[Home]PublicArt

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People interact with each other every day in any number of ways or any number of reasons. Often people are conducting business, or being social. They are going about their lives.

However, when you are stuck on the ground doing the things you need to do or even want to do, you can lose sight of the larger perspective. You might not see failures or beauty. You don't notice the underlying causes and deep effects of what you are doing or what's being done to you.

Therefore, some enterprising individuals have sought to create PublicArt. This is different from normal art in that it's designed to be given to a community as a whole, not just one person. It's a commentary on the workings of society.

Often public art doesn't exist by itself, but only in relation to other people. For example, a public fountain is PublicArt. By itself, it just looks nice, but it's not really working unless children are splashing around in it and people are sitting on the benches.

Sometimes, PublicArt exposes the evils the artists see. For instance, CultureJamming? attempts to educate the public on how advertising warps their minds.

A world without art is a world not worth living in, but art is the ultimate communicator. It can dig into your mind like prose could never do. Ask AdbustersMagazine.

Also note that the term is used for government sponsored public art. The Social Design Notes blog has a story about that [1]:

In the 1960’s public art was very explicitly linked to a program of urban renewal that promised a kind of modernist revitalization and redesign of American cities. By the mid-1970’s with the fiscal crisis of American cities setting in in earnest, I think it became very difficult to believe that public art on its own could somehow remake urban culture.

See also PerformanceArt.

CategoryArt CategoryUrbanDesign


A lot of people, including myself, often forget that WikiWiki is PublicArt. [May 1, 1995]-- SunirShah


The first question

Is Wiki PublicArt? It is clearly not public, in that the vast majority of ordinary people, going about their daily business and living their lives, will never see Wiki.

The vast majority of ordinary people won't see Centre Island in Toronto.

Believe it or not, I have been to Centre Island. It's a lovely place, and thanks for reminding me. Instead of arguing about exactly where to draw the line between public and not public, let's say that there is a spectrum of accessiblity. At one end of the spectrum, you have the Extremely Public, can't-miss-it things like the CN Tower. At the other end, you have the Theoretically Public but Mostly Unnoticed, like the graffiti on the underside of a particular park bench on Centre Island.

Where does Wiki fit on that spectrum? I'd say closer to the Unnoticed end. I hope that changes, and to that end, I introduce people to Wiki.

We should separate intent of the author from reaction of TheAudience. WikiWiki was intended as PublicArt, although I can certainly see your point that it isn't very public. Indeed, there has been much ado to keep it away from the likes of Slashdot and the popular press, but there have also been certain PublicArt installations in the RealWorld that are meant to be secluded. Spelunkers sometimes write on hard to reach cave walls. Some mountain climbers build cairns at the top of hard climbs. (A little IncidentalCollaboration.)

The chief distinction is that public art exists in public space--that is, in the world at large, with its audience, as part of its audience--whereas private art is meant to stand by itself, aloof from the audience. That's not to say that touching is enough. Haptic art can be private if it doesn't find its meaning in the interaction amongst its audience. That is, PublicArt only has value by catalyzing its audience to interact amongst themselves, not with the art. Thus, a public fountain is PublicArt because it is only interesting because other people are playing with it.

If you want to take this even further, it's not proper to say ants build an ant hill. Instead, the ant hill (via stigmergy) makes the ants interact with each other. It structures the interaction and controls the interaction even though the ants themselves are the actors. In my view, this is what PublicArt attempts to achieve albeit culturally and not chemically.

I recognize this isn't exactly the same definition as above. I think there are three concepts here under the same title. First we have art funded by the public sector, which is discussed on GovernmentArt, and isn't really germane here. Second, we have ars populi, like CultureJamming?, which is art by society for society but it stands by itself. Third, we have "stigmergic" art like WikiWiki which is more about relationships between its audience members than a presence itself. I think the latter definition is more truly "PublicArt", because the ars populi can be placed underneath glass inside a museum and still speak, whereas if you did that to a public fountain, it would be sterile.


The deeper question

Is Wiki Art? One may admire Wiki's design, but Wiki is a tool, a process, and a work in progress, not something on display. As an analogy, suppose I have a hammer, designed by MichaelGraves?, exquisitely balanced, machined out of a single block of vanadium steel by a master machinist from Germany, with a handmade grip of Italian leather. Do I use the word Art to describe this hammer? I say: if I put it in a glass display case, it's Art. If I pound nails with it, it's a Tool.

You're confusing the software (wiki) with the place (Wiki). WikiWiki is a living place, not a tool.


The Ohana; an allegorical story of conflict on WikiWiki

by JonathanArkell?, February 22, 2004

There once was a small community of peoples called the Ohana. All they did was create abstract and impressionist art on every large vertical surface over town. Some pieces were rather beautiful, some were ugly. It was a collaborative space and the ugly pieces were soon modified and turned into something beautiful, usally with the initial artists help.

Unlike other tribes, the Ohana let anyone in. It wasn't hard to learn their language, as it as codified right in the art. Frequently with impressionist "comic-strips" explaining where the community paint was. All one had to do to join the community was to find a blank wall, and paint their name up, and do a little drawing.

At various times during its history, Ohana would be "besieged" by other tribes; the Pahoehoe tribe was probably the most sucessful of these invasions -- they came in and started to paint all kinds of portraits of themselves everywhere. At the time it was quite a problem, but now, only the Ohana remain; the Pahoehoe are completely integrated. (As an historical note, it is worth seeing the beauty in the Pahoehoe quarter of town, where their architecture is almost as interesting as their art.)

Sometimes the problems the Ohana had were localised to a few individuals, each with their own idea of beauty. One would paint a surrealistic dog, and someone else would notice that the dog was surrealist and not abstract or impressionist, so they would paint over it (as is the convention) to make it better. The first individual would then re-paint his version over the modified one. Usually this would work well, as the eventual piece would turn into an impressionistic surreal god instead. Once in awhile, someone would think they were smart, and create a template or stencil of their work, and use a spray-can or airbrush to quickly (and indiscriminately) go over the previous work. This action was generally frowned upon, and thankfully didn't happen often.

Then someone joined the Ohana, and started to paint lots of splatter-paint. He would build gigantic murals of splatter-paint, frequently encroching on the works of others, he was told by some members to chill out a little bit, and he did for awhile, but then, after a few months, he would go back to his splatter painting. Each time it would take on a more impressionistic or abstract feel, but alot of people still felt it was splatter painting. Sometimes this individual would just park a Jet engine by a wall, and start hurling cans.

Then this individual, whose name was Kaua, thought he knew how to make the community better. He noticed that the mayor of the community almost never put his foot down. He thought that it was a bad thing, because every community needed its mayor to be on the ball, right? He also noticed that there wasn't a wall around the community, and how could you keep a force of invaders out if you didn't have a wall? He had other plans too. He wanted to set up Embassies for various countries.

You may notice that the Mayor has not been mentioned until now, and that's because "mayor" was mostly an honorific title given to the owner of the land. All the Ohana knew, or should have known, that the land, the walls, and the paint ultimately belonged to The Mayor, and acted accordingly. If a message came down "on-high" from the mayor, the Ohana knew it was important, because even though there were many beautiful impressionist and abstract pieces by the Mayor, only once in a blue moon would he actually WRITE something on a wall. Messages were important.

So one day, The Mayor asked Kaua-With-The-Big-Plans to leave. Kaua decided that he needed to leave a leagacy. He KNEW that Ohana would be a better place if they just had a Mayor who meddled in everyones life, and a wall. So he set about painting over other peoples' works, painting large pieces of realist works depicting some members of Ohana as thieves and criminals. He would build elaborite stencils so that every time his paintings were painted over, he could quickly return them. This went on and on. The Mayor had put up a recording of the conversation he had with Kaua when he asked him to leave. He also installed grainy video cameras, so that everyone could see who painted what, when.

(as an aside, a small child took the video produed by the cameras, and colorised them, and put timestamps and identifying marks on them, and felt very proud indeed!)

Finally, The Mayor had to put his foot down. "Good!" grinned Kaua-With-The-Big-Plans. He had seen all his hard work come to fruition. And as Kaua was shown the door, he shouted "You need higher walls, and an embassy and other things too!"

The people of Ohana sighed, when they looked around. The troublesome Kaua was gone, but now they had a wall, and video-cameras recording their every move.

You could still hear Kaua's shouts over the wall, yelling "Yes, I did it! I Made Ohana a better place!" while the Ohanaii mourned the ejection of the errant Kaua while cleaning up his mess.


All art is subject to esthetic disputes, that is, WhatIsArt?

Some PublicArt is GovernmentArt, which is subject to political disputes, that is, Who is forced to pay for what?


Discussion

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