The role of art in our societies as propaganda of the political system that sustains it, as well as its subsequent incorporation into the show business and entertainment industries, possibly becomes even more evident when it appears in events similar to the cultural one that concerns us here. In this respect, current public art has often been used by its promoters as a substitute of and alibi for a real social policy, whilst projecting a desirable modernness image. This approach is also influenced by a series of strongly held misconceptions, perhaps selfishly for their populist content, about its reception, such as the fallacy of the unsuspecting spectator (take art to the public) or the sine qua non requirement of citizen participation (when public participation hardly takes place in other situations or is even outright rejected by public authorities not readily willing to hand over their control of the public space) and the presumption of an ideological uniformity which is far removed from the reality of a plural society of a city where celebrations of the family sponsored by the Vatican ‘coexist' with the European Gay Pride March, the splendour of royal weddings with 14th of April tokens, demonstrations organised by the ultra right against ‘anti-Spanish racism' with brawls in response to the same fascist violence which (as usual) ends up in murder.
Let us therefore distance ourselves from preconceived concepts of what public art should be in order to get a better perspective. Let us not conceive the urban environment as a space for consensus but for conflict, or at least a space for attempting to stage it. And in this situation we will have an appropriate view of what is attempted here: a tendentious, critical, ideologically biased and far from neutral discourse. With the aim of contextualising it in a scene that is not interchangeable —Madrid— a scene from where to position ourselves in relation to a series of specific problems and reflections. It is true that the projects brought together here range from symbolic to practical approaches, from generic problems associated with the city and contemporary society to specific problems which (like it or not) closely affect the people of Madrid, from a poetic secretiveness approach to a need to simplify complex discourses in order to act as propaganda against propaganda (conscious of the fact that we can no longer interpret propaganda in the ‘modern' manipulation sense of the word but as the all-embracing offer of life's economistic reductionism). Let us consider the public art interventions brought together for this event as a double opportunity: on the one hand, to transmit messages unusual to the public space, taking for granted that, if we understand the public space as a communication channel, the dominating discourse (urban, architectural and media related) that we find is the one generated from within the commercial and institutional spheres, and, on the other, to create a temporary community of joint action gathered around a series of reflections on the city, made up of the participating artists and the audience that feels a responsibility towards it.
Within this general framework, a series of specific lines of action centred on the following points are established: the organisation of the city (with emphasis on the problems stemming from real estate speculation, currently a key issue for the inhabitants of Madrid), the role of art in the public space as a means through which to visualise discourses unusual to the public space and new cultural expressions associated with the urban environment.
With respect to the organisation of the city, we can refer to the projects of LaHostiaFineArts (LHFA), Todo por la Praxis and Santiago Cirugeda. Following the system of organising the city from an economic perspective, LaHostiaFineArts proposes an approximation to the Usera district of Madrid, representative of the new changes that are taking place in the city of Madrid, as it is the district with the highest immigrant population (precisely where the above-mentioned ‘against anti-Spanish racism' demonstration took place, as well as the subsequent murder of a left-wing activist who was on his way to a demonstration against the authorisation of the previous event) and, at the same time, Usera is undergoing a gentrification process as a result of the opening of the Matadero cultural centre by the local council, which is the flagship of its cultural policy. Apart from opening Madrid Abierto to other areas and developing a collective creation project with the participation of 100 artists, the project entails an approximation based on psycho-geographical tactics, proposing an experimental cartography of the district removed from the normally offered media and institutional image. Todo por la Praxis presents a project of an ‘advertising' nature which addresses the figure of the real estate speculator in an ironical way. Although the project starts off with a representation, it goes on to involve social processes of the city by organising the exhibition Empty World in the Liquidación Total alternative space, as well as a series of debates on occupation, empty houses and the problems generated by the speculation phenomenon in Madrid, in collaboration with architects, artists and social movements (i.e., La Fiambrera Obrera, C.S.O.A Patio Maravillas, V de Vivienda...). Santiago Cirugeda will create an office to offer advice on self-construction in the city, the creation of co-operatives and the legal formulas for building apartments in underused spaces like roof terraces. The public will be shown the self-construction process by witnessing how the above-mentioned office is built.
With Videoman, Fernando Llanos proposes a technology for transmitting messages in the public space where we will find a parallel with advertising strategies, although the aim of the messages that he works with is not to obtain financial gain but to raise awareness of the specific urban space where he acts. Focusing more explicitly on propagandistic material, we could mention the work of Anno Dijkstra, Immi Lee/Annamarie Ho as well as Alicia Framis/Michael Lin. Based on the idea of reviewing the public monument or sculpture and its role as a symbol (as well as decoration) towards which citizens should acknowledge a consensus, we could place the work of Anno Dijkstra, who proposes shifting a popular media image and transforming it into a monument. Whilst Immi Lee and Annamarie Ho propose their approach to propaganda by using the slogan, placing the message "La guerra es nuestra" in the Círculo de Bellas Artes, with the intention of questioning the citizen on the issues that concern him, no matter how far they have been removed from political life (both the issues and the citizens). In a hybrid project that uses a format associated with entertainment, Alicia Framis and Michael Lin stage a fashion show (which will be held in La Casa Encendida) to raise criticism of the role of children used as merchandise in advanced capitalism.
Also using advertising mechanisms, but based on different historical references (to talk about current problems), we can group the projects of Fernando Prats, who will reproduce the advertisement published on occasion of the search for volunteers for Shackleton's expedition to the South Pole on the facade of Casa de América, using this facade as a consciously chosen support to suggest a metaphor for migratory movements; Jota Castro, aiming to visualise the phenomena of (post)colonialism and transculturation; and Santiago Sierra who will present the ‘Black Flag of the Republic' in an act that will offer the reflections of José Luis Corazón and Fabio Rodríguez de la Flor on this anti-symbol. The project will be rounded off with putting up posters bearing the image of this flag throughout the centre of Madrid.
Lastly, the projects of Andreas Templin, Guillaume Ségur and the collective project of Noaz and Dier would be associated with forms of urban culture. The project of Andreas Templin, presented as an act of situationist inspiration, attempting to be a part of ordinary life, uses clothes (T-shirts and sweatshirts) as a dissemination channel, taking us to popular forms of expression associated with specific urban groups. The work of Guillaume Ségur consists of a minimalist sculpture, but the fact that it is placed in a place where skaters normally gather, with the aim of being used by the skaters, she takes it to an area where urban culture and the criticism of the traditional monument interact. Noaz and Dier work in the field labelled as ‘urban art', and we considered that their presence was important here because they represent a large group of street artists who normally practice their art in Madrid. Far from including their usual work in Madrid Abierto, the idea behind their collaboration is to present a project that goes beyond their normal spheres. This intervention will be rounded off with one of their critical stencil, graffiti and stickers campaigns.
To conclude this introduction, also worth mentioning are some of the methodological issues that cross cut the initiative approaches addressed here: how the selected projects move around, the appropriation and use possibilities that they offer and their involvement with other spheres beyond art (the work of Cirugeda as an ‘open source' tool, the will of Todo por la praxis to collaborate with social movements), the insertion of the work of Fernando Llanos in a genealogy of ways of intervening in the public space, something which, due to their post-situationist approach, we can also find in LHFA and Andreas Templin, the strategic coincidences between contemporary art and urban art practices (Noaz/Dier), the camouflage of certain interventions with other languages characteristic of the urban space, ranging from advertising (Lee/ Ho, Sierra, Castro, Prats) to monumentality (Dikjstra, Ségur), and the hybridisations with other disciplines, such as in the case of Alicia Framis and Michael Lin, and not less important, the broadening of the physical sphere of action of Madrid Abierto (the junction Castellana-Recoletos) to Usera, the Centre of Madrid and to other points dictated by the dynamics of each project.
Madrid Abierto 2008 curators