COHAB: an assembly of spare parts

22 May–10 July 2011 / Casco HQ

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. In this course of development, public sculptures are seen as rather archaic or, one could say, simply unseen, folded in the zone between buildings and urban infrastructure. 

With the project COHAB: an assembly of spare parts at Casco, Can Altay proposes to reassess – and reanimate – these urban objects in light of his long-term inquiry into “cohabitation” in urban life, particularly by focusing on the clashes and overlaps between decisions of “placing” and “living with” artworks in public space through specificities of the city of Utrecht. By COHAB, which sounds like rehab, Altay refers to cohabitation as a fundamental political problem, not simply a celebration of adherence or adaptation. COHAB can be understood as a call for an assembly of all things that constantly make up the city or that are made up in the process, including those spare parts like us, people, like detritus and abandoned objects, like the sculptures that call for and create further assemblies, as a process of recovery. 

The project’s research draws upon public information and archives around the sculptures and monuments of the municipality of Utrecht. In collaboration with local stakeholders, passersby and researchers, COHAB also looks further into particular – and controversial – cases such as “Tenttoren” in the Lunetten area or the Barry Flanagan statue Thinker on a Rock in the city center. The empirical and imaginative case studies that were assembled during Altay’s research process disclose multiple attentions, voices and initiatives around public art works. The project repositions them somewhere between function and meaning and also treats them as points to draw the city’s boundaries and its anamorphic expansions. The research material finally “cohabits” with a special display structure and is accompanied by a small set of proposals for repurposing public sculptures in Utrecht throughout the project period. 

For COHAB, Casco acts as an assembly point. An array of research materials and stories as well as (imaginative) maquettes, models or objects are available on specially constructed trestle and table structures, shaped after typical post-war housing blocks. It provides an overview and encourages interpretations of relations between art, space and inhabitants. Eventually all of these constituents build up towards opportunities to intervene and/or contribute to the ways in which different stakeholders place and live with art in public space. 

The work of Can Altay, an artist living in Istanbul, is known for its focus on improvised architectures in the city, unauthorized systems of organization and models of cohabitation. Altay has been working on a long-term project, setting a setting, which searches for a collaborative, productive method of exhibition making. Altay’s project at Casco is part of a sequence following The Church Street Partners’ Gazette (CSPG) which he developed with The Showroom in London. A book that combines CSPG and COHAB is published by Bedford Press in collaboration with Casco and The Showroom later this year. 


Screening of Sonsbeek buiten de perken & Discussion with Can Altay, Jurgen Bey (designer, Uithof Expedities), Krist Gruijthuijsen (curator, Straat van Sculpturen, Bijlmer Art International 2012), Nathalie Zonnenberg (curator, Roulette), Huib van der Werf (curator SKOR) a.o. 
21 May 14:00 

COHAB’s first event centers around the 1971 film by Jef Cornelis, Belgian author of numerous films made for TV, Sonsbeek buiten de perken (Sonsbeek Out of Bounds) (1971, 47:50 min), featuring an exhibition held at Sonsbeek Park, Arnhem in 1971. The film “constitutes a collection of conflicts” (Koen Brams) around the exhibition, presenting different opposing voices from artists of the BBK national artists’ association, participating artists, exhibition organizers, local politicians etc. on the public values of art, especially outside of exhibition spaces. 

A number of special guests whose works involve making and/or placing “public art” in Utrecht and the Netherlands have been invited to respond to the film and engage in discussion. Starting with the screening, the discussion follows several leads: the contradictions of “public art” and its role in the neo-liberal era of city marketing and gentrification; changing intentions and aims in cultural production; the position of the public, the audience and the random passersby; shifts that may have taken place in policy-makers’, artists’ and audience’s positions. All these leads are seen through the specific lens of Dutch “public art” practice. 


Discussion with Jeremiah Day & Can Altay  
25 June 14:00 

Continuing from the first discussion, this gathering delves into the two questions below. 

What are the public(s) of public arts and how are they identified? 

The manner in which the reception of art in public space is officially assessed and how it is discussed within the contemporary art discourse seems to remain anecdotal at best. While the relevancy or reliability of such assessments is in itself questionable, the previous meeting’s participants raised a few striking points around “the involvement of real people” in cases such as the Bijlmer Spinoza Festival by Thomas Hirschhorn, and in response to Nathalie Zonnenberg’s recollections of local reactions to certain selected sculptures in the Roulette project by Manfred Pernice. According to artist Siah Armajani in his manifesto for public sculptures, the ethical dimensions of arts can only be found “in a newly formed relationship with a non-art audience.” How can such a relationship be formed, and with whom?  

Can art works constitute a public space, a space for collective presence (and action)? 

The relationship to power and authority in “publicly placed” art is unavoidable. Most commonly, public sculpture is understood as a sequel to monuments (from pious and benefactory gestures of historical fountains, to oppressive monuments of totalitarian regimes) in many places around the world. Even though the case in Utrecht seems remote from such references, one cannot underestimate the symbolic functions of art in public space, and its direct correspondence with cultural policies and political-economical ideologies. With over 400 sculptures in the city of Utrecht, for example, we wonder how these public sculptures can be retooled for the presence of the public and its agency. This topic is further pursued with the proposals Can Altay has developed as a form of contribution-intervention to the public sculptures in Utrecht.  

Jeremiah Day has made Krakersmonument (Squatter’s Memorial) in collaboration with SMBA and My Name is Spinoza in 2009. Day is currently undertaking a PhD research with MaHKU and Vrij University and developing a new work with If I Can’t Dance.  

Day and Altay have previously collaborated on the project You don’t go slummin (2009). Together they start the discussion, building on their dialogue to-date and reflecting on the questions above. We would like to request your understanding that the subject of the second event has been revised due to the urgent questions remaining from the first meeting. 

With this COHAB event, Casco takes part in Day of Architecture 2011. 


Sophie Warren, Jonathan Mosley, Can Altay 
September 2011, specific dates to be announced 

After the exhibition is closed at Casco, COHAB appendix extends the project by organizing Rogue Game in which both the players and observers explore together the notions of territory, governing rules, negotiation and contingency through an understanding of play and spatial research.  

Rogue Game is an ongoing and collaborative project devised by artist Sophie Warren and architect Jonathan Mosley in collaboration with Can Altay. The game brings together three different sports (5-a-side football, basketball and volleyball) staged simultaneously on the same pitch, each game played according to its own rules. Through the simple overlaying of time the event throws the players into unknown territories within established frameworks for play. Known rules are exchanged for new ever-changing rules.  

Open call for participation! 

Please contact Yolande if you would like to join this game or to learn more about it. 

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