Visual Arts

Public Art on the Streets of Germany

As urban spaces change and society becomes more mobile and networked, the traditional role of art in public spaces is being called into question. This segment describes how visual artists are dealing with the growing importance of mobility in public life.

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Authors: M+M (Marc Weis und Martin De Mattia)
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Artworks or interventions in public spaces no longer consist only of relatively static installations in prominent urban locations. Instead, the concept of public art is expanding to encompass mobile projects as well, some of which are being carried out at important traffic intersections.

A trip in the "staff car" belonging to the artists and directors M+M (Marc Weis and Martin De Mattia) shows off various artworks in Münster, Cologne, Frankfurt, and Munich, which intervene in public life. During the ride, the back seat is occupied by a changing cast of curators and artists who discuss their projects and experiences involving road traffic. Curator Kasper König refers to works by Michael Asher, Roman Signer and Ayse Erkmen, some of which were realized for the Sculpture Projects Münster exhibit. Even automobiles have been used as mobile sculptures. In connection with this, the artist Tobias Rehberger recollects his proposed Custom Car, a drivable car which he wanted to "soup up" to the point of absurdity. The project couldn't be realized for reasons of road safety. Curator and art historian Florian Matzner draws attention to artistic standpoints which sociocritically question the term "public" as it relates to mobility. Here the film crosses paths with works by Rudolf Herz, Pia Lanzinger, schleuser.net, and Empfangshalle. Artist Silke Wagner talks about her work with actionist groups who have used a minibus as a mobile platform. Söke Dinkla, a media theorist and curator, describes the phenomena associated with today's network culture and points out their physical manifestation in the road network. A project by the artist duo Nina Fischer/Maroan El Sani, in which a GPS system was used to draw a logo in a digital map of Rome during a drive lasting several hours, seems virtually programmatic here. At the end of the exploratory journey, artist Stefan Huber joins the trip and guides the car through the tunnel under Petuelpark, a sculpture park he has curated. Here he reveals the secret of the Periscope by Bogomir Ecker. Ecker has developed a movable optical instrument which can be used to peer down from the idyllic artificial park into the tunnel below to observe the perpetual motion of the city's traffic.

In the course of this motorized foray through the streets and roads of Germany, one thing becomes clear: the concept of "public" has expanded considerably in the past two decades. The parts of a city which formerly represented public life – such as public squares and pedestrian zones – have been joined by new fields of action. One doesn't necessarily linger but instead remains in continuous motion. This leads to a change in the thematic focus and formal realization of artistic work in public spaces. The "quick glance," the "interactive mechanism," and the "procedural character" are key words which describe these new trends. The association with one's own body and the bodies of others is lost in endless road traffic. The connection to the automobile, on the other hand, is growing closer. The car is becoming an abode, a second skin.
Goethe-Institut e. V. 2007
Related links

Dossier: Media Art in Germany

History, tendencies, names and institutions