Existing writing
Public Art: An Expanded Field
byAilbhe Murphy

The shift in the traditional cycle of commissioning and production; the  expanded arena for public art; complex institutional frameworks; relational practices; nature of invitation to artists; communities role in shaping arts in their area and in control of resources; In Context, South Dublin; Breaking Ground, Ballymun; Place, Identity and People, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Up until the twentieth century public art was confined to certain traditions of monumentality. Those traditions were themselves connected to ideological functions which tended to place public art in the service of state systems for referencing larger historical narratives. Dominated by the personification of the victor-hero, public art in that monumental form functioned largely as a codification of war and revolution. Among the many transformations arising out of the cultural and political upheavals of the 1960s we have seen that static monumentality transformed into a new lexicon of expression. Public art has been liberated from the relation with time to which monumentality had confined it, that is to say its permanence. The temporary has now found a new relation with the spectacular. At the same time there has been a multiplication of modes of presentation and artistic forms, crossing lines between the sculptural, cinematic and literary. There has also been a break in the traditional cycle of production. The familiar sequence of commission, production and placement has been counter-balanced by more conjectural modes characterised by quasi-democratised processes of development and realisation. Within this expanded repertoire of practices potential audiences can engage as producers at certain points, no doubt with varying degrees of authorship and  autonomy for both artist and participants.

In Ireland, these shifts are discernible within the programmatic vocabulary of many of the major public art programmes developing across the country. Increasingly, we have seen a greater diversity of commissioning across all art forms combined with a stated desire to engage more directly with people, place and context. In the Dublin region alone the extensive infrastructural development of the last decade has given rise to a number of per cent for art programmes. These include South Dublin County Council's per cent for art programme InContext 3, now in its third phase. In 2002 on Dublin's Northside, Ballymun Regeneration Ltd launched Breaking Ground, a per cent for art programme which has was continued up to the present day. More recently, on Dublin's Southside the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council have established their own per cent for art scheme entitled People, Place and Identity. Public art in these contexts is now made up of multiple discourses from within arts practice itself, from within the community development sector and those of regional and local government. Taken together, this discursive matrix forms a complex inter-institutional framework which artists increasingly find themselves working within. In such an expanded arena for public art practice, non-art disciplines can be usefully drawn upon to formulate a broader analytical register that can make critical connections to the social and cultural contexts in which the art is produced. Whenever artists begin to engage directly with the situated socio-cultural reference points for communities of place, a negotiated relational process becomes activated. This relational field is in part shaped by the nature of the invitation extended between artists and those communities of place. I would argue that in longer term public art programmes in particular, the potential for the distribution of cultural capital beyond the figure of the artist alone has to with the source of that initial invitation. Per cent for art programmes are now formulated within a diverse range of commissioning processes, a multitude of art forms and an ever more diverse range of project structures. Somewhere within the scope of these new possibilities we must attend to the opportunities for communities to not only participate in the artist-led project or to devise their own, but to be directly involved in shaping a sustainable framework for the provision of arts and cultural practice for their area. In the context of such extensive regeneration programmes where the majority of my own practice as an artist has been focused, urban communities experience profound change in their architectural, social and cultural landscape.  As such, programmes are often accompanied by considerable financial resources for arts and cultural practice and we must observe who gets to extend the invitation to engage and who then participates.

Public art programmes provide valuable and important experiences and opportunities for artists. Current trends towards situated and / or engaged practice which are predicated on dialogue and creative exchange go some way towards dissolving the notion of community and place as some sort of a historical canvas upon which to inscribe the mark of creativity. My ambition for such programmes would be to extend all our understandings and experience via a genuinely cross-disciplinary contemporary arts practice. I believe we have also arrived at a point in the history of this kind of practice where we can legitimately ask what the potential might be for the transfer of resources to locally-based community and cultural interests. Such a shift in the control of resources would constitute a counterpoint to the often nomadic nature of public art practice and its administration, towards creating the conditions for more enduring creative investment between artists and those communities who live and remain in place.


In Context
Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Co. Co. Public Art Project
Breaking Ground