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The day after the public art seminar, I am still feeling a little exhausted. And a bit dirty. I’ve been a bit promiscuous in my talking at these things, I’m going to have to go quiet for a little while soon.

Lots of questions asked, few answered as is to be expected. The discourse on this topic pings between words such as ‘temporary’, ‘community’, ‘intervention’, ‘engaged’, ‘collaborative’, ‘public’, ‘participatory’, all in different contexts and in for different consituencies. While this can make the conversation difficult to locate I think the for-better-or-worse fluidity of the terminology does clearly illustrate that the actual form of artists’ practice is changing significantly.

In a public art context, this raises a number of issues, particularly in relation to what Ed termed the ‘proxies’ – the institutions, organisations and authorities that commission work and delegate funding. Given the analogy I mentioned in the previous post – the community as the new social ‘site’ for ill-considered ‘plop art’ to replace the blank public square/ roundabout/ roadside – what are the responsibilties of maintenance and upkeep?

Traditionally these were problems for this kind of permanent public sculpture: it would often not be written into contracts who would be responsible for tasks such as cleaning and repairs, what could be understood as the maintenance of the work. Personally it seems pretty clearcut unfair to expect the artist to keep looking after the work once they are no longer being paid to do so, but anyway, that’s getting off the point slightly.

Art practices based on intervention, participation etc [insert term of choice here] are often questioned and challenged in relation to their longevity or sustained commitment to their place. How could an artist be resourced to continue this support after the event, and should they be? Surely there is a commitment necessary on the behalf of the proxy to ‘maintain’ (sustain?) the artwork once it has been exectuted by the artist?

There is a danger that temporary public work can be appropriated, assimilated and recuperated by institutions and proxies for their own benefit. Temporary public art can represent a very celebratory, shiny happy feelgood kind of practice, that is ultimately pretty easy to clean up if anything goes awry – or so it can be made to appear. The noticeable absence in these discussions is to do with the quality of the artwork that is ultimately made. I know it’s a bit of a dirty word but everyone is thinking it anyway. Aren’t they?

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