the spur magazine

#01 espais i xarxes creatives

Contemporary art, a spur for the recuperation of creative spaces in cities

Producing development through art: from creative cities to ethical communities

Massimiliano Scuderi

We have to distinguish between Culture and Creativity; Culture: not industrially organized areas: visual arts, the performing arts and the historic artistic heritage. The creative sphere, on the contrary, applies cultural content to areas of experience in which there are other important aims.

The relationship between urban regeneration and creative industries as tools for achieving the objectives of «smart, sustainable and inclusive growth» of the city, was long considered important, perhaps too much for the welfare of contemporary cities. All of us remember Richard Florida (2002) and his “3 T” (Talents, Tolerance and Technology), vision on creative cities born from the observation of some cities that attract within their borders «brilliant brains» and prosper thanks to them. The mantra of flexibility, adaptability and resilience of governance of the territories through the paradigms of innovation and new practices, focused on attracting the best creative minds and improving their performance in relation to urban quality and the welfare of the city, turned out to be in many cases instrumental in trivializing work by local administrators and city managers engaged in the pursuit of audience to put in place strategies useful to smart and sustainable development of cities. But beyond the common slogans, the city can be smart and creative through healthy common sense, rather than through articulated governance strategies. In Amsterdam, for example, the Municipality had to resort to certain measures for mitigating the effects of the decline in real estate sales, abandonment of long-term stability and the increase of squatting, asking the owners to invest in the maintenance of their properties. One of the strategies chosen was to grant to students, artisans and artists temporary use of buildings to encourage the creation of new activities and collaborative communities in those areas, with reasonable clauses that provide for repairing of broken windows or the reorganization of the spaces granted, or they simply required tenants to make their beds every morning.

In this context it was intended to deepen the contribution made by innovative experiences in the context of cases in which culture and art can be the catalysts for the synergy of all stakeholders.

Artists in the urban context

In recent years we have heard about ‘mending’ the urban structure for improving relations and meetings, to determine social cohesion and to promote aspects of inclusiveness in the transformation processes. Quoting verbatim an article in the Corriere della Sera on the transformations of contemporary public space, or how little space you are editing in close contact with the social networking space, and from the statements made by a politician of the department of culture, the author of the article Stefano Bucci defines the witty reflection of the political as «a world that does bring to mind some films of the Italian neorealism». If on the one hand there is renewed interest in the participatory processes and towards innovative or alternative design practices on urban spaces (the term design is to be understood in the broad meaning given by ‘French sociologist Bruno Latour and formulated by Peter Sloterdijk), on the other the ability to listen – which is basic cultural inception for the construction of the public city – seems completely missed.

In this sense, we must point out that in recent decades the artistic research, due to the effects of globalization and geo-international political upheavals, is tackling social issues, with a particular interest in the public space as a place for the projection of social issues. This also is part of a sophisticated strategy in which contemporary artists, as the philosopher Boris Groys in his famous essay self-proclaimed as a design gesture, offer works that are collaborative, regaining a shared experience, beyond the concept of aesthetics tout-court, actively involving the public and eliminating that distance that allows uninvolved observers to judge a work from an outside perspective. Groys means that when the observer is involved in an artistic practice from the beginning, any criticism becomes self-criticism. This does not mean committing “fraud”, but sharing responsibilities.

In the more recent experiences of public art, the artist has expressed a sense of community by recovering an interrupted dialogue with the public who become, in some cases, partners, through processes that have sought to heal the rift between the art world, in all its expressions, and the audience, spectator of a game that does not know any kind of rule. In these cases, the artists represent, for the communities that host them, innovators as ‘exogenous enzymes’ that can combine their work with that of ‘endogenous enzymes’, eg local actors, and with the existing conditions of context (the place). This kind of ‘foreignness’ inevitably entails a period of mediation with the community, aimed at creating consensus and participation in the project through relational tactics. For these reasons, the strategy of the social actors is comparable to that which some theorists of the social sciences, like Homi Bhaba, assign to immigrants who use creative behavior in the urban environments in which they come to live, interfering with the existing social systems when they arrive to turn them to their advantage. From this dialectic, not only can generated forms of planning trigger regenerative processes, but they can also determine the linguistic choices that are established from time to time between artists and their context. The public space has long been the subject of a privatization culture that led to the loss of the collective sense. In recent decades a new sensibility, also through the contribution of innovative protocols based on sharing responsibilities in public art or the referring to cultural identity as a catalyst in the urban regeneration process, has been responsible for rewriting the history of these areas and contributing to the regeneration of the contemporary urban fabric and assisting, sometimes eluding, the city managers. Culture, as well as being represented by the European program objectives, is certainly an important asset in the construction of identity of individuals and social groups, and the workplaces not only are prerequisites for intercultural communication, but also a strategic approach to the issues of local development and governance. This is accomplished through a thorough readjustment of policies governing the management of the territory, in favor of a broader strategic planning and type of integration. In this sense it is due to the exemplary work done in France by the contemporary art center Le Consortium in Dijon, and in particular by some cultural operators that manage the Nouveaux Commanditaires program, such as Xavier Douroux, Francois Hers, Eric Troncy and Franck Gautarc. Their commitment, even through the Fondation de France, is a turning point on the issue of culture and particularly of ‘public art in relation to the urban space and regenerative processes. In general, in France a long tradition links changes in the relationship between territory management and protection of private rights, e.g. ZAC/ SEM (societé d’economie miste), with questions relating to the quality of urban development interventions and procedures that underlie the transformation processes. The ZAC is the tool to implement the guidelines of the law on solidarity and urban renewal (SRU approved in December 2000); that is inspired by some principles such as those related to the allocation of services and integration of new projects in the urban context and existing actions, giving importance to the mediation phase, understood as addressing the specificities of places, giving citizens a role in the expression of their opinions in this context. One of the most interesting operations procedures has emerged in France, in Dijon, on the realization of some buildings, among which are those intended for student housing, and the areas of the sculpture park University of Central Burgundy. It was possible to realize this project, signed by archistars such as Herzog & De Meuron and Patrick Berger, through the invention, over twenty years ago, of an innovative protocol called Les Nouveaux Commanditaires. The document was born from the realization that, in the eighties, art was not considered as a collective subject within the story, but part of a private deal. For this reason, arts connected to this, says Francois Hers, had allowed finance, trade, industry, cities, states, to invest in art for their own use. Undoubtedly contemporary art has thus acquired an economic value and exceptional audience, but the soul of man, freedom and ethics were reduced to being a show among others, whose meaning in most cases remains unknown to most. The relationship between the public and art had created an individualistic experience within the exhibitions. In this completely individualistic vision of production and use of the culture, this cultural mediators such as Francois Hers understood how to invent a new way of making art through a new commitment. However, Hers said: (…) Start with the person and the place where he lives to meet the cultural needs of the time and find an answer, rather than starting from an authority higher to get to the particular, in the vain hope to democratize art by means of a generous offer or benevolent intentions. From the nineteenth century until today, the intentions of the artists to put art in life have been unsuccessful and they have been found in museums whatever their relevance or the strength of their desire to involve the public. It is a paradox that it is precisely the emphasis put on the private interests, with the extinction of the original functions of art that induces, again, a social role for art that is perhaps more important than it has ever been. This is what the implementation of the protocol of Nouveaux Commanditaires reveals, making the wishes of society, with the tensions and conflicts inherent in any free expression, the main engine of contemporary art. To do so, the Protocol consists in the equal sharing by all social actors involved of the responsibilities related to the emergence of an art work. It offers anyone who desires it the chance to publicly affirm a reason for the existence of an art work and the art and to assume, therefore, the responsibility of an art work commission. The other paradigm shift is that the action can take place anywhere in the territory and that it should not be managed or controlled by a political or financial authority, but by the actors of the process themselves, with the support of independent and competent art mediators.

This kind of ‘strategic’ approach through the contribution of artists and creators, as the philosopher Boris Groys says, is intended as a tense mechanism to neutralize the suspicions of the users, the cynical manipulation of exploitation for political propaganda, intrigue hidden and criminals linked to urban transformation processes. The artist plays the role of the only honest person in a corrupt and hypocritical world. They try to regain the common ground with the audience, drawing him out of the liabilities and eliminating the aesthetic distance that allows the observers not involved in decisions related to the transformation of the territory, in this case the people, to judge from outside a public work. When the observer is involved in a practice from the beginning, any criticism is inevitably transformed into a self-critique. Until now, particularly in recent decades, the public was seen exclusively as a consumer, that is, it was denied any active role and any type of design capacity. Already Michel de Certeau spoke of the strength and tactics of an unsuspected ability to reinvent the everyday life by the common man to evade social constraints. the cultural projects taking shape since the early years of the twenty-first century, as an autonomous discipline based on multi and trans-disciplinary actions and how procedural organization of intervention strategies aims at the sustainable, cohesive and intelligent development of the urban territory.

The actions resulting from the application of protocols such as the Nouveaux Commanditaires could thus help ‘ethically’ to bridge the gap between cultural actors and residents, to increase the quality of urban transformation processes through ‘cultural regeneration’ – it means to design cultural programs and urban rehabilitation – especially in a integrated view of operations for the construction of the public city.

Massimiliano Scuderi

Architect, critic and curator, with a Phd in Cultural study and Contemporary art. He is director of Fondazione Zimei for contemporary art. He worked as a teacher of Contemporary art and urban design in some Universities in Italy, such as the Faculty of Architecture in Pescara, Communication Sciences in Teramo and Universities of Sassari and Cagliari for Decamaster. In 2014 he was researcher at Le Consortium of Dijon.

Starting from the relationship between art and architecture, his research has been focused on the relationship between contemporary art and urban development. He is engaged in many international transdiciplinary projects such as for many years Fuori Uso, an exhibition taking place in abandoned buildings and urban spaces. He has been collaborating as a curator with many international foundations for contemporary art such as Fondazione per l’arte di Roma and Fondazione Capri among others and with international organizations regarding transnational projects of Eu Commission.

He has also been curating international art and architecture exhibitions and conferences such as Art Crossing, Nuove Alleanze, Space, People & Place, Index, Travelogue, Arret sur l’imag, Teh Fountainhead, Politiche della Natura etc. He worked with contemporary artists and architects such as Vito Acconci, Atelier Bow - Wow, Philippe Rahm, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Ettore Spalletti, Hans Schabus, Frank Scurti, Zafos Xagoraris, Micheal Lin, Peter Fend, Saadane Afif, Francesco Jodice, Gruppo A12, Cliostraat, Alfredo Pirri, Christelle Familiari, Stalker, Bert Theis, Julius Koller and Kveta Fulierova, Noritoshi Hirakawa among many others.

Author of books, essays and articles, he usually collaborates with art and architecture magazines such as Arte e Critica, Flash Art, Artribune, Exibart, Contemporary, Abitare, Mousse, EWT among others. He curated the books Constructed Atmospheres on Philippe Rahm and Silencers and Amplifiers on Zafos Xagoraris edited by Postmediabooks.