Questioning the right to the city in Amsterdam.
Public art can be interesting, whether in a visual way or a food for though way. Mostly, unsanctioned art beats commissioned art, as long as it goes beyond spraying tags.
Russian artist MAKE has recently installed a series of street signs in Amsterdam. They are simple, uncommissioned street signs, showing satirical, critical and awareness-raising texts.
The signs feature questions - or rather statements-turned-questions - about society, culture, capitalism, environmental issues and urban life. The interesting part of it is that all statements end by saying “, right?”, which is kind of a two-fold “right”:
First, it is a way of making a statement and simultaneously questioning that statement, immediately doubting the positive assertion just made. It shows how certain values are not always so self-evident, or cannot just be taken for granted.
Secondly, “right” says something about the “right to the city”-debate, which discusses the ongoing power struggles in the city. The debate is about who belongs in our built environment and the physical and mental space in between buildings. Who owns the city? Can anyone make free use of public space? Can anyone express oneself there? Can anyone make use of everything the city has to offer? What about the less wealthy, the less healthy, the less adjusted and the less average-looking?
The installations by MAKE are very interesting in this respect, questioning the human aspect of the urban within the context of greater processes. They have been placed in locations that the questions apply to, making a direct link with the place people find themselves in, raising awareness of the fact that they are part of a greater whole; of a city that can be more than just a ‘growth machine’.
Some of the signs have already been removed, which directly answers some of the questions asked in the project.
Last year, MAKE put up similar signs in St. Petersburg. The project provoked discussion and received a lot of media attention, according to a text at Partizaning.org, to which MAKE is affiliated.