9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN02 Sociology of the Arts

2009-09-05 13:30:00 2009-09-05 15:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 13:30 - 15:00 Arts and Urban Space Building II, C6.10

The «re-enchantment» of world: public art, community and public spaces in contemporary western cities

This paper contributes to the sociological debate concerning the problems of contemporary urbanism and the crisis of the collective nature of public space. The transformed relationship between the city's physical form, its production systems and the different ways in which public space is used nowadays creates new areas for social identities' elaboration.
On the one hand both modernity and post modernity consider the market and the space as the key forces in shaping cities' physical and symbolic features. On the other hand also the power and its exercise contribute to landscaping. As a result conflicts and negotiations between those aspects define the physical and the social landscape in every city. In this context, architectural styles and urban strategies adopted reflect the elites' wishes and wills instead of being the outcome of negotiation practices between "public" and "private" sector according to the original meanings of the words. Thus the "collective" nature of public space seems condemned to death and appointed to a progressive loss of meaning.
The growth of certain contemporary artistic intervention in urban public space, however, seems to question these hypothesis. According to a qualitative survey whose first phase has been completed in the United States in late 2008 and which was aimed at describing the institutionalized system of American public art, I argue that the rise of this artistic movement involves a process of «re-enchantment» of the world and I suggest, according to the early results of the second phase of my research which is in itinere in Italy, that this trend is detectable also in my country: existing practices of public art, shifting attention from the object to the process, from the tangible reality to the narrative and from the physical space to the living space, underlines a desire, among certain groups of cities? inhabitants, to re-emphasizing the ?soft? qualities of cities.
Contemporary public art, in short, requires a redefinition of the "public" role of art and artists: testing new strategies of symbolic communication in public space and searching confrontation with the local dimension turns this artistic avant-garde into an innovative formula of representation of the territory.