The SPACES Conference, Vienna, October 30-31, 2014


The SPACES Conference, Vienna, October 30-31, 2014

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The SPACES Conference, Vienna
October 30-31, 2014

Art that reacts to life where it actually happens, blurred borders between the producer and the viewer of art: between 2011-2014, the project SPACES assembled artists and cultural workers in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine acting in the public realm of their cities, critically reflecting on societal issues. Artistic work expressed in the temporary use of public space establishes a counterweight to the eternal representation of power that classical statues and monuments are loaded with, or can represent the artist’s tactics of sustaining creativity in unfavourable conditions.

Public space is a radically changing, endangered environment, particularly in Eastern Europe. After decades of rather hidden and scattered struggles, public space and its re-appropriation through artists in particular, and civil society in general have become key elements in current processes of protest, activism and change.

Within the framework of SPACES, the curatorial team invited artists to develop interactive projects in Chisinau, Kyiv, Tbilisi and Yerevan, to reconsider public space as a place for free expression, social encounter, and shared responsibilities, aiming at enhancing civil society processes. The SPACES interventions dealt with the past, present, and future aspirations of spaces and cities, succeeded to change the rhythm of the city, made private acts public, irritated – all against the background of the burning question: How far can the citizen get actively involved in current political discourses?

Another challenge for SPACES was to strengthen the cultural public sphere in the four countries, juxtaposing it to an economy-centred cultural policy approach. The approach of a cultural public sphere brings together the “notion of public debate, democratic representation in terms of politics and policy, with aesthetics and emotion, that is, affective matters” (McGuigan, 2011), going beyond cognition.

The project created antitheses to the current urban transformation processes, characterized by the privatization of public property, the destruction of the historic centers of the cities and an ongoing loss of their former social functions, new ownership patterns and symbolic domination of the public space by political and religious groups in power. These processes exclude many voices, such as religious minorities, economically disadvantaged groups, or the communities of sexual minorities, and leave citizens unprepared to consider public space as a common space for all.

The SPACES conference in Vienna presents and discusses experiences from Chisinau, Kyiv, Tbilisi, and Yerevan, and connects them to other parts of Europe and the world. Speakers from 12 countries share their experiences and reflections with the audience. The discussion proceeds to looking at the social transformation processes in Europe in general and the positioning of artists in current global processes of protest, activism and change.

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