Generator Seminar, Trondheim September 2006

Generator is a public art project planned for realization in Trondheim, Norway, in June 2007. The Generator seminar is meant to initiate theoretical discussions relevant to the project; it is meant to be an introduction to the questions pertaining to the theme of public art/art in public places, both for artists and other interested groups and individuals.

The Generator Project
Generator aims at challenging and expanding the established practice of what in Norway goes under the name of ’utsmykking’ - the English translation would be ’embellishment’, or ’adornment’, meaning public art. This will be done by presenting 8 - 12 temporary art projects in various public spaces in Trondheim, a city of about 150.000 inhabitants in the middle of Norway, during the summer of 2007. The purpose of this initiative is both to present art projects that explore the site/the place and the relationship between art and society in other ways than the ’traditional’ practice of public art (most often related to architecture) - and to initiate a discussion about the role and function of art in society today: what does it do to/for the public and the environment, which values does art represent, what good (or bad?!) does art do in public spaces?

The Seminar
There will be three main themes in the seminar:
- public space (what is it, who is it for, what are its functions, who has power there, etc.)
- the roles, functions and possibilities of art and the artist in society/in public space
- Trondheim as a place/space, places in Trondheim

Thematic Setting
In Norway, there is a well-established tradition for art in public buildings. Historically, this art has served various purposes - from nation building in the fifties to beautification of parks and plazas in the eighties. This art has also been allotted the power of giving identity to whole communities. The trditional ’utsmykking’ has often been closely related to architecture, emphasizing formal and aesthetical values. This kind of public art was meant to add to the architectural environment in a positive way.

During the last 20 - 25 years, the focus in contemporary art has shifted from formal and/or art internal concerns to more content-driven and sociopolitical strategies. Artists all over the world are now addressing issues like poverty, migration, globalisation, human rights and the political power of capital, and they often present their artwork in public places other than the ’art ghettoes’ of galleries and art museums. The last years has also seen a rise in ’relational’ art: art that has an impact on the dynamic of social situations without necessarily producing salable art objects.

The Norwegian term ’utsmykking’ (adornment/embellishment) has gradually become irrelevant and outdated. It refers to art as secondary to architecture, it prescribes art a limited and mostly decorative function. The terms ’public art’ or ’art in public places’ have been introduced (in their Norwegian equivalents) to give art the possibility of working on a wider field of functions/roles in society. As art now often addresses the public with issues also debated in newspapers, TV etc., the function of art becomes more similar to the function of other types of discussion/expression in society - and art loses its function as aesthetical object meant for individual contemplation. The Generator project aims at exploring how this development in art can challenge and expand the practice of ’utsmykking’ or public art in Norway.

The expressions and statements of the visual arts differs from those of the spoken or written word in that they most often come in the form of images or (arrangements of) objects - and these statements are ambiguous, they do not have one, unequivocal and fixed meaning. This type of expression can result in a kind of fertile uncertainty in the observer - the statement can be interpreted in several, often contradictory ways, and therefore gives the public the possibility of seeing issues from several perspectives without having to conclude or take sides. This in our view constitutes an important quality of visual art as part of the democratic process in a society - art can be a corrective to the type of (political) statements that force the public into predefined positions.

The Generator seminar will be open to all interested persons or groups. We want to include all lectures from the seminar in a book that will be published after the realization of the project. This book will also present documentation of the Generator artworks/installations/events, as well as the artists’ statements about their projects.