20 December 2007

Trouble on the Old Bridge, Mostar

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The idea of ‘public art’ has often provoked controversy. Its promoters justify their interventions in public space by talking about access and the importance of reaching beyond the confines of gallery and museum.

From the public’s side, however, their works can appear as unwelcome acts of colonization. From this perspective, public art can be a matter of imposing objects and meanings on people who have no desire to receive them, and who dislike having their environment cluttered with sculptures, or ‘interventions’ of a less objectified form, which they might indeed prefer to be confined to easily ignored galleries.

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These questions are now sharply posed around the old fifteenth century bridge at Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bridge, which was destroyed by Croatian nationalist forces in November 1993, has since been rebuilt. In 2004, it was reopened (see above) as the centrepiece of a wider restoration of the largely Turkish old town. This was carried out with the assistance of Unesco, which rightly values Mostar as a settlement where Pre-Ottoman, Ottoman, Mediterranean and west European cultures have long coexisted in comparative peace.

It is, no doubt, in the same spirit that the Austrian architect and artist W. M. Pühringer has proposed to use the bridge to mount a 14-ton temporary art work entitled ‘Peace Connection Mostar 3000’. See here» Pühringer, who has been described as ‘something of an exorcist’ and a practitioner of ‘architectonic terrorism’, presents his project as an affirmation of peace, altruism and cultural exchange. Various eminent figures concerned with the restoration of Mostar have provided airy statements of support (‘Today’s Europe is in need of bridges, which overcome limitations’, etc.). Yet the initiative does not impress the Sarajevo-based Bosnian artist Gordana Andelic-Galic, who has circulated an appeal against Pühringer’s proposal.

I talked with Andelic-Galic at a conference in Istanbul a few years ago. She showed me photographs of her own temporary artistic intervention on the site of Mostar’s wrecked bridge: it was an altogether gentler thing which, if I remember correctly, employed ropes as if they were threads closing the wound represented by the violently re-opened gorge. She was much concerned about the condition of her country, then under the administration of Paddy Ashdown, formally entitled the ‘High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ but also known, in a view closer to Andelic-Galic’s, as the high-handed ‘Viceroy of Bosnia’. Her conviction that it can be abject and corrupting for people to have even benign things done on their behalf is carried over into her case against Pühringer. Download Andjelic-Galic’s appeal here»

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 20th, 2007 at 12:49 pm and is filed under Art & its applications, Found Objects, War & peace. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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