Video in Public Art

Program Video in Public Art (2012)

Public Art is a very wide range of artistic practices and often hybrid and co-working forms between art, architecture, urban design, landscape and interaction design, which go beyond the production of artistic objects and the relation with time; sometimes it also borders and overlaps with the social and political dimensions of collective life. Thus, the broad term of public art involves not only the redefinition of status of an artwork, but also the notion of “public”. It results in a different attitude and bear greater responsibility on the part of the artists and cultural workers to approach the complex network of relationships that develop in the “public” space. In general, the term Public Art refers to projects, often commissioned by private or public persons, and to a field of researches that have focused on public space as the favoured place of action. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we are faced with a public artwork wherever it is placed in a public space. Usually public artworks try to establish contact with the place in which they act, by reviewing the spaces, tracing the roads, interact directly or indirectly, expose the known or unknown. It slowly crosses the intersections, moves in the residual or waste areas, stopping at the corners and trying to fill the gaps, either territorial or cultural. It’s a work that often requires long planning, preparation and implementation. In other words, this also means knowing the place in all its morphological, political, social and cultural characteristics, interacting with it and its inhabitants, trying to make visible what is invisible, to awaken the memory of what is often dismissed or forgotten; in order to note that the moral codes, the ancestral cultures, geopolitical issues have separated. The main issue for the artist is to establish a dialogue and horizontal relationship with the users, without filters or hierarchies and beyond any scholar mediation, so that his/her work can be accepted and recognized by the public. Furthermore they also aim to expand the scene and the art public as well. In fact, at first the traditional monuments conceived as abstract works placed in the urban space, then the site-specific 60s, and finally the art practices from the 80s up until now, have pointed at the direct relationship with the public. Often defined as social practices, these acts are divided between the artist’s militant role on a difficult territory of the environmental changes, and the use of public art as a driving force of entertainment and economic attraction for large urban regeneration projects. For the artist, then, the preliminary process acquires more importance than the final result, i. e. the production of the artwork, especially the relations established with human and urban fabric through implementing the project. The artists challenge themselves, they are aware that their work may be subject to random changes during construction, and even to unexpected and disastrous results. From the formal point of view, there are several methods or ways of action: large-scale installations, performances and – above all – ephemeral and temporary works, subjected to the ravages of time. They often involve the public, which shift from the position of a spectator to an actor and user. This way of working calls into question the concept of authorship of the artwork.

Now the question that I would like to pose is “how can we integrate the use of technology in such experiences? What specifically is the function of the video in this context? As mentioned above, public art interventions can be improvised, sometimes almost invisible, and often they are site-specific projects. The technological support allows the documentation and the memory of these projects, be it an action or an installation, but it also involves a reduction and loss of consistence of the device through which the work is formalised. On the one hand the video certainly allows an instant action and the ability to reproduce indefinitely; also it records reactions of the users or visitors at the moment in which they happen. On the other hand the possibility of a perpetual reproducibility can mean the loss of some characteristics of the work, such as spontaneity of certain attitudes, randomness, and the relationship with time and real space: the work is no longer here and now but for “always”, no longer in a certain place but can be anywhere. Moreover, according to the needs of the artist, the video may be subjected to post production, editing and montage stage, presenting only a part of a larger project, and sometimes giving it a new look and a different narrative structure, filtered and purified by dislocated space and time. If the video record does away with the chronological and geographical moment, its manipulation allows their combination, reverse, or overlapping. The camera can be used as the “second eye”, a prosthesis through which the artist observes and explores the space and its changes, the inhabitants and their customs. The camera, in fact, allows for a deeper knowledge of the site and its dynamics; it can expand the zoom on its “object of study” to obtain a panoramic point of view, or it may contract it on tiny details and fleeting to human eye.

Apolonija Šušteršič, for example, in Bonnevoie by day and night (1998), accompanied by ominous music, almost as a detective movie and often using a voyeuristic gaze, explores the space, following hypothetical tracks; she opens and closes the lens according to the need to shoot. The viewers follow the artist in her footsteps, moving and stoping with her, they live over her experience. As regards to the relationship with the audience, the video increases the chances of spreading the work, establishing a more direct and normalised relationship with the users; so they are called to return to the role of a passive spectator. This brief and not exhaustive premise makes us to take in account another consideration on the difference between what is a purely documentary video and what is thought to be video art. In some cases, a work is placed in the middle and one can not discern what “category” it belongs to; in other cases it’s a true artistic video with its own narrative structure, dialogue, or sometimes just for images, accompanied by sound. We can think of some works by Ema Kugler, like Phantom (2003), where there is a metaphoric and surreal plot (in this case by images), with the use of performers, a dramatic and highly symbolic set design. In some other cases videos can take the form of graphic design, played on technological devices with sound distortion, or may be simply documentation of an event, a fact, of an action. Finally, the recording of an action, sometimes, is the true goal of an artwork and can find no better way of development but in the video support. In so-called public art projects, video usually has the function to store, to support a trace of it in memory or to spread the idea of the project. The work by Sašo Sedlaček Picnic on a dump (2004), has such qualities. The artist has invited some friends, many of whom are artists, at a picnic organized on the Ljubljana waste land. After initial hesitation from the guests they, thanks to the friendly situation, began to give life to a depressing and nauseating area, through collective and spontaneous actions. Picnic on a Dump is a work of participatory nature pointing the lens, even if only for a day, on a marginal place, forgotten and off limits to the community, despite being quite close to the town. The video is a fairly comprehensive document of what really happened that day. Except possibly for some cuts and titles and subtitles, it does not seem to have suffered any kind of manipulation, the shoot is direct, almost amateurish, with no overlapping of sounds and effects, only the expressions, voices and sounds of the moment. Just Do It! is a project by the same artist began in 2003 as an open call to the recycling of advertising materials of large shopping centers usually posted in the homes. Ordinary people took active part in the process of recycling and production of 1000 bricks of paper. Sašo Sedlaček used video to record only the second phase of the project: a series of symbolic actions with bricks and masonry products, at the entrance of the shopping centers. In this case, the video as well as being a source of documentation and vehicle of knowledge of the work, it is a sort of collage of events that occurred at several times and places, but the technological adaptation of these events gives it back to the viewer in a uniform and short form. Something similar could be said for the work of Nataša Prosenc, Connected (2005), realized for the 26th Venice Art Walk on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Venice canals, in California. This is also a collective project that connected together people (men and women) that gathered in a serene and sharing atmosphere on a bridge, wrapped in a red cloth, covering and simulating the real structure of the bridge. The video also has a hybrid identity. On the one side it is the documentation of a performance of the participatory nature, where from an aesthetic point of view nothing seems neglected. On the other side the video shoot takes place from several points of view, trying to give a comprehensive overview of the environment but also the faces of the participants. The whole video is enveloped in the instantaneous environmental sounds and artificial sounds added later. The video by Mirko Simić Parfum de la terre (1997) has certainly a documentary and narrative note. Made almost through the eyes of a sociologist or, rather, disguising as an anthropologist or ethnographer, Simić listens to the voices of a community of nomads in the South of France, the memories of older people and the smiles of children, he records their habits and customs, resumes places and the colors of the French countryside. Through the storytelling practice, chosen as the methodological approach to the artwork, Simić gives us a cross-section of a nomadic village life, the spontaneity and integrity of people often relegated to be at the margin of society.

Alice Militello

Alice Militello, a student of Università degli Studi di Udine, Scuola di specializzazione in Beni storico-artistici, Udine, was on a practice/training entitled “Methods of archiving audiovisual materials of contemporary art” at SCCA–Ljubljana (January–March 2012).