A Critical Rhetoric for Urban Innovation: Art Staging the Civic

A Critical Rhetoric for Urban Innovation: Art Staging the Civic

Mário Caeiro (ESAD.cr, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0666-9.ch005
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The chapter presents a conceptual and pragmatic mindset, framing a critical positioning concerning activities such as curating artistic projects in public space, programming cultural events and designing habitats. It develops a specific jargon, crucial for a truly Contemporary understanding of the city: a total rhetoric of the urban form. Many different experiments in art are fueling the emergence of a new sensibility, showing how ‘parts of the city' can become possibilities, thus spaces with a great potential for both a strategic and critically engaged change. In a peculiar rhetorical balance - an ethos of attentive and open curiosity, a logos of ongoing urban-based research and production of ideas and finally a pathos of witty sharing of information and knowledge, some artistic installations and urban projects are a valid laboratory for creative citizenship. Through the analysis of a few cases, I argue that art is a tekne sensitive to discrete elements of the city, leading these to become the building blocks of urban life and creativity.
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In this chapter what is presented is a mindset for a critical and transformative approach of activities such as curating artistic projects in public space and programming cultural events in the city. It is a valid ethical and theoretical framework also for designing habitats and teaching practice. By means of revisiting a set of urban artworks and through the complementary gathering of shreds of a specific jargon in Public Art, a Contemporary understanding of the city as a social device is put forward. Such insight is inspiring many innovative activities that are today not only protagonists in the visual dimension of the city’s sceneries, but truly the outcome of a total rhetoric of the urban form.

The chapter acknowledges the fact that by means of a certain kind of urban art culture appears as a crucial element in the urban fabric, affirming an urban-based Civic creativity. What is concretely presented here is a set of aesthetic visions whose exemplary status is underlined. The intention behind this brief cartography is to explore a concrete corpus of heuristic interventions – some absolutely confirmed as milestones in Contemporary Art, others less known and realized in relatively marginal contexts. All lead the reader to understand how behind all these work(s) there is a same understanding of the potency of society as an aesthetic fact.

The argument is divided in three parts. In the first part, comments on a series of quite famous artworks highlight the idea that they can be seen as particularly memorable urban moments, very much in the sense that Lefebvre and later Liggett give to the word (Lefebvre, 2005; Liggett, 2003). These moments are at the core of a pragmatic and conceptual frame of mind, precisely because one could define them as rhetorical gestures – see Wittgenstein’s conception of gesture (Albertsen, 2000). In this spirit, we must accept that the best known definition of rhetoric comes from Aristotle who considers it a counterpart of both logic and politics, and calls it the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion (Aristotle, written 350 B.C.E, para. 10).

In the second part, a series of less known Urban Light Art installations is described, proving that, despite being much recent, they share the same communicational energy as the works presented in the first part. This is a way to avoid the Classics being ruled out as ‘a story told’. In other words, today’s Light Art can/shall be observed as a situated updating of Modern and Post-Modern Civic experiments and advancements.

In the final part, it becomes clear that ‘reading’ such ensemble of works as such – a kaleidoscope of aesthetic insights – what appears is the conscience that the City is a complex rhetoric stage (De Certeau, 1984) where art is absolutely necessary, even if – and precisely because – most of the time it’s messages are fuelling a common and embodied critique of urban reality. In other words, what is proposed is artistic rhetoric as a tool to engage in the Project as a device to deal cognitively with the Western everyday.

Furthermore, this text tries to make clear that there is a difference between irrelevant production of ambiguous utterances and a richer metaphorology – see Blumenberg (1987/2010) – that offers both the Interior and the Public richer ways of accessing the pivotal role of creativity, and specifically design and art in the urban fabric. In very concrete terms, what’s praised is the rhetorical in art (and not just art’s rhetoric), for any urban intervention is interdependent from the management of complex issues such as the way the work inhabits tensions such as the ones between museums and the city; the object and the landscape; poetry and silence.

In conclusion, what is proposed is a rhetorical understanding of the Project in Contemporary Interiors and Civic Art. It should help us all in the task of linking everyday discernment to historical if not anachronic wisdom, something that seems to be missing from a large part of today’s cultural production, be it ephemeral, permanent or cyclic.

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