Public Space With A Roof

Sometimes On Awakening We Recall A Dream (2012)

Project developed as a commission for LAPS – Lectoraat Art and Public Space, Gerrit Rietveld Academy



The experience of the Zuidas area


Taken from Walter Benjamin's thoughts on collective unconsciousness, or wish-images, the title of our new project contains an intention to pose several simple questions: What does Dutch society dream about today? How do we all imagine that future to be? And what should the artists do about this as being the ones with the assumed capacity to mediate and share their dreams, their wish-images? 


The form and the elements of this project came as our reaction to the particular place where it is will take place – the Zuidas area of Amsterdam, a newly developed business center next to a railway station. Created as a headquarter of economic power in Amsterdam, placed in a futuristic setting of glass towers, this space and the buildings represent someone's visions of the future. The author of this vision is unknown to us, immediately prompting the questions how is a human being included in this, a human being meant to inhabit it as his/her present reality. The question that stayed with us was what kind of a utopian future are we supposed to imagine here: the one of permanent leisure and plenty, or the one of a classless society?


Contemporary city is made for the eye, detached from our bodies by rapid motorized movements or mediated through an overall aerial gaze from an airplane. Our experience of the Zuidas can be summarized in the following two quotes by the architect Juhani Pallasmaa:


“Natural materials express their age and history, as well as the story of their origins and their history of human use. But the machine–made materials of today (…) tend to present their unyielding surface to the eye without conveying their material essence or age. (…) They do not incorporate the dimension of time (…) they aim at ageless perfection.”


“Glass is usually seen as symbol of democracy, equality and openness. Yet it may as well invoke voyeuristic control, corporate power and secrecy and even loss of eyesight.”


From a passer-by perspective, all buildings at the Zuidas are experienced as images. Therefore, our idea is to break this position and create an installation that can be experienced and not only looked at. People will be able, even encouraged, to walk on it, sit, lie on it, and play around it.



PSWAR practice


With this installation, we will continue to test our own artistic practice in a new context – of creating a structure that serves as an installation, exhibition, and platform for the works of other people. For the first time, we will have an opportunity to test our work in an open public space, outside of our usual context of developing project in art galleries and museums. Therefore we have found a new challenge we want to explore: of involving people that would not normally come to contemporary art events, of creating a work that will invite them to interact without forcing them to participate. 


Our conclusion was that most of the artworks we have seen in the Zuidas area mostly serve as decoration; most of the passers-by might not even see them, walking fast to their jobs or back home, hiding in their bubble created by their earphones. Hence, our main idea is to create an object that would point out what we believe is missing in the way in which art and culture are implemented here, and where each individual will have the possibility to become a part of the work and experience the questions we want to raise.



The installation


In this 'urban desert' we will plant a particular forest of 'wish-images'. As a juxtaposition to the metal and glass structures, it will be made of natural materials: wooden pillars and plates from the old doors. Each plate will connect a set of four pillars, creating a table or bench-like platform that can be used for sitting or walking over. The whole upper part of the installation will be made as a stage, an amphitheater that can host events, performances, talks, or simply allow passers-by to sit, relax and reflect on the area.


The down part of the installation is created as a sort of its 'backstage', a forest-like space where one looks for a shelter and protection. In here, the pillars carrying the platforms become visible, but they also carry numerous wooden tablets with wish-images. Inspired by 'emas', Buddhist prayer images left in temples, we want to invite people to contribute to this work by sending us (or applying on the spot) their wish-images that can take a form of pictures or words and sentences. We want to invite people living and working in the Zuidas, but also the ones passing by incidentally, to leave their trace and share with the rest of us the images and ideas they dream about coming true in the future.



The events


For the first time in our work, we want to restrain ourselves from creating a fixed program for this stage. We want to open it up to the public, turning it into a true public space, whatever that might mean today. As numerous state-funded institutions in the Netherlands will be closed due to the cuts in art funding, we want to offer them this space as a possibility to address this through presenting their legacy. In case there are no events, the structure will remain silent, confronting us all with a question does the public still need a public space?


In its final instance, this project will react to the current discussion on the role of arts in Dutch society, a constant struggle between Platonist ideas of banishing poets from a perfect city and the need to control the dreams of its citizens. Through prompting our citizens to share their wishes with us, we want to try to understand our hypothetical common future as well or, as Susan Buck-Morrs has reflected on Benjamin's wish-images, we want to read them as “sign-posts in a period of transition.”