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IN BETWEEN THE BUILDINGS

 

In the final summary of his text about the public art in Malmö Måns Holst-Ekström says, Then there are other works of art, in other places. They are mostly meant for local residents*.

During the Swedish One million dwellings programme there were so much art put up in housing estates that this were even talked of as an environmental hazards. This public art were often abstract and far removed from the stylistic ideals of an earlier age; female nudes, patriotic heroic busts and full-figure sculptures. Instead, titles such as Future Vision, Astro-Fable, Fragmented Sphere or Space Birth set an optimistic tone for the newly constructed peripheries of our cities. For those who live in these areas the pioneering spirit is long gone and the titles now feel nostalgic and a trace of time passes.

Today we speak of site-specific art, where the site is of decisive importance for the work, but many of the artworks that were put up in housing estates during the One million dwellings programme in the 60s and 70s were little but decorations for areas between the houses. – How do the public art in these places relate to the large-scale housing estates they were installed in and how do the inhabitants positioning themselves regards all the decorations/sculptures within their neighbourhood? Do they have any influence upon its close environmental space and relation to what would be put up/or changed within their surroundings?

In a considerably later work, Truls Melinʼs red object from 1992 commissioned by MKB (the Malmö City Housing Agency), this earlier optimism is vaguely critically intoned. From the motorway, only a red sign is visible. Behind it there is a sculpture that only can be seen from inside the housing estate. The sculpture, painted in Social Democrat red, has later been tagged Ahmed-El Ahy. The sculpture could be seen as a monument due to the segregated socialdemocratic Malmö, but with an important addition made by one of the inhabitant in this, for us, anonymous neighbourhood set in the outskirts of Malmö. Maybe the activity is done as an answer to the lack of visibility on how the citizens feel they are being represented by the city. Who are “them”, and what are the constitutions within these neighbourhoods?

*From the book; Art Guide. Sculptures and Monuments in Malmö. Edited by Stig Johansson and Oscar Bjerelius, ABF, Malmö 2001

MATS ERIKSSON
MALMÖ 2003/04

 

 

HSB (the Tenants Savings and Housing Association) in Malmö showed an early understanding of how important artistic embellishment is for the environment and the well-being in housing estates. Our ambition at HSB has been to commission, in the best possible way, good-quality artworks that interplay with the architecture and are perceived as meaningful, selfevident and indispensible at their sites, inside and outside the buildings. This contributes to a total environment where it is felt that all those who participated have done their very best.(...)
The first work of ‘HSB art’ was inaugurated already in 1949. We could say that HSB, the pioneer of good housing, has also become the pioneer of good art in the housing market.

ARNE AXRUP, CEO – HSB MALMÖ
From the book; Art at HSB Malmö and in the Housing Estates 1925–1992
HSB Malmö, 1994

 

 

The last decade has seen a sharp increase in public art commissions. Public art has become so ubiquitous that critics have been talking of an environmental hazard. How does this art appear in public space? Various municipal, state and private instances initiate projects and carry the financial responsibility. The State Board of Public Art, established in 1937, commissions artworks for new governmental buildings. Sites under municipal jurisdiction are usually serviced by the local Public Art Board.
The city of Lund has such a board since 1951, with its own funding for purchasing artworks. It also lends artworks for the embellishment of newly constructed public buildings in the city. The Malmö Public Art Board was established in 1946. From 1962 the so-called ‘one percent rule’, which in many cases provide for sums larger than one percent of building costs, also makes it possible to provide extended state loans for the artistic embellishment of new housing estates if state loans are already provided for their construction. Earlier this rule, dating from 1937, was only applicable in buildings designed for public use.

MAILIS STENSMAN, ART HISTORIAN, WRITER
From the book; Art in Public Space
Publication of the Skåne Art Association, 1969

 

The flat city lacks topographically defined hierarchies.(...)
The beautiful city is not without its paradoxes. Beautiful cities are often considered beautiful primarily because of what was there before the city, not because of what has been added by man. Rivers, mountains, valleys and water provide for views, perspectives and variation that are perceived as particular signs of beauty by observers steeped in Romantic values inherited from the 18th century. These qualities focus attention to certain parts of a city, and they define its inner hierarchies and prestigious locations.
The flat city, which lacks topographical visual hierarchies, cannot compete.
In a visually determined culture, people primarily believe in what they can see with their eyes. The surface is the first thing that signals attraction and encourages us to pursue a closer acquaintance. Functions, such as social contacts, well-being, financial gain and various kinds of trade demands more empathy and time before they become attractions.
(...) Malmö is an instructive example of a man-made environment: the streets, houses, canals, beaches, bastions, landfills, dykes and parks are all artificial. The city is flat. The aesthetic values of the flat city can be destroyed just as easily as they can be enhanced. (The topographically attractive city, on the other hand, is all but indestructible.)
Nothing is given.(...) Art in public space in Malmö is sometimes hiding, but is usually very visible.
When you act in a prime location you act for everyone and show off to everyone. That is where you get attention. The parks are beside the thoroughfares, but here there is time instead, time to look at art. Therefore this is the next place to look for art. Then there are other works of art, in other places. They are mostly meant for local residents.

MÅNS HOLST-EKSTRÖM, LECTURER AT THE ART ACADEMY, ART CRITIC
From the book; Art Guide. Sculptures and Monuments in Malmö, 2001
Ed. Stig Johansson & Oscar Bjerelius, ABF, Malmö, 2002

 

Public art is part of our cityscape. Despite being so near to its audience it often becomes suspended in a state of impassive anonymity. Everyone can see it, but few people actually look at it.(...) 1
These works do not directly refer or connect to the sites as such. Rather, they mark positions in a mental and physical no man’s land: a space between spaces, between the public and the private. The anonymous sites underline the anonymity of the works. Although people have already become used to them they remain strangers in their own environment. 2

JELENA ZETTERSTRÖM, ART CRITIC
1. From the book; Public Art in Lund,  Sydsvenska dagbladet, 1994
2. Stockholm, 2005