The Gdańsk Outdoor Gallery
Stimulating and thematising public space by artistic intervention is an extremely complex matter. Choosing the right location, cooperation with residents and assessing exterior conditions are just some of the prerequisites. There are many successful examples and just as many failed ones and taking all this into consideration, it is “very difficult to gauge the impact of artistic projects on the socio-economic (…) challenges encountered.”(1)
In the beginning there is always an idea. In 2005 we launched the project The Outdoor Gallery of the City of Gdańsk (GZMG). It stemmed from the desire to completely change the look of Dolne Miasto, an area of the city which, despite being in a good location, was neglected and “forgotten”. When planning the project realisation, which was going to take several years, we referred to the urban development plan for this area. This took into consideration not only today’s conditions, but also the historical background. This marked the beginning of the artistic involvement of Laznia, the centre for contemporary art in whose immediate vicinity the public space project was planned.
We have been able to find curators from all over Europe to work together on this project. The competition rules stipulated amongst other things: “A work of art that is to be realised within the framework of the Outdoor Gallery of the City of Gdańsk must tie in with the idea of the revitalisation of the Dolne Miasto area of the city. Through its modern character and its thought-provoking content it should represent an inspiring artistic realisation.”(2) The project concept therefore involved more than merely putting together art works in public space. Just as importantly, it also involved educational work.
Every two years an organisational committee put together by the Mayor of the City of Gdańsk decides together with the coordinators and the jury where the project realisation is going to take place. They then choose by closed competition the artistic proposals to be realised. The realisation of the hitherto best projects was linked to building projects in the streets of Dolne Miasto. This enhances the area and gives it a new functionality, turning it into an open and friendly place unique in Gdańsk’s urban landscape.
Up until now, four competitions have been held for permanent works in public space. These have to be permanent art projects, because the competition rules oblige the participants to submit projects which have at least a ten-year lifespan. The projects chosen and realised in the past have not only improved the aesthetic quality of their locations; they also make it possible for the residents to get involved in social activities. The first project to be realised was the studio LKW Gallery by Lex Rickers and Daniel Milohnic, situated under a railway bridge which had until then been seen as a kind of barrier between the areas of Śródmieście and Dolne Miasto. This until recently unwelcoming place has now been transformed into a gateway to Dolne Miasto. Since the beginning of spring, the voices of people participating in workshops and other get-togethers have been heard there.
The participants of the fourth and last round of our competition, the winners of which include Thorsten Goldberg, were inspired by the bank of the river Motlawa. Goldberg’s unpretentiousness and the lightness of his works were a decisive factor in his nomination for the competition.(3) His project proposal Pink occurrence won first prize and the jury suggested its realisation — as a complement to the equally excellent work by Bert Theis, The Blind. Goldberg’s project will lend another dimension to Bert Theis’ work. “With its fleeting character as well as the moment of happy surprise which it will trigger in passers-by, it has the potential to create a meeting point.”(4) said the jury, explaining its decision.
Five works of art now shape the Dolne Miasto area — the winners of the two first competition rounds, i.e. the above-mentioned LKW Gallery and the Invisible Gate project (1st round), and Under Cover, a painting project by Esther Stocker, and the installation Staging anonymous by Dominik Lejmann (2nd round). In 2011, the light installation Amber Drops was the first of three works of art from the 3rd competition round to be realised.(5) Those works were placed in locations which connect the closed urban structure of the area with the rest of the city, thus creating gates which are now aesthetically defined by the works of art. In the same way the project Pink occurrence, together with the project The Blind, is intended to become an artistically enhanced gate leading to Dolne Miasto. Goldberg’s idea dovetails nicely with the concept of creating socially alive places.
Piotr Winskowski states that in order to revitalise an urban area through works of art in public space, it is important to “thoroughly investigate the given social conditions of the location and the cultural potential of what is already there”, and also “to stimulate the formulation of cultural expectations with respect to the changes which should occur in the given location”. This definition also perfectly describes the activities of the Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art(6).
An intensive education programme is carried out parallel to the competition. With some projects a dialogue with residents has already started, hopefully encouraging local activities involving young people. The workshop cycle The Wanderer, for instance, was based on this idea. Participating in it, children and adolescents found out about the history of the area on the one hand, and on the other learned how to tackle negative emotions and problems they might encounter in their daily lives, by drawing pictures, shooting films, sprucing up playgrounds and gaining knowledge of all those digital technologies that are used in all areas of life today. By opening the LKW Gallery in 2008 the Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art has extended its range of workshops and educational art events in a way to encourage young people to find themselves.
It was in this communal spirit that Thorsten Goldberg was invited by GZMG as an artist who, with Pink occurrence, encourages the viewer to interact. Being prepared to cross the bridge is answered immediately by the personal appearance of the cloud.
(1) Adam Jeans, Sztuka nie zmienia świata, ale pomaga mu dostrzec zmianę: rewitalizacja miast poprzez kulturę współczesną, in: Kultura dla rewitalizacji. Rewitalizacja dla kultury, published by L. Nyk, J. Szczepański, A. Kulazińska, Gdansk 2010, p. 57.
(2) Cf. the GZMG competition rules.
(3) Thanks to Eulalia Domanowska, who suggested an exhibition with the artist to us and thus drew him to our attention.
(4) The jury verdict of the fourth round of the competition of the Outdoor Gallery of the City of Gdańsk (GZMG), Gdansk 2011.
(5) More information on the winning projects at: www.laznia.pl.
(6) Piotr Wisnkowski, Dzieło rewitalizacji jako obiekt po-sztuki?, in: Kultura dla rewitalizacji. Rewitalizacja dla kultury, published by L. Nyk, J. Szczepański, A. Kulazińska, Gdansk 2010, p. 62.