Public space is both a battlefield and stage for those visions and ideas in which a society puts its faith. At a distance, it also discloses that which is blindly supported in this society. One can survey it as if it were a kind of societal relief, or a contemporary witness of history, as it reveals both conscious and unconscious orders and structures.
In those times when the common faith in ideas is particularly strong, signs of this faith are placed into public space in the form of monuments which make beliefs concrete to us, alert us of the destructive power of faith, and signal the successful displacement of other beliefs.
The loss of faith in grand ideas has shown its effect by the occupation of public space by private interests. As a result, less public space is reserved for the monumental. The new landmarks follow the logic of commerce. The power of the consumer and the economy is reflected in the layout and occupation of public space - chalkboards with menu options, billboards displaying the fashions of the season, pavilions for company meetings, closed-off zones for large-scale events.
“Between purchases they savor the spectacle of the constant disintegration of the complexes to which they belong … Were the Mediterranean lapping at the avenue’s edges, the shops could hardly expose themselves in a more windowless fashion. They disgorge a stream of commodities that serves to satisfy creaturely needs; it climbs up the facades, is interrupted at street level, and then shoots with redoubled force up into the heights on the far side of the crosscurrent passerby. … No one invented the plan according to which the elements of the hustle and bustle scribble a jumble of lines into the asphalt. There is no such plan. The goals are locked in the individual little particles, and the law of least resistance gives the curves their direction.” (S. Kracauer).
With the decline of grand narratives, the selling-out of public space into the form of a street fair has fully begun. That which gains ground is less utopian, and just as less monumental in its space requirement, however, no less hungry and, as a diversified phenomenon, particularly assertive.
Under the title “Utopia and Monument”, Sabine Breitwieser has developed a two-part program for the “Steirischer Herbst” festival, in which she applies art to a discourse on public space. Examples of the unspoken being openly expressed on the street – understood here as a social platform for self-exhibition – are sought out. At the same time, the scope of art for public statements is tested, as well as its competitive power within the struggle over limited public space.
Fourteen international artists were invited to participate. Until October 18th, they explore the question of the validity of art between privatization and the public sphere. Part Two of “Utopia and Monument” will follow next year. (wh/jn)
to see the video: