontus Kyander

December 14, 2005

In the beginning…

Filed under: public art — Pontus Kyander @ 11:15 am

This is the first post at Pontus Kyander.

Superconductor

Gaia Alessi & Richard Bradbury, Superconductor. Made by scaffolding and barrier fencing mesh. 2005, Trafalgar Square, London.

This is a work by Gaia Alessi and Richard Bradbury, my  friends in Hackney (Richard helped me set this page up, thanks a lot!).

The picture is not my choice, but then the better. It touches on some issues I am particularily interested in. Art for instance, and its role in the public. It is a public work, however temporary, and placed in one of the most famous squares in the world, Trafalgar Square. There is a lot of “public art” around, Lord Nelson on his column would be the most famous, typical for its time in references to history and national glory, even if the scale of it goes beyond most other sculptures and their additional plinths.

While the monument for Nelson has its references to a past history and a glorified personality, “Superconductor” (2005) is literally on street level, in the middle of the realities of passers-by, and calling for their interaction.

It is of less interest whether you percieve it as a work of art when you pass it. It is real. You can walk into it, and look at the people and traffic passing outside. It is a transparent maze, an object and an obstacle that calls for your attention when placed on a square like this.  It changes temporarily how the square is percieved and how the movements of people is choreographed. At the same time, while being an alien object, it is still familiar to most people. You find scaffolding anywhere in the city, sometimes also this kind of barrier fencing mesh. It is bright orange, just like traffic cones, to make you pay attention. That’s a conventional sign in a city, we don’t even need to reflect on it to understand.

It is a labyrinth. The labyrinth or maze seems to be one of the oldest architectonic concepts we have, being depicted in caves and on cliffs by  neolithic cultures around the world. It touches on our original fear of getting lost, but also on our efforts to take control. The labyrinth is chaos rationalized, we are in control. still, we enter it with a slight feeling of excitement. From inside of this one, you look out through a grid, partly cut away from what happens around you. It is a second reality, a temporary relief.

The work stood there for just a day. Anything else would have been difficult or even impossible to arrange on this spot. But that’s fine. One of the biggest problems of public art is its permanence (occasionally also one of its greatest assets, but that is becoming more and more an exception in a era of badly processed public art works). It is expected to stand there forever, and it is surrounded with a kind of veneration called “respect” for the artists and the work of art. Never the less, most public art works do not deserve this kind of respect. Sometimes, as an act of bliss, they melt into the surroundings, you are just as indifferent to it as an artwork as if facing a mailbox or a telephone pole. Any other artworks (in museums, for instance) can be easily removed and put into storage. Altering anything around a public work is a scandal. This way cities are littered with badly conceived whims of city councils and beneficial societies. Anything complicated will be negotiated down to a point where you reach a political consensus. The only interesting works are those that cause a scandal from the start – simply because if there is no public reaction at all, it doesn’t manage to raise any reactions or responses. It might be bad anyhow (and yes, there is something like good or bad in art, and in particular in public art).

“Superconductor” stood there for a day, re-defined the square and created moments of confusion and hopefully wonder for passers-by. That is a lot more than Lord Nelson achieves from the top of his column.

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