Regresa al ndice Public Art: New Modes of Jouissance

The premise of the Puerto Rico Public Art Project is that human beings are desiring subjects, and that desire constantly finds territories to position itself, including the spheres of art and aesthetics. Accordingly, a competition was announced for the creation of a hybrid corpus of works by local and international artists, that would add up to a sort of "exquisite corpse" to be displayed throughout Puerto Rico.

The project sought to break mechanical habits of seeing by betting on shared space, and revealing its secrets. Due to the resulting tension between perception and desire, revisiting   the island where we live, and that nurtures our being, would thus pose a challenge to common perceptions. Hence, public art aspires to become a social experience, inviting the spectator to negotiate his or her desire to accommodate the desire of the Other.

Public art projects have generated numerous debates. Evidently, questions, conflicts and tensions are part and parcel of such initiatives; therefore it is inevitable and even desirable that unstabilizing positions and experiences emerge from such tensions. These critical situations are created by the fact, among others, that art in public spaces breaks traditional schemes and partakes of distinctive criteria about issues distanced from the problems of the Museum. A project such as this one is addressed not to the elite public that chooses to visits museums, but rather to all types of public, since it directly trespasses on our everyday life. In short, the project seeks to have an impact on a well informed audience interested in art, as well as on the general public. Therefore, it is necessary to incorporate creatively the tension sparked between taste, experience and desire, and create scenarios that will generate their own crises and debates.

Following is a discussion of some common debates generated by public art initiatives.  

First, they are expected to remedy the errors of public planning. Some of the world's cities have adopted public art in order to redress errors (and horrors) spawned by unbridled development and bad planning. Although public art projects fall within the sphere of relationships between the body and the city, it would be a mistake to assign to them exclusively the mission of democratically distributing   common space. Nevertheless, we do believe that initiatives such as this one should acknowledge the need to rehabilitate our public spaces as generators of social mobility and cultural dynamics; the ways of recovering inner cities and urban centers as sustainable, sound, social spaces. In other words, the project urges us to recover space as an urban text that demands to be deciphered and interpreted.

There is always the risk of projecting an alienating civic image, exclusively representative of an educated and well-off class, or, on the contrary, of producing an art that underestimates the people and sacrifices aesthetic values. There is even the danger of falling into a language trap and assuming that public art is created by the public. This last proposition seems like a trap, because it teleologically freezes the hierarchy creator/emitter/active vs. spectator/receptor/passive, while making an exchange of roles impossible, so that the creator is not allowed to turn into an onlooker. To avoid the trap of absolutist categories, the competition included a number of aesthetic areas, ranging from functional art to community workshops. This approach invites artists to engage in a conversation with the medium, without sacrificing the value of the piece or limiting the scope of a national project to a single mode of seeing and doing.   

We are aware that a project such as this one may also fall into the trap of hackneyed folk art with a paternalistic leaning. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid solutions that perpetuate empty identities. The aim, instead, should be to create an inclusive and pluralistic discourse. This project addresses our imaginary as a people, because looking at art is a way of looking at ourselves. Hence, we take advantage of our geographic dimensions -searching the whole island, and not solely the metropolitan area, for sites - a pioneer endeavor worldwide. The door is open for an exploration of the island geographically and, concurrently, for exploring all those other silent islands that constitute our imaginary as a people. Since we choose to speak from the imaginary and its borders, we invited international artists to think about the island and converse with its spaces. We asked both local and international artists to take active roles in society, and act as facilitators of experiences, marking the sites as places for the exchange of subjectivities and desires.

The project tried to avoid a unifying narrative, a single aesthetic category or artistic trend. Puerto Rican artists were invited to submit proposals in an open competition. The democratic factor was based solely on the quality of the submitted proposals. The jury, belonging to the country's different cultural groups, chose a heterogeneous sample, multidisciplinary in focus, and representative of a diversity of tastes. The result is a broad collection of local artistic activity, encompassing several generations of artists who work with different media and prefer diverse subjects and styles. The wide variety of artists, and the diverse categories and aesthetic areas, place us in the borders, in the ambiguities and limits of representation, opening spaces for desire.

Finally, our project insisted on carefully avoiding the trap of turning art in public spaces into an extension of the self-contained, closed museum; and the danger of promoting the in-significance of art in public places. On the contrary, this initiative should fill each installation with new meanings, facilitating a conversation between the artist, the site, and the spectator. The pieces should interact with their environment and, on ocassion, question the pattern of everyday life, and force us to re-think our aesthetic biases. Our ambition, overall, is to seduce our audience, so that the public art project may become a part of their space, a part of their lives, a part of their desired city.

Celina Nogueras Cuevas