New Genre Public Art is in the AirPosted on October 27, 2011 by Relay Zine‘New Genre Public Art is in the air,What does Edinburgh have to offer?’byCatriona BlackI have lived in Edinburgh for 10 years now, as a student, a „professional‟ and as a student again. EveryAugust I see an influx of tourists, new students and an array of independents and galleries producingand exhibiting. The Edinburgh Fringe, International Festival and Edinburgh Arts Festival coordinateshows ranging from comedy, theatre, music, the visual arts and more. A perfect time to offer residentsand tourists a wider cultural view of the arts?Edinburgh of course offers an abundance of „art‟ throughout the year from the National Galleries andMuseums, the independent galleries, organizations and permanent monuments scattered throughout thecity. Examples include, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Peter Randal Page sculptures in Hunters Square,Eduardo Paolozzi‟s sculpture at the foot of Leith walk and the recently installed Antony Gormleysculptures of the Water of Leith, 6 Times, not to mention the historical monuments of Scotland‟sgreats.But what does Edinburgh offer in terms of non-traditional „public art‟, what goes beyond sculpture andinstallation in the streets of Edinburgh?Public art has extended its field in the last two decades, as acts of activism and social conscience haveintegrated into the creation and production of public art. „Place‟ in terms of Public Art is no longercemented in location and the physical area in which the sculpture or work may inhabit. ”New GenrePublic Art” is a term coined by Suzanne Lacey in the early 90‟s as a call to re-define and question sitespecificity and public production of public art.Public Initiative art is bound in communication and community-based production of art. New Genre isa “visual art that uses both traditional and non traditional media to communicate and interact with abroad and diversified audience about issues directly relevant to their lives – is based on engagement.”Monuments are built to inspire and „plonk‟ art into the everyday pathways of Edinburgh‟s residents.Art‟s aims to actively engage with its public has recognized value in street arts such as interactiveinstallations and graffiti and guerilla street art. In the development of New Genre, street arts havebecome more widely acceptable and given value. Eleanor Heartney argues that New Genre is not amovement but has instead paved a way for existing art such as intervention and activist graffiti works,which voices the concerns of the city and seeks to engage.Edinburgh has various community arts based organisation such as ArtLink and CraigmillarArts, thatsocially engage and use art as a means of communication and education. “In the 90‟s the role of thepublic art has shifted from that of renewing the physical environment to that of improving society,from promoting aesthetic quality to contributing to the quality of life, from enriching lives to savinglives”Such organizations are to be applauded as they actively engage with the particular „group‟ they intendto help. But we must be clear that the artistic outcome or content is not entirely vital. Itis in no way tobe undervalued, but in my opinion it is more about the act of participation and education throughworkshops and such like, and not about the artists expression and statement, however self indulgentthat may be.
It could be argued that the Edinburgh Arts Festival drives to improve the audience‟s knowledge of thearts and offer a broad spectrum of mediums. The EAF brings much to the city and I sense the city hasbecome reliant on it, to provide financially particularly through tourism. The organisation branches offinto various hubs, the visual art is an area that runs with the pack. The visual arts is alive and wellthroughout the year in such non-profit gallery spaces such as the Fruitmarket, Stills Gallery andinitiatives such as Big Things on The Beach.Big Things on the Beach is an Edinburgh Public Arts Initiative based in Portabello, formed in 2003 bya group of residents „to explore the potential of the seafront as a site for engagement with publicartworks by both emerging and established artists‟.Big things on the Beach had become a staple of Portabello, Edinburgh, commissioning various „outthere‟ works to draw in the local and wider Edinburgh community. I must point out that this „public‟run initiative makes an active commitment to encourage and engage with the community, establishedon a mode of democracy and engagement.The Garden Project of 2008 [Figure 1] had ties with the Amber Roome Contemporary Arts, asadministrators and curators who have publicity ties to the Edinburgh Arts Festival. The organisationhas the means and commercial reputation to draw the wider public to Portabello by the EAF distributedprogram.The Garden Gallery Project and Big Things on the Beach as charities epitomize the democratic natureof New Genre Public Art. How successful they are in terms of the quality of artwork on view can beleft to opinion, as well as whether the work itself challenges perceptions. The apparent issue-specificundertone was the collaboration between artists and residents but nothing deeper wascommunicated. But the foundation of the project was a successful engagement with the residents andcollaborations with local artists.Content vs. the IdealAn exhibition spanning the Portabello streets of the shore actively encourages participation. So doesshowcasing contemporary artwork in the gardens of the residents of Portabello. The project in theoryencourages the audience to seek out the artwork and to engage with residents and the area ofPortabello. Simultaneously acting „in public‟ and as a source of tourism. I am sure over the past 2decades Edinburgh has not glossed over the „movement‟ or „recognition‟ of New Genre Public Art asPortabello‟s Big Things on The Beach shows.Public art as activism, or reaction to social, economic and political issues is somewhat somber inEdinburgh‟s city streets. Few organisation-mothered artists have fought to deal with issues of greatimportance to the residents of Edinburgh. Perhaps a naive outlook from myself; artists wishing tograpple with public art are instantly labeled and put to use in a social work context. Whilst suchorganizations as ArtLink and Craigmillar Arts successfully venture into community-sited art work tochallenge the social issues of mental health and youth in poorer areas of Edinburgh and the suburbswith little recognition, they are not driven my the art work itself to challenge and provoke ideas but theact of participation itself.Staying with the month of August and the influx of the festival, I recall the Protestors stageGuantánamo human rights demonstration [Figure 3] outside St John‟s Church, Edinburgh‟s PrincessStreet in August 2010. The volunteers of the Festival of Spirituality and Peace took part in a livinginstillation by dressing in uniforms, commonly associated with Guantánamo Bay prisoners stoodsilently and still outside the church to highlight the human rights abuse.
A living, participatory [if desired] public art instillation performance. A refreshing show of visualactivism in Edinburgh, „Culture in action‟ is alive.Would this project have been successful in a rural town, probably not, but why not? Would this havebeen as successful at any other time than August Festival month in Edinburgh, unlikely? Such projectsrely on commercialism and publicity and sheer number of residents and tourists to Edinburgh in thisone-month of the year. Perhaps activism now needs such commercialised areas and festivals todisseminate the message to a wider public. Site specificity is not reliant for the project, but it isresponsive issue-specific.ReactionaryGillian McIver introduced the term and definition of Site Responsive Art – For me the descriptionhelps in defining the impact and reception of certain work. Reactionary and responsive is favored byme as it incorporates the environment and sociology. Less defined are the public works „plunk art‟ thatcan be intrusive and negotiable on function to the environment, but are still specific to the landscape inwhich they sit. Antony Gormely as discussed in my previous paper is reliant on its site formeaning. Without the site, the piece lacks means of engagement. It can be argued that it enhances thepublic area in which it sits, an added extra, to give interest to the public, a paternalistic piece ofartwork. Whether it is successful is hard for me to say, as it is engaging if you have the motivation towalk this „enhanced‟ tourist trail, the National Galleries of Scotland have used there funding well as Iam sure the Gormley trail will increase in popularity and in turn increase numbers and popularity to theNGS where the trail begins.Site specificity has a plurality about it; it can be static, positively showing the public what it is, fullfrontal and intrusive in a „look at me‟ approach. But also reactionary, a reaction to the space and tointeract and explore the space through some sort of adventurous display of an art trails. It could evencome down to a tourist trail. Edinburgh achieves the execution of public art well, through the festivals,through tourist trails and interjecting sculpture into the pathways of its everyday residents. But this isall organized, commercial and paternalistic use of funding in the production of public art. WhatEdinburgh lacks, are interventions, and guerilla style art. This does not „fit‟ in with the generalhistorical aesthetic of the city, the protection and conservation of the city is key to allowance of publicart. Does it „fit‟ in? Portabello are living life a little on the edge as the abandoned fair ground has thebeginnings of an elaborate display of artist expression through stenciling and tagging. The people whograffiti are giving value to the buildings they decorate, experimenting with what „New Genre‟ is allabout.Site-Specificity fits more neatly into that of land art, actual physical location work, like that of CharlesJencks, 2001, Landform in the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art National. Forme, the subject is specific and reactionary to the actual location, the „place‟.ModesIn MiwonKwon‟s “Public Art as Publicity” she discusses the 4 various modes of communication ofhow public art is solicited and produced in urban societies. Kwon references the ideals and articulationsof the forms of the public sphere when discussing Jürgen Habermas and Raymond Williams‟stheories of urbanism and authority.
The four modes of communication:•Authoritarian: The government ruling at its peak of control and censorship. “It represses andexcludes those ideas that threaten its authority.”•Paternalistic: Is “authoritarian with a conscience.” It is the mothering mode of communication;mother knows best. This mode is driven by a sense of responsibility and to do what will be best.•Commercial: “the commercial mode relies on the free market as a basis for providing the necessaryfreedom for all to publish and read what they choose.” There is an undertone of instating controlthrough the power of information corporations and the puppeteers.•Democratic: Is an Ideal. It follows the ideal of the individual contribution and participation. “Allowsindependent groups licensed to use publicly owned means of communication … what is produced isdecided by those who produce it.”Kwon discusses the Public Sphere and the city boundaries that close it. “A kind of arena or locationdefined by spatial boundaries with an inside that can be occupied. Public sphere is a„somewhere‟”. She discusses that the bourgeois public sphere is born as a social and political form.I think these definitions are important to acknowledge as it can aid in understanding the social context,boundaries of artists and their reacting to the city in a particular way. Kwon calls for us to think ofpublic art as a form of “communicative practices or forms of public address“. The freedom ofexpression through activist based art or any given statement can be seen in such cities as Glasgow,Berlin and Chicago through the appropriation and even in some cases encouragement to produce„spontaneous‟ art. Edinburgh as a city, a hub of creation only seems to flourish once a year.Kwon and Williams quite specific labelling of the modes of communication enable us to breakdownand understand the motivation and foundation of much public art when in the transition or in creationof the public sphere. From my interpretation kwon and Williams would like to pigeonhole particularacts or groups, states of government and council into these categories. It is essential to understand eachmode of communication, but to say they are one or the other does not sit with me. I prefer to say, inEdinburgh‟s case, and perhaps as a sweeping generalisation the UK, encompass each of the modes ofcommunication. The motivation and bureaucracy lie with all four labels. How does this relate toEdinburgh? Well we could take the Edinburgh International Festival as an example. A mix of socalled paternalistic, authoritarian and commercial bodies and profiteers. It‟s only when cutting down tothe individual shows, or the free shows in the EIF does it come down to art by and for the public, i.e.,Big Things on the Beach. It is a tiered system with the essential outcome of publicity as a means offuture production.
I start to whirl when we come into the subject of public art in urban space. As the birth of New GenrePublic Art and culture in action seek to redefine public art I feel it is localized and in itself only anurbanized term. The renaming/development of site specificity, to issue-specific, audience-specific andthen, community-specific is building bridges to other areas of public art.Community-specific is a term I do not favor, I would almost solely use audience-specific, but this toocan even marginalize the viewers as a pre determined „group‟.The word community as Miwon Kwon writes of in her book One Place After Another, is a highlyambiguous term; it almost has become a term that marginalizes and stereotypes, it connotes withdisenfranchised areas of urban life. In terms of public art becoming about improving society,elevating the voices of those not heard, in defining the projects functions to gain support and fundingfrom government and institutional bodies, these „communities‟ are part of social categorizing.Bureaucracy of New Genre Public ArtFor most cities as well as Edinburgh, improving and upholding the status of art can be key. Somechose to encourage public art, particularly through the youth of the urban area. Providing graffitiwalls, which encourage legal expression, however some say they dampen the original message, is still astep forward by the government and councils. Acknowledging visual acclimations and protests. InEdinburgh we have 6 legal graffiti walls, 2 of which are in the city centre, [Figure 4] but somewhatstill hidden secrets and not on tourist foot trails. What provokes art to be funded in Edinburgh? Isuggest the biggest consideration from my own observations is that it is dependant on permanency [ifany] and will it adhere to the public architecture and design aesthetic?Who is the public?Well Edinburgh is quite a transitional city, full of seasonal travelers, students and academics, but ismaintained by workers in retail and the economic employers. Once again I will turn to the touristtrade, steady all year round but becomes mainstream in August every year when numbers triple.In terms of art audience, I shall cite my own review of Stills Gallery 3 year seasonal exhibitionSocial Documents: Ethical Encounters Part 1. I am sure we can argue that the non profit gallery is orisn‟t part of the public sphere, but the intentions of this paper, I want to raise the issue of not the galleryspace in which the exhibit is located, but the point of audience. In a recent interview with KirstenLloyd, curator, she stated that the exhibition was seasonal and timed with Edinburgh‟s winter monthsto coincide with the art students and academics of the city. The documentary based exhibition hasquite visually challenging social issues exploring human, animal, sexual, primal behavior and shouldbe available to all as such work is rarely ever shown in a mainstream cinema context [with exception ofFrederick Wiseman as his documentaries where developed for Public Access Television]. Lloydherself stated the work was not for mainstream audiences of the festival variety. Perhaps she is right asKirsten has a wealth of experience and knowledge of the topic. But I question, why not? It may notpull in the crowds needed for „success‟ but surely attempting to challenge a broader audience andintroducing such challenging work is entirely worth the risk, perhaps adapting the reception of work toappear more mainstream through display of the work may appeal more widely, but then again are thefestival viewers wishes to be enlightened by beautiful aesthetics and not the harsh social realities of theworld around us?
Questions arise of why can the general public not „handle‟ such work. The non-profit commercialgallery strikes again. Is Edinburgh residents and tourists being censored by the hierarchy of galleriesand organizations?Edinburgh‟s interaction with commercialism is by part a way of survival and maintaining its reputationas an arts hub, dictated by festivals and the guardians of the city. Artistic functionalism has beenexchanged for art to act as a medium to „save‟ communities. Site-specificity has developed andincorporates beliefs and social activities. Edinburgh has embraced New Genre, in a very organized,controlled manner. Activism is somber and lacks spontaneity in the streets of Edinburgh. Theunanswered questions are remaining unanswered as they are continually developing as more and morequestions arise. But the main question that I always ask myself in terms of Edinburgh; can‟t we handlemore, „difficult art‟? I think we can, but its just doesn‟t fit with Edinburgh public aesthetic.Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another; site-specific art and locational identity, MIT, 2004, Page105, Chapter 4. http://www.artlinkedinburgh.co.uk/projects/Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another; site-specific art and locational identities, MIT 2004, Page111, Chapter 4, citation 40 from Mary Jane Jacob, “outside the loop”, in culture in action, 56. http://www.bigthingsonthebeach.org.uk/c-2008-garden-gallery/39-garden-gallery-introduction Gillian McIver, Art/Site An Introduction to Art as Site-Response,http://www.sitespecificart.org.uk/1.htm Cited from MiwonKwon‟s essay Public art as Publicity; JurgenHabermas, The StructuralTransformation of the Public Sphere (1962), trans. Thomas Burger with Frederick Lawrence(Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1989)Four modes of communication: from MiwonKwon‟s essay Public Art as Publicity; [The essay hasbeen published in: Simon Sheikh (Ed.), In the Place of the Public Sphere? On the establishment ofpublics and counter-publics, Berlin: b_books 2005]http://www.republicart.net/disc/publicum/kwon01_en.htm http://www.republicart.net/disc/publicum/kwon01_en.htm Legal Graffiti walls: http://www.legalwalls.net/#lat=55.94475075105143&lng=-3.1853481640625025&zoom=10Art Review, Transmission, 2009, Proposal for London 2012 Olympic Park, Paul Fryer – “who isthe public?” http://catrionablackdinham.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/documentary-and-art-edinburgh-curator-challenges-traditional-gallery-format/