SPACES Conference in Vienna

“Critical art is constituted by a manifold of artistic practices aiming at giving a voice to all those who are silenced within the framework of the existing hegemony.” (Chantal Mouffe,2008 )

Art that reacts to life where it actually happens, blurred borders between the producer and the viewer of art: between 2011-2014, the project SPACES assembled artists and cultural workers in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine acting in the public realm of their cities, critically reflecting on societal issues. Artistic work expressed in the temporary use of public space establishes a counterweight to the eternal representation of power that classical statues and monuments are loaded with, or can represent the artist’s tactics of sustaining creativity in unfavourable conditions. “In a society situation where use of public spaces becomes more and more a matter of interest and choice, the quality of the spaces becomes a crucial factor for the death or life of modern cities” (Gehl, 2010)

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Public space is a radically changing, endangered environment, particularly in Eastern Europe. After decades of rather hidden and scattered struggles, public space and its re-appropriation through artists in particular, and civil society in general have become key elements in current processes of protest,
activism and change. Within the framework of SPACES, the curatorial team invited artists to develop interactive projects in Chisinau, Kyiv, Tbilisi and Yerevan, to reconsider public space as a place for free expression, social
encounter, and shared responsibilities, aiming at enhancing civil society processes. The SPACES interventions dealt with the past, present, and future aspirations of spaces and cities, succeeded to change the rhythm of the city, made private acts public, irritated – all against the background of the burning question: How far can the citizen get actively involved in current political discourses?

Another challenge for SPACES was to strengthen the cultural public sphere in the four countries, juxtaposing it to an economy-centred cultural policy approach. The approach of a cultural public sphere brings together the “notion of public debate, democratic representation in terms of politics and policy, with aesthetics and emotion, that is, affective matters” (McGuigan, 2011), going beyond cognition. The project created antitheses to the current urban transformation processes, characterized by the privatization of public property, the destruction of the historic centers of the cities and an ongoing loss of their former social functions, new ownership patterns and symbolic domination of the public space by political and religious groups in power.

These processes exclude many voices, such as religious minorities, economically disadvantaged groups, or the communities of sexual minorities, and leave citizens unprepared to consider public space as a common space for all. “The view […] is of space-time as a configuration of social relations within which the specifically spatial may be conceived of as an inherently dynamic simultaneity. Moreover, since social relations are inevitably and everywhere imbued with power and meaning and symbolism, this view of the spatial is as an ever-shifting social geometry of power and signification. (Massey, Space, Place and Gender, 3) The SPACES conference in Vienna presents and discusses experiences from Chisinau, Kyiv, Tbilisi, and Yerevan, and connects them to other parts of Europe and the world. Speakers from 12 countries share their experiences and reflections with the audience. The discussion proceeds to looking at the social transformation processes in Europe in general and the positioning of artists in current global processes of protest, activism and change.

The conference is hosted by OIKODROM – The Vienna Institute for Urban Sustainability in collaboration with several partners and sponsors. For detailed informations on location and timetables click here.

References:
Gehl, Jan. “Public Spaces for a Changing Public Life.” In: Plätze, Parks und Co – Stadträume im Wandel – Analysen, Positionen und Konzepte, edited by Havemann, Antje; Selle, Klaus, 375-384. Detmold: Dorothea Rohn, 2010.

Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

McGuigan, Jim 2011: The Cultural Public Sphere – Contra Economist Cultural Policy, in: Open Institutions. New Meeting Points of Culture and Citizens, URL: http://openinstitutions.net/2011/03/thecultural-public-sphare/, last file call-up: 15.10.2014

Mouffe, Chantal (2007): „Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces“, in: Art&Research – A Journal of Ideas. Contexts and Methods”, Vol. 1, No. 2. URL: http://www.skor.nl/_files/Files/OPEN14_P6-15(1).pdf, last file call-up: 15.10.2014

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