How to use art to unlock urban imaginaries and public spaces
It’s Ouishare connector Clothilde Sauvages who took the initiative for organizing the evening and asks our three guests “How can artistic creation help unlock the city?". Pascal Le Brun Cordier, responds first and reminds us what artistic creation can and can not do. "Some of the barriers that make cities unwelcoming can not be manipulated by art: this is the case for housing price or its inaccessibility in terms of mobility." But, art has a handle on other levels to open up a city’s potential.
Transforming the imaginary of the city
Art can reveal the singularities of a city, introduce poetry and fantasy. The collective representations are thus modified, and those who inhabit it begin to consider the city differently, stop thinking of the city as something frozen. "To show that there are other possibilities available is eminently political", as Pascal reminds us.
Transforming the imaginations of a city and provoking exchanges, this describes quite well the motivations of Dan Acher, who is initiating projects such as CineTransat. Dan tells us that until recently, Geneva was a city that everyone left in the summer. Now, there are plenty of activities, including an outdoor film festival that serves as an excuse to bring people together. "After the movies, people dance and sing," says Dan Acher. This has profoundly transformed the imagination of the city.
Introducing new practices
Then, artistic creation can generate changes of attitude and new uses of space: it invites us to slow down, to enjoy the landscape more intensely, to be more attentive to the pleasures that are there and to exchange with others.
Le Bruit de ma Ville (english: The noise of my city) is a project that bears witness to this desire. "By organizing the event Le Bruit de ma Ville in three places with very distinct identities (Saint-Denis, Villejuif and Science-Po Paris), we wanted to encourage the movement and mixing of people. Attracting people to Saint-Denis who have never set foot there, allow to transform how they look at the city”, says Camille Bonazzi.
Awakening citizen's awareness
"Under certain conditions, art can awaken a civic conscience," Pascal explains. First, by convincing us that we can transform our city: art shows us that the city is not necessarily identical with itself at any given moment and that it can be modified. Furthermore, some projects include a participatory dimension, which awakens the ability to do and act. This is the case in Olivier Grossetête's project, Un été au Havre. "The monumental participative constructions from cartons are an invitation to the citizens to build unusual architecture together, like the dream of a child, a collective performance. The public is invited to assemble boxes of empty cardboard to build a building without cranes or machinery, only with human energy and arm strength*.”
Another example is Dan Acher’s Exchange Box project, which aims both to promote encounters and the adoption of responsible behavior. These boxes of exchange between neighbors become nodes of circulation. In Geneva, they made it possible for 32 tons of material to avoid the dump. With results like these, arts projects receive recognition and attention from the municipalities.
Towards a right to the city
The background of the subject recalls Camille, is the right to the city. This concept suggests to view cities as common good, accessible to all inhabitants. To achieve this vision, it would be necessary to foster unprecedented collaboration between artists, philosophers and urban planners to modify cities in a sustainable way.
Participation, in the sense of the decision-making, would need to be at the heart of the processes from urban planning process to the allocation of the budgets.
Measuring the social impact of art in the city?
The question of measuring social impact is raised early in collaboration processes with municipalities.
Dan reminds us that quantitative indicators (number of people, where they come from, time spent on site ...) only make it possible to understand one part of the effect of the work. "The experience itself and the emotional experience are much harder to describe." Moreover, impact studies are extremely long and costly to carry out.
Pascal nevertheless emphasizes the need to put these projects and their effects into narrative because they are not always easy to grasp. To avoid the pitfalls of quantitative indicators, one must be creative and invent new ones. This approach helps to demonstrate that artistic projects can in some cases contribute to systemic change, help people to transform themselves and change their relationship to the world.
"Only repetition and experience make it possible to improve projects and better control the effect generated," says Camille. By rehearsing their flag event in Saint-Denis for two years in a row, Noise of my City, was able to set new goals such as bringing people from Saint-Denis to the event. Part of the desired social impact lies in the process, you can’t plan and foresee all the outcomes. If you only work for funding reports, you miss the opportunity to observe, adjust and experiment.
Art in situ vs art ex nihilo, what does it change?
There are many ways to make art in the public space. "you have to distinguish the projects that stand by themselves from the projects inspired by the territory,'' recalls Camille. She tells us how any project at Noise starts with an investigation. "It's about starting from the existing. We spend a lot of time meeting association and educators. "
An emblematic example of what could be called "art in the city", where the city becomes a playground where objects are deposited, it is Tree at the Vendome square. The green inflatable fir tree, created by artist McCarthy in 2014, was controversial for its resemblance to an anal plug.In contrast, "the art of the city" consists of integrating projects into the urban fabric. In this case, detailed observation is important to gain accuracy - the artist then creates specifically for a place.
This concept could be observed in the Focus project in Nantes. A fountain had been hidden by scaffolding for several months. On the occasion of Voyages à Nantes 2007, the artist Tatzu Nishi proposed to set up an ephemeral hotel around this same fountain.
The evening ended with a workshop led by the Studio De Crecy, asking how to give new life to urban waste by magnifying it through artistic creation. The sculptures that were created, were then exhibited in the courtyard of the co-working space for others to discover and to put the unexpected back in this common space, which the co-workers have become familiar with.
Resources and artistic references cited during the event
Klaxon, the magazine dedicated to art living in the public space
La ZAT Montpellier
From district to neighborhood ZAT envisions the public space as a place of freedom and experiences, where artistic projects and urban projects resonate. This Zone becomes source of creations and place of exhibition. Pascal was the artistic director there
The Superkilen park in Copenhagen
This no-go zone, an empty lot of 800m long, became very welcoming after being redesigned by hyperflex agency. Now, people commute to reach it.
The neighbors box
A day in the life of a donation box, an accelerated film that shows the unexpected effects of the devices.
Aurora borealis in the city to awaken our ability to wonder and invite us to admire the landscape in the city. A project by Dan Archer.
Un été au Havre
The city of Le Havre invites each summer of internationally renowned artists to provoke architecture, to transform the city into a huge game board, to express their art in the public space.
Catène de containers in Le Havre
A temporary work from "a summer in Le Havre" which has become a symbol of the city. It is appreciated for its connection to the port's history of the city. It is the citizens who have put together a petition so that it is maintained.
Ecstatic festival at La Défense
Clothilde Sauvages reminds us that the devices of urban art are multiplying in Ile de France.
The RER B program by Noise La Ville
A program that aims to introduce the journalistic techniques to about fifteen young people living along this line. During the training days, they try writing, photography, radio, video to talk about their city.
Itinerrance & Boulevard 13
A Street Art course was born from a partnership between the Town Hall of this district and the Itinerrance Gallery.
Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery
The book that inspired the name of Dan Archer's approach.
* description from the site https://olivier-grossetete.com/constructions-monumentales
Hélène Vuaroqueaux, translated by Theresa Fend