ACTOPOLIS – Touring Exhibition Artistic activism for the city of tomorrow

The exhibition as a platform for diaolge
The exhibition as a platform for diaolge | Photo: Rainer Schlautmann

What possibilities are there for shaping and changing cities? Action strategies were tested in the search for urban alternatives. We asked curator Angelika Fitz about findings and strategies between art, urban planning and activism.

ACTOPOLIS is a call to action and to co-author the city. Artists, urbanists and activists from Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Ankara/Mardin, Oberhausen, Sarajevo and Zagreb joined forces in a three-year transnational production lab; not just to focus awareness on current urban issues, but also to transform places into playgrounds of what is possible. Findings are being presented in a touring exhibition, which will stop in nine cities in southeastern Europe and Vienna after its launch in Oberhausen on 19 March 2017.
Opening of the touring exhibition in Oberhausen Opening of the touring exhibition in Oberhausen | Photo: Rainer Schlautmann What is ACTOPOLIS and in what manner is the project now touring?

Angelika Fitz Photo: Marlene Rahmann / VIENNA ART WEEK 2016 Angelika Fitz: ACTOPOLIS is a virtual territory, an idea of a city: What makes a city? Not just the physically built city, but also the people and the things in the city and the relationships that they have with each other. This level of relationships and action in the city are topics of ACTOPOLIS. The project is not an exhibition, but a transnational platform where people meet between cities, work together for a long period of time and intensively enter into a dialogue.

What were some of the successes of the local projects and artistic interventions of 2016?

In all of the cities, we carried out local projects and interventions in the public space. In developing ideas and projects, we communicated very intensely going beyond the cities: What are current issues? These include migration, education, nationalism, but also to a great extent questions such as self-organization and images of the other and the self. Are there different concepts and perceptions of public space in Germany, Athens, Bucharest, Belgrade or Turkey? What methods would you like to use? This level is at least as important as the projects themselves.

Did this open up a new perspective on the structures of our cities?

We are experiencing renationalization. However, we are also experiencing urban communities that are diverse and colourful. I believe that the issue of international urban citizenship is more interesting than national citizenship. This can be experienced in a project like ACTOPOLIS. Another aspect is that a weakness of democratic institutions becoming apparent in the region of southeastern Europe and beyond. Market forces are becoming stronger, even in the crisis. What trust do people still have in administrative and governmental institutions? In projects like ACTOPOLIS, it is not about civil society doing everything itself. This is already active and can no longer be stopped. What’s important is creating more interfaces to administration and policy in future.

What opportunities for action arose?

In Bucharest, for example, it was a matter of opening up the possibility of saying, “I am a citizen of the city, I can act.” In the installation Be a Mayor for 10 Minutes, roles were swapped and passers-by were made mayors. It’s a fun game with a serious background, namely the change from protesting to co-designing. In Athens, it was more reflective with a look at the “exoticization of the South.” They say, “Athens is poor but sexy.” But what does that mean for the people who work there? How can we counter the Central European projections with something resilient? All of these were exciting topics that originated locally but have cross-regional relevance.
The exhibition shows works from seven cities of ACTOPOLIS The exhibition shows works from seven cities of ACTOPOLIS | Photo: Rainer Schlautmann Results were presented in Oberhausen and Bucharest and now also in Belgrade. How were the complex results put into an exhibition format?

An exhibition can only show a snapshot. It was important that the exhibition not be a showcase comparing cities, but revealing interconnections, common themes and methods. We work with the pictures, texts and videos of the artists, curators and architects only with the original audio. Instead of descriptions, voices from each of the projects are heard. In addition, public spaces form within the exhibition space, which are played on locally in the individual locations: whether through installations, performance, workshops or symposia – the exhibition is actually only finished when it is played on and becomes a public space.

Over the year, the exhibition will stop in other cities. Will the project be over after that?

Over, yes. But what’s important are the professional and personal networks. We developed an important format over these three years, micro-residencies, where the respective group in each city invites ten artists and activists from other cities to theirs. The result is a snowball effect, a network of journeys and visits across the entire region. Joint working relationships were developed over the months. These are things that will remain.
Part of a transnational network - Angelika Fitz (left) Part of a transnational network - Angelika Fitz (left) | Photo: Rainer Schlautmann