Art in Public Space: Summary of the first public meet-up on 10 June 2020 of art-in-public-space projects and festivals of light discussing the impact and the responses to the Corona pandemic.
When the Corona pandemic started, within a few days art-in-public-space projects and festivals of light came to a full stop. Public events were cancelled, public gatherings were limited, and along with the uncertainty that still accompanies this global health emergency, it is unclear when the public domain will once again be able to host projects and activities. In these days, artists, curators, technicians, and producers are discussing how to regain momentum for displaying contemporary art in public space.
The first public meet-up on June 10, 2020, allowed us to share and to discuss different local situations, a variety of responses, and some future trends. Guests were Aymen Gharbi from Tunis, Katerina Mirovic from Ljubljana, Andrea Moeller from Leeuwarden, Simone Schimpf from Ingolstadt, Aleksandra Stratimirovic from Skopje, Martina Tritthart from Vienna. The talk was hosted by Bettina Pelz, supported by Salma Kossemtini, Syrine Siala, Irene Urrutia.
Acting decentral is helpful
Art-in-public-space projects and festivals of light are responding with great flexibility to the Corona pandemic. Other than concerts and theater performances which gather large groups of visitors in one place or under one roof, festivals of light are decentral exhibition formats. Most of them develop trails throughout the city’s center to host light installations, lighting design interventions or light-responsive artwork. Working with a broad variety of sites, they spread across a quarter or a district, some in walking distance, some along bike trails, other to be reached by public or private transport. These kinds of temporary art-in-public-space projects are developed to respond to urban situations, social encounters and societal being, but caring for physical distance is a built-in quality.
No crowd? No close contact? No problem?
In the recent weeks, art-in-public-space projects and festivals of light developed measures and strategies to enlarge the spatial framework of the exhibitions allowing visitors to care for physical distance, to expand their timeframes to distribute the numbers of visitors over a longer duration, to explore hybrid models of onsite and online mediation. As well they started experimenting with new forms of remote productions for site-specific and context-conditioned or co-operative artwork. Although most of them are temporary art events, they consider hosting permanent artwork in public space that can be experienced even in times of person-to-person contact restrictions. The transition measures need additional resources in the form of budget, competencies, and tools, but artists, curators, and producers are sure that with collective efforts, they can timely be back in public space. Still, it will be a task to convince public administrations that these kinds of events are suitable even under health restrictions.
Change of outreach and impact?
Experienced with large audiences, festivals of light know how to control crowds, to distribute visitors, and to limit access to small groups where needed for safety reasons. It is entailed in their DNA to be among the first to be back in public spaces after the months of distancing. In the stream of discussion, the smaller festivals seem to be more flexible than the larger ones. While artists, curators, and producers respond with dedication and solutions to the requirements of the New Normal, festivals of lights that attract mass audiences are rather stalled. What was an indicator of success, shifts to be a problem: mass events, crowded streets, and festive gathering will take longer to be back in action. For projects in public space, it will be a key aspect to convince partners and funders that the distribution of the audience is not downsizing the impact: How to adapt the set of impact parameters of partners and funders when mass audiences are not suitable anymore for public health and collective being? When the number of visitors cannot serve as such an indicator, how can art festivals proof qualities and impact of an art project, a sociocultural event, or a marketing action?
In good and bad times
The festivals of light around the world are a well-networked community in spite of their different concepts, parameters, and their different clusters of the more commercial or touristic events, the design-oriented undertakings, and the art-focused projects. Over the last 20 years, a floating system of exchange, co-operation, and friendship has been built that is now helping to cope with the new conditions of public health.
Non-stop in VIENNA
Continuing to observe what happens
“I simply continued what I was doing anyway, I had my exhibitions up, I didn’t want to be stopped by the Corona pandemic. Of course, fewer people came, but maybe even that is ok. Every visit and every encounter became more valuable”, stated Martina Tritthart. She is a Vienna-based artist who has been exhibiting over the recent weeks. “Now, at the beginning of June, we have more and more openings in the days, there are good vibes around.”
A new start in INGOLSTADT on 5 June 2020
Art experience onsite, art mediation online
FLUX LICHTWERKE in Ingolstadt is one of the projects that made it. On June 5th, an architecture projection was put into place to stay for three months. “We were already discussing to start a series of light-based interventions in public space”, said Simone Schimpf, director of the Museum for Concrete Art in Ingolstadt. “After the first six weeks in the lock-down, we decided that we should do something. Bettina Pelz discussed with some artists what are the options, and we were very happy when Detlef Hartung and Georg Trenz agreed to start instantly working on an intervention for Ingolstadt.”
Jointly, the “City Department for Urban Development and Building Law” and the “Museum for Concrete Art” prepared the public situation respecting the “NO-Cs” parameters: No crowd, no close-contact, no contagion. While the work was put in place onsite, the opening, the art mediation briefing, and accompanying talks are taking place online. “We are very excited and our audience as well”, reported Simone Schimpf. “We found a hybrid format that allows us to communicate on our new building and to interact with our audience at the same time.” FLUX Lichtwerke is planning on further activities later in the year. “We must be in the here-and-now and care for our audience … we are working on new formats, and with our architecture projection we are very happy with the way that it opened this new path.”
Going online in HELSINKI on 8 June 2020
Artistic co-operation online
LUX Helsinki is an annual festival of light since 1995 which was among the early internationally renown festivals. Others were LUCI D’ARTISTA in Torino, FÊTE DE LUMIÈRES in Lyon, LICHTROUTEN in Ludenscheid, and GLOW in Eindhoven. The Finnish Light Art Society (FLASH)was established to promote light art production and display as well as for artists and designers working with light as material or medium. The association organizes exhibitions, education and other events, informs about important issues and takes a stand on topics related to the field of light art.
Last month, FLASH invited artists and curators to meet for five days for intensive exchange and made grounds for new co-operations. “As COVID 19 moves across countries, cities, communities, and homes leaving people separated, distanced, numbed and deprived of their ordinary actions new states of being in the world take shape. Perceptions of what used to be, what is right now and what is to come are dynamically defining our lives in new ways. FLASH Virtual Residency picks up on the dichotomy of absence and presence. We examine how absence, the state of being without the things that we used to know and navigate from, affects us. And we explore how presence, the state of being and existing in the current moment, fosters new awareness and creates values”, as stated in the call for application. The residency was on from June 8 to 12, 2020. Participating artists and curators were quite excited reporting from the intensive encounter. The enthusiasm about the option to overcome the confinement with digital tools was underlined in all comments.
Working in virtual spaces
Remote artistic co-operation
Kurt Laurenz Theinert is an artist based in Stuttgart. With his „Visual Piano“ he played at almost all European Festivals of Light. “In the days of the lock-down, I got an invitation by an artist I hadn’t worked with before”, told us Kurt Laurenz Theinert. “And being stuck at home, we started to build virtual spaces to see if we can find a way to explore our audio-visual co-operation. It was great to learn something and to experiment, and yes, we got somewhere, but the technical limitations in real-time and real color are still full of frustrations.”
Kurt Laurenz Theinert. Visual Piano. 2019.
SVETLOBNA GVERILA happening in public space of Ljubljana from 15 June on
Paying artists and technicians for their work
SVETLOBNA GVERILA was founded in 2008 jointly by local Katerina Mirovic and Aleksandra Stratimirovic from Belgrade. It became an annual event with a focus on a mix of local and international artists and with a broad variety of transdisciplinary academic co-operations. “At one point, I simply decided that I want SVETLOBNA GVERILA to happen” _ said Katerina Mirovic, the founder and director of the festival of light SVETLOBNA GVERILA in Ljubljana. “But it came with a lot of problems that we had to cope with … Some artists like Robert Sochacki from Poland we had to postpone to next year, but I guess that is the only one. With artists like Nicolas Bernier from Canada or Aleksandra Stratimirovic, we produced remotely. The real problems came with all the new works and the students’ lab that we host. Shops were closed, materials were not available, the transport was difficult … I really do not know who we managed. Then we learned about the contact and gathering restrictions, and we had to cancel some of the performances and VJ-ing. We work with many artists collectives and students’ groups, and sometimes they were already too many to be allowed in space. Finally, we had to cancel some of these activities, but may-be we will find options in the next days.” All instructions of the audience will include health measures like masks and distancing. Katerina Mirovic hopes that visitors will respect the rules: ”It will be good for their health, but as well for my life. If we don’t manage, we will not only be penalized as an organization but for me personally as well … At this moment we are not allowed more than 200 in an open-air spot, that means that we will not be as free as in the last years, but we can respect these restrictions.” In her focus are not only the visitors but as well as artists and technicians working for the festival: “We want to pay artists and technicians so that they can care for their living. It is important that they make it through this crisis, they are the backbone of our active cultural scene.” And then she added: “We are busy with keeping things together, but we did not come up with anything crazy-”
Opening in August SKOPJE LIGHT ART DISTRICT
Enlarging the area of display
SKOPJE LIGHT ART DISTRICT was founded in 2018, and it became an annual event. It hosts a mix of local and international artists and encompasses the presentation of a Video Mapping Competition. Aleksandra Stratimirovic is the artistic director. “Instead of in May, we will stage SKOPJE LIGHT ART DISTRICT in August. While in Sweden we like to plan a long time ahead and festivals like “Island of Light” are already cancelled. In Macedonia, we are monitoring the situation, and we make a decision when we see a possibility … We hope to have our international artists present, but we are working as well on the option to produce remotely.” The choice of location became more crucial due to the Corona restrictions. We will go to a large park, not exactly in the city-center. And we will have to avoid programs that gather crowds … performances, concerts, Vj-ing and Dj-ing will be limited, we will focus on an art trail that will allow wandering of small groups.”
SKOPJE LIGHT ART DISTRICT Skopje 2019. Videos: SKLAD
INTERFERENCE starting in September with a new format in Tunis
Expanding the duration of the exhibition
The International Light Art Project INTERFERENCE has been founded as a biennial event in 2016 by Aymen Gharbi and Bettina Pelz. It is an artists-and-curators-driven initiative focusing on the dialogue of contemporary art and cultural heritage. Aymen Gharbi reported that in spite of the good condition with having almost no Corona cases, the government has already decided to cancel the 2020 editions of two of its most important cultural events, the international Festivals of Carthage and of Hammamet, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cultural activities are scheduled to resume gradually starting mid-June when indoor venues reopen with a limited attendance of 30 visitors. Outdoor performances will resume with a maximum of 1,000 people while strictly following precautionary measures like obligatory facemasks and distancing. “As INTERFERENCE we might be in a good situation because of our decentral structure, but we will not be able to care for the distancing of the visitors strolling the alleys of the Medina, they are simply to narrow … and as well, we are a community-based event, we move in collectives when doing things with no chance for physical distance.” The INTERFRENCE community started to meet online and to discuss intensively the options to sustain the festival. “At the end, we decided that to follow the NO-C guidelines, we have to enlarge the spatial scope – like Skopje – but as well the time. If we want o keep the number of our audience, we have to mutate from a 4-day-festival to a 12-months project. And that is what we will do … We thought about what we have to change because of Corona but as well we discuss what do we want to change anyway, and in a country where we don’t have museums for contemporary art, we think that our new format is not only good as a response to Corona but for many other reasons, too. We are working on a new prototype and if we get it to work, we assume that we will stay with the new program. … The amount of work will be tremendous, but we started with a zero-budget in 2016, and we managed to build from there. We are quite sure that we will manage this next step as well … but we must turn our summer school in which we train artists’ assistances, art mediators, and producers in a year-round program, we have to build a mediation program that works onsite and online, self-guided and lead by art mediators, we have to convince the institutions that host our works to stay for longer and to share the responsibility for the artwork etc. … the most difficult part at this moment is that we have to develop a new supporting strategy for each partner and funder. This is the only aspect where we are still missing the feedback that we need. Here, funds were cancelled or closed when Corona hit and new ones are not in reach.”
LUNA preparing to open in November 2020 in Leeuwarden
Sharing the uncertainty with the audience
The festival of light LUNA in Leeuwarden has been founded in 2016 by Andrea Moeller. It is a spin-off of MEDIA ART FRIESLAND and extends the exhibition of innovative light and media-based artwork to public space. “I cannot see into the future” – started Andrea Moeller. She is directing MEDIA ART FRIESLAND and LUNA, the festival of light in Leeuwarden that takes place in November. “I hope that is going to happen, but things are changing all the time. Our strategy is to continue to plan and prepare as usually … and to monitor what kind of solutions are developed around the world. Closer to the event, we will check what will be our possibilities and try to be prepared as good as we can. In the end, we still might cancel if the measures will deform the outcome. We do not want it to be an event that is full of social distance, health measures and plastic tools. In the focus of our activity is the encounter, the encounter with the art and the encounter being part of the audience. The qualities of interaction are essential for us. That is what we want to sustain. … Communicating and transparency might a good strategy to cope with the situation … we hope to profit from all of you to make our festivals in November 2020 happen. … Our budget situation is relatively good because the funding institutions and governments in the Netherlands made sure that grants will not be withdrawn due to the corona situation are happy to share what they have. Immediately when the lock-down started, we were in the middle of our annual process of grant applications. We pulled through, despite all insecurities wrote applications and we have actually received slightly higher grants now than before.” While LUNA profits from being proactive and the Dutch culture funding scene corresponds to that, funds around the world have been cut, and open applications have been postponed until further notice. Artists, curators, and producers of festivals of light face additional efforts to regain their funding frameworks.
Advocating the onsite art experience
During the time of confinement, many artists and performers became active online to share their art. “ … when working with light, this is impossible” – said Aleksandra Stratimirovic. “Working with light means working with visual experience. No camera records the same way the human eye sees, color rendering on screens is still not reliable at all.” “Yes“, confirmed Katerina Mirovic, “we need the art experience … maybe we need to improve documentation and we must learn new tools to do so, spend more time and budget on documentation.”
Keeping the focus on site-specific and context-conditioned artwork
“For us”, Katerina Mirovic underlined, “nothing can replace the experience that links the light, the site, the work and the viewer.” Many supporting comments followed, “every artwork in INTERFERENCE is built in relation to specific sites, many of the unique cultural heritage sites … this cannot be replaced in the digital realm, our artists need the interaction with the sites and our audience as well …” _ Aymen Gharbi underlined what is at the core of many of the festivals’ concepts and an essential aspect of their success.
Only the INTERFERENCE team stated that they will include not only online documentation and mediation in their future settings but include as well artwork and art forms that are tied to the screen. “We saw during confinement that the digital tools were our rescue. We spend a lot of time with our phones and computers. As a community, we are intrigued by the digital push and although we thought that we are advanced, we discovered new tools and technologies, and we will experiment with them. We wish to improve the online documentation of the works. We want to reflect with artists on how to produce for the digital. The physical art experience is at our core, but we will try to respect the digital sphere as well, to make them co-exist with equal value and different qualities. The physical experience is not replaceable, but we want to rethink the digital that has been our exile”, explained Aymen Gharbi.
Promoting permanent works
“Maybe this is a good time to push to more permanent works in public space”, wonders Aleksandra Stratimirovic. “Especially in times when museums and galleries are closed or restricted, we should be able to find art anywhere … maybe we should care for more permanent works?” For all the projects and festivals that work on temporary displays only, this was a thought- and discussion-provoking aspect.
Encouraging further exchange
Due to the animated discussion, the participants discussed the need for personal encounters that usually are side-effects of meeting at the festivals. The new series of talks “FIRST LIGHTS – The Breakout Sessions” is a new attempt to provide professional exchange and to feed personal ties and relations. The future meetings will be published on FIRST LIGHTS website.