Questions on community – developed by Agustina Strüngmann, Eleonora Stassi, Kenneth Paranada, Adriana Domínguez Velasco, Dina Yakerson, students of the Postgraduate Program in Curating during the workshop for the realization of an issue on On-Curating on new social sculpture – to be addressed to the artist who participated in the exhibition “Archive of Shared Interests”, Thun 2012.
1. In the framework of your practice, how would you define community?
PW: Community is one of those vague words like public space. They are loaded with meaning, but at the same time mean nothing due to their vagueness. It is important to be precise about who you mean when you say the word community. Is it a resident group, schoolchildren, active participants, volunteers, or proud citizens? This precision also has implications on the level and method of engagement, the effect you have on those people, the relationships you establish, and future involvement beyond the time scale of a project. The people "public works" has been involved with have ranged from very active participants to those who have only engaged briefly. Our current and future ambition is a more politicized one, where our engagement is more about mobilizing citizens into action.
2. Do you feel that locally engaged projects need to have a global impact?
PW: There are many locally engaged projects globally and they are beginning to connect and network with each other and learn from one another. The question to those involved in socially driven practice is: should there be more public exposure to such projects which would give them recognition or should they remain hidden so they are not hijacked by politicians, local authorities, or even commercial markets in delivering their objectives.
3. Are you interested in the "afterlife" of your project, when the artist goes home?
PW: In the last three years, we have become more interested in projects that are longer term, with multiple local partnerships and networks in place so the projects can run over a longer period with local people. This way we can establish trust between the local collaborators/residents and us, and we can work with them to make an active change in their local environment. Although we are still very keen on brief open commissions and residencies, we more and more tailor their topics around ongoing longer-term projects we are engaged with at the time.
4. Is there a relationship between socially-engaged/community arts and artistic projects that choose to engage with communities?
PW: This is a really tricky one, and I do believe there is a difference. However, I do think this field of art practice is not so clearly articulated with voices from other fields such as anthropology, geography, urbanism, and political sciences. Claire Bishop criticizes it in her book Artificial Hells, where such practices are discussed within a very insular art debate. When dealing with society and the city (locality), any practice operating in such fields needs to open its discourse to a wider multidisciplinary debate, that’s where I find Bishop’s position is weakened. Regarding this type of practice, I can only talk about public works in its current state: which is a practice that engages with local people who are not necessarily communities in finding ways to claim their rights to the city and its spaces. This often needs to go outside the confines of an art commission, and the artist becomes an agent, an advocate, an activist, and those roles that claim a social and spatial change in the city is where I feel the transformative role of art and art practice lies.
5. Can art have a transformative effect on a community?
PW: This is absolutely what we are interested in. The moment art becomes transformative. The moment, where the transformative state manifests into another discipline, or acts in the political arena rather than making a commentary and when it makes an active social change. For us, this transformative state of art and art practice into a social and political action is where public works places itself currently. This is a place that we need to have more extensive debate and discussion about.
Public Works are an art and architecture practice working within and towards public space. All public works projects address the question how the public realm is shaped by its various users and how existing dynamics can inform further proposals. Their focus is the production and extension of a particular public space through participation and collaborations. Projects span across different scales and address the relation between the informal and formal aspects of a site. Their work produces social, architectural and discursive spaces.
Outputs include socio-spatial and physical structures, public events and publications.public works is a London based non-for-profit company. Current members are Torange Khonsari, Andreas Lang who work with an extended network of project related collaborators The practice has been growing organically since 1999, with its initial founding members Kathrin Böhm, Sandra Denicke-Polcher,Torange Khonsari, Andreas Lang and Stefan Saffer working in different constellations until 2006 before formally coming together as public works.