Other Ways of Inscribing Public Art in the City

[Spring/summer 2013]

In this issue, we return to the question of public art, a subject we previously addressed in issues 82 and 90. The artworks chosen for this portfolio stand out for the acuity with which their context for integration has been managed. Each of these artworks, in its way, offers an exemplary response to the issues of artistic intervention in the city. From each also emerges a very different imperative: the first was created in response to a commission, the second sees urban graffiti in a different light, and the third is rooted in its host community.

By its very nature, photographic work is most often inscribed in the city in the form of posters and on surfaces largely dominated by advertising. It’s therefore not surprising that these artistic interventions could come to life only via collaboration with the authorities and the publicity marketplace. And yet, the stakes are high: to be able to inscribe in the urban public space, and in the mode of publicizing (literally, increasing public visibility), values other than those of consumption.

In the artworks brought together here, the photograph takes unusual forms: it becomes a sculpture installation, it draws upon graffiti actions, or it metamorphoses into a monumental narrative fresco.

Nicolas Baier’s sculpture retains from the photographic the notions of imprint and index. It implements them in surfaces and mouldings of objects that refer entirely to its context of integration – whence its enigmatic title Self-portrait, an objective self-portrait in that the work is an intensified representation of how Place Ville-Marie is defined: office work and architectural modernity. With its glass casing, its furniture, and its high-tech devices with multiplied reflections, the work materializes the functional and symbolic values of the site and their contemporaneity.

Dominique Auerbacher’s works take as a subject other, more marginal practices in the public space: those of graffiti artists. Auerbacher takes pictures of graffiti on the windows of Berlin tramcars, thus revealing their context of integration through transparency. This action has the merit of being situated in diametrical opposition to a simple transposition of graffiti into the gallery. In this way, Auerbacher also positions herself in contrast to those who would see these practices contained to an urban space designated by the authorities. It’s a way of shedding light on the prescriptions that define the use of the public space.

Finally, we revisit the artworks of Dionne/Gingras, whose public art practice is based on an uncommon level of commitment. It is an image-based practice intended to be the instrument of a community affirmation, based on sharing knowledge and offering an active aesthetic experience. The result in this case is a large fresco composed of individual portraits (almost self-portraits), featuring personalities, involvements, values, and struggles of inhabitants of a disadvantaged neighbourhood. This group portrait is presented in a monumental format on the façade of the neighbourhood’s cultural centre, thus becoming a real intervention in the “public sphere.”

Jacques Doyon

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