The 4th International Award for Public Art Ceremony and Forum

Rooted in the value orientation of place remaking – Co-creating a new aspect of international public art

The 4th International Award for Public Art Ceremony and Forum, co-organized by Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts and Institution of Public Art (IPA), was held on October 21, 2019 at Shanghai University. The winners, jurors, public art experts and young scholars attended the ceremony.

As the symbol of the highest achievement in the field of international public art, the International Award for Public Art (IAPA) focuses on place-remaking as its value orientation. It constantly inspires the development and sharing of international public art concepts, promoting excellent public art practices, and taking advantage of unique artistic approach to alleviate social conflicts and solve public problems. It has provided various case studies of public art constructions for the cities under development around the world to achieve the remaking of local geographic spaces, and more importantly, the reshaping and enhancement of local spiritual life and cultural connotation.

The concept of “place remaking” represents the future development direction of the public art field. Followed this value orientation, we have jointly built a network of talent pool for public art researchers covering all six regions of the world.

Thus, the projects call for the 4th International Award of Public Art jointly organized by Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts and the Institution of Public Art (IPA) is based on such a network. Through the field investigation and recommendation of researchers from the talent pool, outstanding cases all over the world have been collected via internet. Reviewed and commented by the rigorous jury of IAPA, a list of seven outstanding cases is selected and from this shortlist, one project will be awarded the IAPA. All selected projects are displayed to public during the conference period. Despite the main conference, another two sub-forums, “Urban Development” and “Public Art Education”, are also organized. The agenda is divided into guest speech and expert review, to create a platform for artists, researchers, experts and scholars in the field of public art both at home and abroad to communicate, discuss and exchange ideas about public art.

A total of 133 global cases from Oceania, East and Southeast Asia, West, Central and South Asia, Eurasia, Africa, Latin America and North America are nominated for this year’s award. The diversity of types and themes of the cases fully reflects the individuality and aesthetic orientation of people in each region as well as the heterogeneity and richness of the global cultures. During the review session, the jurors focused on the value orientation of “place-remaking” of public arts and arrived a short list of 35 selected case studies then 7 outstanding cases to the finalists. They are: Barrangal dyara (Oceania), Wind Phone (East and Southeast Asia), Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema (West, Central and South Asia), Biodiversity Tower (Eurasia), Perception (Africa), Sumando Ausencias (Latin America), and Hotel Empire: The New York Crossing (North America). The awardee of 2019 IAPA went to Perception from Africa. 

Outstanding cases (in no particular orders)

1. Barrangal dyara (Jonathan Jones, Australia)

Barrangal dyara (Skin and Bones) was a vast sculptural installation stretching across 20,000 square-meters of the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, Australia. The 17-day installation recreated the footprint of the 19th century Garden Palace building before it burnt to the ground in 1882. Barrangal dyara was artist Jonathan Jones’ response to the wealth of Aboriginal cultural material lost by fire and also more broadly in Australian culture. The art work represents an effort to commence a healing process and a celebration of the survival of the world’s oldest living culture, despite this traumatic loss of cultural heritage. Barrangal dyara is a multi-dimensional work engaging its audience on many levels. The project is physically made up of three elements: thousands of white shields marking the destroyed building’s perimeter, a meadow of native kangaroo grass, and eight soundscapes in Aboriginal languages made in collaboration with local and regional communities. Each element can be said to speak to a core concern of the overall art work — the ‘loss’, the ‘regeneration’, the ‘reclamation’.

2. Wind Phone (Itaru Sasaki, Japan)

The work is a site on an open hillside in the 2011-tsunami-afflicted town of Otsuchi. The main component of the site is a telephone booth with a rotary dial telephone and a notebook inside. There is also a bench near the booth. A wooden sign nearby says, “Wind Phone” in Japanese. The site was built by a resident of Otsuchi, Itaru Sasaki. He installed the phone in his garden in 2010 in order to “give him a private space to help him coping with the loss of his cousin.” The work was completed shortly after the tsunami struck on March 11, 2011. Then he decided to open up the site for anyone who needed it. A person who walks into the booth typically picks up the handset. Some may dial a number, some may not. It is apparent that the telephone is not connected to any line of transmission, hence the caller hears silence. The person then calls the names of those who died or had gone missing in the tsunami as if they were there, and speak to them. It is believed that 10,000 visitors journeyed to this hilltop outside Otsuchi within three years of the disaster.

3. Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema (The Tentative Collective, Pakistan)

Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema (MKMC) is a series of film projections across the city of Karachi, Pakistan, working with ethnically and economically diverse residential colonies across Karachi. The project involves collected mobile camera videos and shorts about everyday Karachi life made by the residents of the colonies involved, and projecting them in public spaces within those colonies with the help of the MKMC rickshaw – a jazzed up version of the ubiquitous rickshaw – which is fitted with a projector, and drives around the city to set up MKMC at various places. Yaminay Nasir Chaudhri came up with the idea of ‘Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema’. The aim was to introduce pop-up open-air cinemas as a way to re-connect the various separated people of Karachi. Chaudhri set up ‘tentative collectives’ (where the Tentative Collective gets its name from), to work within various colonies – and each collective helped the diverse range of people they worked with to create the amateur films that would eventually be screened by MKMC.

The act of making the videos itself was a way to engage people in actions and thought processes outside of their everyday life, allowing for creativity, imagination and empathy. It not only opened up the residents’ perspective of other colonies and communities of Karachi, it also gave them new ways of looking and understanding their own actions and those of their communities.

4. Biodiversity Tower (SEADS, Belgium) 

Biodiversity Tower is built surrounded by a social housing complex with inhabitants of many different cultural backgrounds. The artwork generates the value, function and characteristics of the public which can be viewed as poetic metaphors for a complex neighborhood. These poetic lives are facilitated by the Municipality of Willebroek and the Compost masters. The work is regularly visited by schools. Children get an introduction into the concepts of composting, biodiversity and ecology, and they learn about combining art and science. The tower is surrounded by concrete seating elements (set up in an oval arrangement, with the tower in one of the focal points). The work surrounded by an incessantly developing ecology becomes a new public meeting space. The Municipality of Willebroek actively uses the Biodiversity Tower as part of their city image, and actively reaches out about the project. The work has built reputation of its own and has been gradually attracting an arts-oriented audience.

5. Perception (eL Seed, Egypt)

In the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr, Cairo there is an isolated Christian Coptic community. It has built a self-efficient and highly profitable recycling system in the city among the most efficient on a global level, and able to recycle up to the 85% of the collected garbage. The inhabitants call themselves the Zaraeeb (“pig breeders”), and for decades have been collecting the garbage of the people of Cairo, sorting it in their neighborhood. Pigs and other animals are fed with the organic waste that this community collects on a daily basis. Despite the commitments to the cause, the community is on the edge of Egyptian society. The area these people live in is commonly perceived as dirty from the rest of the citizens. Its inhabitants are marginalized and segregated by other citizens in Cairo, to the extent that has been given the name of Zabaleen (“garbage people”).

The French-Tunisian artists El Seed heard about this community for the first time in 2009, when the Egyptian authorities under the regime of Hosni Mubarak decided to slaughter 300,000 pigs using the pretext of H1N1 virus. This event killed the livelihood of the community. EL Seed travels the world to create messages of peace with his style of Arabic calligraphy. He does not just want to make sure those messages are relevant to the place where he is painting, but also that they have a universal dimension so that anybody around the world can identify with those messages. In 2015 he realized an anamorphic mural of Arabic calligraphy in the neighborhood of Manshiyat Nasr, Cairo. The artwork named: “Perception,” was conceived with the purpose of highlighting and changing the image of the Coptic community of Zagreb. The whole artwork is fully visible only from the Muqattam Mountain, where a famous cathedral lies inside a cave. It is the artist’s largest and most ambitious project to date. 

6. Sumando Ausencias (Doris Salcedo, Colombia)

Sumando Ausencias confronts and emphasizes structures of power and exploitation. It acts as a political and mental archaeology to make visible collective trauma and offer symbolic and unifying elements for moving forward as a country. The art work does not suggest changes or solutions, but allows the history and trauma to be acknowledged and honoured. Salcedo explores craft as a tool for the construction of collective memory. The artist has said that “Our past is something that we can build ourselves by the act of narrating it. To look back at it in the present allows for forgotten memories to resurface”. Like many of Salcedo’s public installations, this work was for victims and their families. Sumando Ausencias is a public statement of mourning, but also of the desire for peace and the consequences of war.

7. Hotel Empire: The New York Crossing (Laurent Boijeot and Sébastien Renauld, USA)

Hotel Empire: The New York Crossing is a in ‘actions’, performative durational work that takes place internationally across a number of cities and towns. The work took the form of a one-month migration through the length of Manhattan, New York, via the celebrated Broadway axis. Starting at 125th Street in Harlem and covering roughly five blocks each day, the action progressed south to Lower Manhattan, passing through some of New York City’s most well-known landmarks. The action culminated at Battery Park on 25 October 2015 by looking across to the Statue of Liberty. Carrying simple tables, chairs, bedding, and suitcases, the artists lived and slept out on the streets of New York for 30 days, accompanied throughout the action by photographer Clément Martin.

Assembling the furniture by day to create seating and shared public areas, Boijeot and Renauld made coffee for and invited passers to engage in conversation, a game, or a meal. At night the artists reconfigured the furniture to create numerous beds and slept on the street, offering space to anyone who wished to sleep in one of the beds, and bathing at the homes of strangers who became friends. As they moved, ate, slept and engaged with the public through various districts and neighbourhoods along the length of Broadway, Hotel Empire: The New York Crossing created occasions for shared connection and collective memory in ways that are uncommon in large cities.

All nominated cases in this year’s award showed the fact that public art is reshaping the relationships between people, between people and society, and between people and nature with its own way. Public art is a calm and powerful force. Regarding public space, public life, social concepts and other specific problems, artists are making art a medium to intervene in public life and constantly triggering people’s thinking about the past, the present and the future.

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