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Art & Social Space
SITAC Art and City: Urban Aesthetics, Public Space, Policies for Public Art
by Jennifer Teets

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The Second International Symposium on Contemporary Art Theory (SITAC), coordinated by the Contemporary Art Patron (PAC) in Mexico City, took place January 23rd-25th this year. 26 curators, researchers, sociologists, architects and artists from 13 countries were invited to reflect on urban artistic interventions, public space, and the results of public art policies. Avoiding a thematic focus, the following commentary presents 2 key panel discussions in the context of their theoretical and case study parameters. For a more general overview of the forum's content see Director Ery Camara's statement on Urban Aesthetics, Public Space, and Policies for Public Art? at the end of this article.

I New urban space, urban embellishment, and cities as forms of provocation

French-Hungarian architect, Yona Friedman, initiated the forum's first round table, Urban Aesthetics, with an interesting commentary on the nature of individual change and cities as ever-evolving ready-mades. Although his presentation did not directly engage the use and role of aesthetics in urban contexts, he did refer to junctions of "hardware" and "software" factors in the urban terrain. The first "hardware" representing buildings, roads, and physical constituents, the second "software" pooling together the acts and attitudes of a city's inhabitants. Friedman noted, "The City is the result of a large number of individual acts. Above these acts there might be a small order and through this small order the cityscape changes. Individual city acts are always interconnected in some way. Therefore, the cityscape is the result of the interconnection of these acts and as a result the cityscape changes continuously. A city is an ongoing process-and it is not the final result that counts. There exists a process which is not confined by a clear set of rules. The city as a process seems erratic. One cannot see any order. But there is no process which does not follow some order, at least an untransparent one. The history of individual acts describes this process. There exists no process without order but most processes follow a 'complicated order.' A 'complicated order' has no rules which can be explained." Friedman has been known to describe this "complicated order" by means of mathematical models, as well as the familiar hardware/software terminology mentioned above. New urban spaces give rise to the removal of hardware, yet are more prone to erratic individual interventions. Friedman further stated, "The hardware of cities is an urban space existing within a void. A void is something you cannot see. What you can see are the first places and establish boundaries. Architects manipulate these surfaces. Raw material is exactly that void and architects manipulate its boundaries. Architecture as art is the interaction of voids. The architect introduces order into an assembly of voids. This order is not necessarily regular, and yet the user of the product introduces his disorder."

Director and Professor of Urbanism and Architecture at Mexico City's Universidad Iberoamericana, José Luis Cortés, presented a bland, generalized reflection entitled Urban Art and City. He focused on 4 universal phenomena in the context of Mexico City: from city growth to urban monuments occupying public space. Néstor Garcí­a Canclini, however, challenged the visiting public with a compelling argument, entitled Spectacular Comforts in a Megalopolis, which analyzed the aesthetic ritualization of the public field present in both billboards along the Periférico freeway and the ABCDF exhibition (and subsequent 1500 page book) hosted by the National Fine Arts Institute (INBA) in Mexico City. The philosopher-author who coordinates the Urban Studies Program at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana stated, "Two experiences from recent years propose grandiosity as an urban embellishment in Mexico City. One of them is the group of enormous signs that transform the Periférico freeway and other main avenues; strange public galleries of advertising art. The other was the ABCDF exhibition, which continues its existence through the 1500 page book that accompanied it. The book circulated and continues to circulate widely both in Mexico and abroad, proposing a visual repertoire housed within the structure of an alphabetical catalogue of the 'deepest aspects' of the Mexican capital city. Between spectacle and fetishism both proposals contrast apocalyptic diagnosis with routine urban policies, altering the current conditions in which art and city can be re-thought."

Although Shuddhabrata Sengupta did provide examples from his working project the Raqs Media Collective from New Delhi - in particular the installations 28°28°N/77°15°E: 2001/2002 (presented at Documenta 11, Kassel, 2002) and Location(n) (presented at Emoção Art.ficial, Itau Cultural Centre, Sao Paulo, 2002) - he structured his platform around an allegoric mirage of city glimpses and also noted what Mackenzie Wark has called "Globalization from Below." Sengupta eloquently commented, "A city is a provocation for acts of making meaning, a map waiting for a reader, an invocation that always awaits its messenger. Crowded with experiences, people, memories and histories, city spaces demand interpretation and inscription. Streets ask for signs. Crossroads, intersections, overbridges, cul de sacs and grids wait to be written on to imagined topographies. [ç] Emotions exist as well as the placing of times. Global nights and days. State of jetlag, always. Daily biorhythms are lit by millions of network screens. Sleeping with waking. Hunger with stimulation. The traveling of emotions across timezones. Cities at peace with themselves? Constant civil war. Master plan and the moment. An array of identities under the underpass. City as provocation. The city demands interpretation and answers! As well as a city that renews itself at every step. We are forever reaching destinations inside the city and in our own lives, that address each of us as long-term inhabitants, transients, strangers and hostages. We may be hostages to the city but we also hold the keys to our own freedom within it. Some of these keys are artworks, and the things that can be made from the residues, as well as anticipations of various artistic practices."

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