On the 22nd of May in 2013 we participated on the workshop "The Artist and Art within Urban Change" at the Georg Simmel Center at Humboldt-University of Berlin.
The figure and image of the artist as we know it today has a long history in the European cultural discourse. In this discourse the artist was placed mostly in an urban environment. An artist needed the public, support from institutions, and a platform for the presentation of his art, and the city offered the perfect solution for this combination of needs. But not only did the artist need the city, the city also required artists and art to be actors present within the city walls, producing and securing an artistic glory (splendour) for the city – classic examples are Renaissance Venice or Florence. Art and artist are connected during this long history with images that always fascinated the public. Today, this relationship seems to be extremely tight-knit in cities, where art becomes a “symbolic capital”, the artist an agent of gentrification (Ley 1996), and the creative industry a very crucial component of economic health. Various theories emphasize the role of property capital in these processes as well, describing how capital follows the artist into gentriﬁed localities, commodifying the artist’s cultural assets and displacing the original artist/gentriﬁer (Harris 2012).
From this phenomenon the question arises: what does it meant to be an artist today in this urban environment? With the call to “reclaim the streets” and also under the influence of the Situationists, Beuys and many others, artistic activity becomes much more resonant in the urban context than before in previous decades. How does this development influence our understanding of art, artist, and urbanity?
With these ideas as the backdrop, our interdisciplinary and international workshop intends to discuss these phenomena on two levels (as two possible sessions of the workshop) and from a comparative point of view, where the cities (Moscow, Berlin, London and Istanbul) are on one hand sites for different urban historical traditions, and on the another hand they are “metropolises” for the economic, cultural, political and industrial centers of their countries and regions.
I. The change in the role of the Artist in the urban context (changing images of the Artist in the urban context):
At this point the workshop intends to focus on the changing attribution of the artist during the last 100 years: from the bohemia of the fin de siècle, through the revolutionary role during the Russian revolution, to the lonely and anonymous rebel against capitalist aesthetics in the cities. Not only have the different, eventually transnational, European historical images of the artist had to be reflected (if we have such images!) as well as the local urban contexts – in London, Berlin and Moscow. At this point the workshop would concentrate on the local transformations of the transnational, trans-European images of artists and analyze it on the concrete urban local level.
(An example: what are the differences of the images of the street artists? Street art is generally viewed - on a “transnational level” as art and the artists using these forms of communication have something of the rebel image. On local level - Banksy is exhibited, in Berlin the city is branding itself with street art, and in Moscow street artists are criminals…)
In this context the following questions/points could be discussed among the participants:
- How did the image of the artist change during the last 100 years?
- What values surround the figure of the artist today? What images and values are projected when we think of “the artist” as a component of urban experience?
- Are there any local differences in the valuing of the artist? Comparing London and Berlin with Moscow or even Istanbul- are there any differences to be recognized in the “valuing” of the artist?
II. In the second session the workshop would discuss the production of art today in the urban context: What do artists produce today in the urban space? What kind of agency does the production of art have within urban change, and how has this altered over the past decades? For example, urban public space has previously been occupied and claimed by street artists producing work that challenged dominant ideologies of ‘legitimate’ art production. Now the public space of the urban—“the streets”—is being occupied by artists and visual images coming from semi-private spaces like galleries and ateliers, or semi-public spaces like museums. What are the implications of this change in art production and the agency of visual works in the city and how does this modify the relationships between art, the artist, and urban change in the city?
The workshop does not intend to seek answers, but to open new fields of discussion for comparative and interdisciplinary urban research.