In recent years, the so-called genre of “public art” has undergone a dematerialisation process. As the public sphere has been understood increasingly in terms of a heterogeneous and agonistic discursive state, the emphasis has shifted to public art’s communicative and relational functions. However, we suspect we have neglected the agency of those art objects that persist in our urban environment and, in turn, the ways we live with such objects. In this light, ‘COHAB: an assembly of spare parts’, a project by Can Altay, investigates the objecthood of public art through the specificities of Utrecht’s urban strata.
In ‘COHAB’ public sculpture will be seen as a point of assembly of multiple attentions, voices and initiatives (or as things calling for assembly) and a lever that marks (un)official territories. The project addresses the wider question of cohabitation, one of the main interests of Can Altay’s practice, by referring to the clashes and overlaps between the decisions of placing and living with artworks in an urban context. Its research draws upon public information and archives around the public sculptures and monuments provided by the municipality of Utrecht, but looks further into some particular – and controversial – cases such as ‘Tenttoren’ in the Lunetten area or the Barry Flanagan statue ‘Thinker on a Rock’ in the city centre. Altay has collected actual and speculative stories around specific sculptures in public space, and interpreted their position in the wider scope of city development, and in relation to the often top-down and capital driven urban regeneration programmes – as echoed within many cities around the world.
For ‘COHAB’, Casco will act as one of the assembly points. An array of research materials and stories as well as (imaginative) maquettes, models or objects will be available around a specially constructed large table, shaped after a typical post-war housing block. It will provide an overview and encourage interpretations of relations between art, space and inhabitants. Eventually, all of these constituents will build up towards opportunities to intervene and/or contribute to the ways in which different stakeholders place and live with art in public space.