What purpose does it serve?

Those who work with artists, that is those who are not artists themselves but work for the benefit of artists and art, that is those who protect the right to free of charge and purposeless character of art and artistic actions against all the actions which a man imposes on the society, which they have created for themselves and which they live in; those then who are faced with the task of deciding between the often moody will of the artist and the context in which their work is placed, providing access, preparing the ground, grasping and reassigning value to pieces of art, which do not always hit the mark, creating opportunities and possibilities for producing new creations, both permanent and ephemeral, remembered or just temporary; we, who call ourselves curators, critics, mediators often wonder about the purpose of this work.

In his essay Public Space in a Private Time the American artist Vito Acconci says:

The establishment of certain space in the city as “public” is a reminder, a warning, that the rest of the city isn’t public. New York doesn’t belong to us, and neither does Paris, and neither does Des Moines. Setting up a public space means setting aside a public space. Public space is a place in the middle of the city but isolated from the city.

This is how regime art works. And this is how many inhabitants of Warsaw perceive the historical building of The Palace of Culture and Science presented to the city by Stalin after beginning to create by the Soviet Union the communist bloc established on the basis of the arrangements of the Warsaw Pact, a project of ambiguous friendship and in fact – domination.

The palace which still evokes extreme emotions, as a symbol of contemporary history, just like EUR district in Italy could be controversial after the war and, on the contrary, St. Peter’s Basilica which has already ceased to elicit strong feelings, a symbol of luxury and domination of the Catholic Church over our country, its history and particularly its culture. What has remained today is only the artistic value and the uniqueness of the heritage. Time translates a given event into an image; history gets turned into a myth.

History passes, buildings stay.

It concerns the buildings which are only the remnants of great achievements of what we now call “public art” and are not perceived as regime art anymore. Public art is actually created as art commissioned, paid for and ordered by an institution as a means of adding value to its subordinated territory, sending specific messages, establishing and impressing certain aesthetics. It is not produced as free art in the sense that an artist creates more or less consciously within the limits of assent.

With time the situation has changed. Artists have taken, also illegally, the space of their own freedom in which they meet and engage in a dialogue with their own audience. The private, the wealthy have been assuming competences and taking over the right to make choices, which should be up to public administration, until the situation when the line between both areas has clearly got blurred. “Public” space now, think about a park, is already polluted by images, ideas, information, invitations, buildings and virtual areas of divergent provenances and intentions. What has mainly changed is the way of using it, transition, means by which it can be done, perception – real and virtual, range of vision which constantly becomes broader or narrower, various relations, silent, within a group or conversing and purposeful.

Theorising about the change in “public” places, where artistic action confronts the precise “character of the place”, at the beginning of the twenty first century the art historian James Meyer in his Functional Site called them allegorical “sites” (intentionally giving an example from IT) where next to physical space other spaces overlap, abstract, virtual, there appear information, texts and images which trigger multilevel and complex piece of work that requires the command of many different languages to be read.

In her “Urban Jungle” Iza Rutkowska has realised public art in every sense of the word. Ordered by the city, the work has been created in cooperation with The Forms and Shapes Foundation (set up by the artist four years ago to carry out projects connected with public art, which engages in a dialogue with other aspects of urban reality and not only), it involves the palace marked with historical connotations, it is definitely visible for all the passers-by, therefore conducting a dialogue with the public sphere both on the urban planning as well as social level. It is substantial in size, if not majestic.

Whoever passes by, whoever sees the photos or reads about the work on Facebook, they will take part in the performance. The city with its historical palace and the surrounding buildings, trees, alleys act as a setting because they are already there. The huge snake, the magpie on the chimney or the balloon that has got caught in the fence give the impression that in a moment something is going to happen. A gesture or a slight shift can be enough to create a scene, bring life to a picture which previously seemed static but which can immediately start moving and tell us a story.

The story has not been articulated or written down, we are not sure of it and we do not know what exactly it wants to tell us but it is there, imposing itself on us, asking for attention, it makes us look up and presents us with a completely unusual view of the building. We know that a snake is definitely a symbolic animal and its form, the one created by the artist, is funny, amazing, winking at children and adults. But what else do we know about it? The story remains private but at the same time it enters into a dialogue with the society which it accompanies. The artist’s private space, creation, decision and vision suddenly enter the generally available visual field. From the protected space of a museum or a gallery, far from their prepared audience, the artist moves towards the space where her work ceases to belong to her and becomes a collective vision. Still, however, it remains hers, it is her story, the source where the work begins. A piece of art is also the common area where the meeting takes place, where the dialogue begins, where the looks cross and not just its history. The work is in the middle between the creator and the observer. It is a bridge under which flow the streams and currents of both of them.

Hence, if there is an answer to the initial question, perhaps it can be described this way: stop looking safely, break the security, the linearity of sights and landscapes, the regular passage of time, the obsessive search for an answer.

Unlike in the past when monuments were erected in order to win favour, today art also evokes amazement and wonder but primarily provokes doubt.

Therefore, those who are supposed to protect the amazement, the people mentioned earlier, curators, directors, critics, mediators who work in the space between a piece of art and its audience are often asked the same question: what purpose does it serve?

Is it possible that there is nothing to buy? That it is not an advertisement of an event, a performance or a political meeting? Is it possible that there is going to be no continuation, that it doesn’t teach us anything and doesn’t want to convey any message? That there are no rules telling us how to play, look, move, spend some free time? Is it possible that I can’t take it home? Is it possible that I can’t buy it? Is it possible that there is no purpose? But why did they do that?

That’s it. This is the question we have to protect. We must protect the inability to answer it, protect it from the necessity to explain, make it serve no purpose. Protect this little space of freedom.