Art Staging the Civic: From Rhetoric to Spaciousness

Art Staging the Civic: From Rhetoric to Spaciousness

Mário Caeiro, Madalena Folgado
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2823-5.ch010
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The chapter presents a conceptual and pragmatic mindset, concerning activities such as curating artistic projects in public space, programming cultural events, and designing habitats. 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 change. In a peculiar rhetorical balance—an ethos of attention, a logos of ongoing urban-based research, and finally a pathos of witty sharing of information, knowledge, and experience—some artistic installations and urban projects are a valid laboratory for creative citizenship. Art is presented as a tekne sensitive to discrete elements of the city, leading these to become the building blocks of urban life. In the epilogue, the authors switch from analysis to a phenomenological approach in order to give to see the very moment wherein the work of art's resoundingness brings awareness to urban space as theatre of apparitions.
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In this chapter what is presented is a mindset and a disposition for a critical and transformative approach of activities such as curating artistic projects in public space and programming cultural situations 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 socio-spatial 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, if not an instance where the dream of a post-capitalist society meets the quest for presence.

The chapter acknowledges the fact that by means of a certain kind of urban art culture appears as a crucial transformative 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) lies a same understanding of the potency of the socius 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), and as well, more recently, the relation between gesture and participatory art (Bala, 2018). In this spirit, we must accept that the one good 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); and we must keep in mind understand gesture as situated between image, speech and action – no longer image but not yet act (Bala, 2018) – and in the core of any reflection on the issue of participation both in terms of artistic practice and reception, and in the sphere of public and civic life (Bala, 2018).

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. Light appears here as a technical medium and a cultural model for the gesture – an act that is condensed into hint, a suggestion (Bala, 2018) – to be enlightening.

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 life; but ultimately also to acknowledge emerging conditions for the momentaneous contact with Essence (Abreu, 2015) within the contingencies of the urban condition.

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