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Kunstjournalen B-post 2006

Political? The roles of art in the public sphere


It might appear as if there is an increased craving for political art. Artists often claim that their work has a political dimension, while at the same time there is a call from different quarters for greater social engagement in art.

The media bubbles with excitement over Dag Solstad’s latest book; finally a political novel! In an editorial the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet invites foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store to review the book. Political art meets realpolitik and an interesting dialogue between two disparate spheres is born. The debate surrounding Solstad’s novel reveals many different understandings and conceptions of what political art can and ought to be.

The theme for this issue of Kunstjournalen B-post contributes to a long list of problematizations around art’s ability and willingness to participate in the outside world. A seminar in Oslo recently asked: “What is art doing in the public sphere?” Others had the title, “What is public space?” and “Is a fundamental feature of art the creation of public spheres”. The relationship between, relatively speaking, marginal visual art and the public sphere seems to be an inexhaustible topic.

When discussing playing an active role in the public sphere, visibility in the media is an important factor. The field of art has a formidable task if it is to disseminate contemporary art in a way that tempts journalists to write, or editors to publish materials.

At the same time, public media is one of the fields where art does intervene due to its potential for direct and indirect communication, and ability to pose questions in new ways. Art moves at different levels within the public sphere, centrally and at the periphery with a large variation in scale. Examples of forums and material for such projects range from a country school to a national museum. Dialogue is often both a central method and a goal in itself in such projects, often categorized under the rubric relational aesthetics.

Art in modern times has nonetheless had a complicated relationship to the concept of dialogue. Art’s relationship to dialogue is in many ways as complex as its relationship with politics. Even though the ideal of dialogue is highly valued today, also amongst artists, much art revolves around breaking into and changing the pivot for existing dialogues.

Dialogical art practice has developed since the early 1990s, and we today see examples of more complex projects within this genre. When dialogue and communication become the central element in an artistic project, and this is characterised by conflict and provocation just as much as harmony and consensus, it is not unlike the dynamics of the political arena. At the same time, living a relatively anonymous and parallel life to reality is a presupposition for art’s existence.

During a period when art, especially from a political perspective, to a greater degree meets with expectations for a wrangling, engaged and provocative sting, we would like with this issue to focus attention on the variety of artistic strategies art takes when it meets the public sphere.

Jannecke Heien, Annette Kierulf, Bjørg Taranger, Mari Aarre og Arne Rygg

(English translation: Deirdre Smith)

This issue is only in Norwegian.

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