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(UN)COMMON SPACES from a "citizen" point of view

Marius Grønning, Associated Citizen, Norway


(UN)COMMON SPACES responds to an EU strategy for innovating cultural practices[1] by developing new art audiences, regenerating the sense and value of European public space, and defining new arenas for creation and performance opportunities.[2] An emerging question is how common spaces of community life constitute something uncommon; spaces where art may come with a sense of surprise, and the possible innovations that come along with unlikely and unusual experiences. I am invited to perform the role of citizen, associated with Østfold Internasjonale Teater, the Norwegian IN SITU partner in the project. This role represents an innovative and experimental element in the project. In order to carry out such a role, a few remarks may be made on how to exchange with artists and art producers. The exchange is likely to range from topics related to public space, to potential experiences to be drawn from the project, as well as common approaches to adopt, in order to facilitate such experiences.


"Art can change public space, but public space can also change art."[3] The statement comes from an (UN)COMMON SPACES project meeting and conveys a point of view on art's social relevance: art may influence intersubjective relations – how they take shape in spaces that communities share. An assumption along the same lines is that art may thus also play a role in consolidating a sense of community. In this framework, art may be considered a cultural agent, at play in the process of social formation and with performances that are both social and artistic. These potentials may be tested in public spaces. The figure of "citizen" may here constitute an experimental mechanism; a necessary link connecting society with the artists and art producers in the process of testing or exploring. And along with the associated citizen comes an array of responsibilities in the project. A citizen, associated to the project, may propose testing grounds, as a local tutor for the artists or as an ambassador of a community in the project network. A citizen may offer a variety of competencies, such as being an expert (architecture, sociology, cultural policy, engineering etc.), disseminator (as mediator or network builder), or an academic resource in the experimental process (researcher, pedagogue, supervisor). Furthermore, an associated citizen may participate in shaping artistic profiles, as an active part of processes of exploration, experimentation, and conceptualisation. The citizen may also constitute a kind of contextual mirroring device, enhancing awareness of the spatial dimension of social processes and art experiences. Or a mirroring device out of context, as an agent in the project network, promoting a general awareness of art's role in ongoing societal transitions (digital, environmental and so forth) and bringing new subject-matter and social practices togetherenhancing sustainable art practices.


Identifying spaces, providing a variety of (non-artistic) competencies, forging artistic profiles, mirroring the artist in the world; four types of responsibilities which may lead to concrete citizen contributions to (UN)COMMON SPACES. We may identify other possible types of responsibility, but we also need to consider how the work should be carried out. But not only that; my experience so far is that we need to consider how collaboration with associated citizens becomes attractive to artists and producers. Otherwise the associated citizen will remain an irrelevant resource in the project. I think this is a question of working methods in collaborative experimentation. To experiment is useful when you need to learn, to explore, to produce new knowledge or to innovate methods and techniques. It implies a style of reasoning characterised by a search for new experiences – not just any experience, but desired ones. It is more targeted and calculating than it is improvisational or random. Experimentation requires hypothesis and verification, as well as testing procedures, in order to provoke experiences about a specific phenomenon one would otherwise not be able to make. When art is made through experimental testing, within theframework of (UN)COMMON SPACES, it would benefit from hypothetical formulations, or at least some form of explicit and shared preliminary assumption. Generically formulated or locally targeted, such formulations need to address art's possible impacts on society, and society's impact on art through concrete artistic performances in the public spaces of various European localities. A perspective that may be relevant for the formulation of hypotheses, is a consideration of public space as a medium, allowing us to focus on the ability of artistic performances to raise awareness of spatial phenomena and processes. It opens for observations on how social material becomes subject to artistic expression, and how artistic material in turn becomes subject to collective experience.


Based on these experiences and reflections so far in the (UN)COMMON SPACES project, a central issue for the associated citizen is how impacts of art on public spaces become evident. It involves demonstration in terms of form (time or space, rhythm or composition, transition or location), content, and materialisation; terms through which can address relationships between structure and representation. As a part of the experimental processes, one should be able to produce a number of results. For artists and art producers the result is measured directly in terms of artistic quality and productivity. For the associated citizen, on the other hand, who does not belong to the sphere of production and authorship, we need to bring the quetion back to citizens' interaction with art. This means to focus on art as experience, rather than the making, even if the associated citizen is involved in the process of making. I therefore encourage the group of associated citizens to consider a different order of project outcomes. One category of outcomes could be a number of reports on the artistic experiences, describing the materials of public spaces and the subject-matter of the artworks, their media and expression. Some of us are scholars, and our work manifest in research papers which in this project may address art as experience and the formation of spatial consciousness in local communities. Another type of outcome could be more oriented toward popular dissemination, such as podcasts about theoretical perspectives, artistic approaches and art experiences. Until the project is concluded we should probably think of other possible outcomes that are coherent with our roles in it. The project management, however, needs to consider which conditions that need to be in place for the associated citizen to perform these possible roles. By conditions I mean things like collaborative sessions with artists and producers, agreements on uses of the material (personal information, intellectual property), interaction between creative process and research process, citizen workshops (podcasts, shared litterature, writing sessions), and publications with the partners or artists, as well as the necessary means (financial, graphical, coordination). With these remarks I am looking forward to exploring the social and cultural relevance of performing arts for the local contexts of European cities and communities.

[1] The Creative Europe framework.

[2] At the centre of the project is the work of artists outside of conventional venues and processes of creation in immediate exposure to people in spaces of everyday life.

[3] Pierre Sauvageot from Lieux Publics (European and national center for artistic creation in public space located in Marseille), statement at the (UN)COMMON SPACES workshop in Tàrrega, Spain, 23-25 November 2021.

Marius Grønning 

Associated professor in urban and regional planning

Faculty of landscape and society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (Ås, Norway)