Being boundless – art in the city

Tuesday 18 September 2018

JR © A picnic at the border

JR © Photo, Michelle Haywood

A clutch of some of the world’s leading artists gathered at NLA to demonstrate how their work and collaboration with other members of the built environment professions can help to engage the public and help animate and revitalise the city.

Futurepace founder Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst said the group of artists it is working with are ‘pushing boundaries’ and doing ‘extraordinary things outside the gallery walls’, while Serpentine Galleries chief executive officer Yana Peel said they were helping to transform viewers into participants. ‘Futures cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented’, she said. Peel added that sometimes art’s contribution is quantifiable, too, citing McKinsey’s work stating that Christo’s Mastaba on the Serpentine, formed of 7500 barrels had brought some £150milion of benefits to London.

Florian Ortkrass, Co-founder, Random International, took the audience through his Rain Room experiential artwork, which he said was in part about looking into the human role in an increasingly automated world. ‘We try to make see, rather than telling’, he said. Heloise Reynolds, Dramaturge, Random International, meanwhile, said the room’s effects were ‘counterintuitive and surreal’, while another project – Self & Other – was a scheme brought into the public realm at Albert Embankment which depicts the human form and mimics the movement of those nearby. ‘What we wanted to do was bring the discussion between human and machine into a more accessible form. Your image is becoming part of the built environment’.

Artist JR continued this theme with his work pasting images in well-known settings, including next to New York’s flatiron. ‘I just do wallpaper’, he said. In Paris he was inspired by seeing people stop to take selfies at the Louvre pyramid. ‘So I thought I’d make the pyramid disappear for a while’, he said, through pasting an image of the museum’s façade on the glass. And on the Mexican border he used a ‘Caterpillar’ to dig down and create the setting for a scaffold-held image of a one-year old baby he had seen, before running an image through the fence and delighting in people passing tacos to the other side. 

Yuichi Kodai showed some of his collaborations with Kohei Nawa, including a ship-like Zen temple, the Shinshoji Zen Museum and Gardens, that seems to hover over the ground, with a pitch-dark, contemplative space within and a Japanese garden with seating below. In the Louvre pyramid, again the artist created ‘Throne’, a 12m tall sculpture in gold leaf that, said Kodai, questions power and how we relate to the technological world. Kodai said many of the fruitful work comes from the pair’s ‘motto’ – to have ‘afternoon class’, where fun was the watchword

Before questions from the floor, FutureCity founder Mark Davy said he had helped set up the public art-commissioning Futurepace organisation in order to get artists involved in city making, and has triumphed in its first year with the Illuminated River Competition. ‘We wanted to get artists to the front of the queue’, he said. The artists represent new art forms and a new type of public art, added Davy, that is collaborative, challenging, engaging, and ‘cocky’.

During questions JR revealed his work in a favela where he bought a building, painted it yellow and called it a school, going on to create an inhabitable (and bullet-proof ‘moon’ to attract teachers. A future project involves a 40-long screen with audible stories from the people it features. Ortkrass said that ‘stubbornness’ was an important quality, Heloise adding that a focus on ‘the universal’ was another key strategy.

Ultimately though, said Yana Peel, what all of the artists had shown, was the ‘incredible impact’ of art without boundaries; ‘being boundless’.

By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly
@davidntaylor

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