Arnold van LoenhoutAlumnus
Street performers or artist in the public space are only allowed to perform or make music with permission from the local government, it is not allowed to play with more than six people, it’s not allowed to use sound-enhancing equipment and instruments like Bongo’s and drums, the performance cannot last longer than thirty minutes on the same spot, only allowed to play between nine in the morning and eleven in the evening.
And for getting permission the local government has to decide on basis of nine different regulations about security and safety if you are allowed to perform on the street.
Although the street performer is a logical scene on the street which everyone takes for granted, these rules and regulations are an invisible factor which brings down the number of performers radically. The public space is a place where society has a voice and where an individual or a group could express themselves. To add all these rules for performing in the street it’s getting harder for the performer to do his job. To refer to the book ‘On the Political’ from Chantal Mouffe. The reason for his chance is the switch of control in the public realm and that the state or government decides what is private and what is public. People are acting different in the street than they will do in their private surroundings. The majority of the people stops feeling responsible for their surroundings as soon as they step out of their door, where I want to refer to Nicolas Bourriaud and his article ‘Artistic Delay’ where he talks about Irresponsibility of citizens who became passive nowadays. Compare this with the activity in the ’60 and ’70 where people demonstrated and where part of the masses and every individual thought he or she was active.
Bertold Brecht a poet (drama) writer, literary critic and theater director, and a main person in the epic theater. Seems to get more influential in the art world today. With his political orientated epic theater he wants the spectators to complete the play themselves, expand and connect this with reality and instead of being a spectator become a receiver and start acting yourself. Brecht thoughts are about people that are mainly a product of human measures, the society. Because people make the society, they can also chance it.
With the irresponsibility and the passive state and lack of social control a gap is created and is filled up by the government. There response are security camera’s rules and regulations for instants named above, this is all in order to get a grip on the situation in the public realm.
Off course as a reaction on the government there are still groups of people active or maybe activated by this chance of control. Naomi Klein refers to culture jamming and reclaiming the street in her book No Logo.
Culture jamming or ‘Subvertising’ is a response to the advertisement off big brands who are reaching around entire buildings and busses, into schools, onto basketball courts and on the Internet. By chancing their own logo’s and advertisement, the culture jammer artists try to bring what is hidden to the surface. For example San Francisco's Billboard Liberation Front uses the largest thirty by ninety foot billboard of Levi’s, to paste the face of serial killer Charles Manson over the image, they chose Manson's face because the jeans were assembled by prisoners in China. The main different between culture jamming and reclaiming the street is that we are bombarded with advertisement and culture jamming is responding to that, but for the spectators it is still a one way communication. While reclaiming the street is often an event or a guerrilla action which a spectator again becomes a receiver and could be a part of it, which makes this a two way communication.
An artist who is working with a form of culture jamming is Banksey, although he sometimes uses big brands he mostly targets the authorities, one of his quotes in his book is: “Police men and security guards wear hats with a peak that comes down low over their eyes for psychological reasons. Apparently eyebrows are very expressive and by covering them up you appear a lot more authoritative. The upside is this means it’s harder for cops to see anything more than six foot off the ground and makes painting rooftops and bridges a lot easier.” This is one of the persons who is rebelling against all these rules with the media of paint and critical comedy.
Another example is an action organized by foundation Losse Schroeven (loose screws) where I’m active in. One of the event we did was putting several complete living rooms in the middle of a public park. And every one was invited to join and bring something from their home. It wasn’t a demonstration or protest but a way to get people out of there shell and feel more free and active in the public surroundings, and let people realize that the boundary of public and private is not as separated as most people think it is. Although we didn’t do it as a “reclaim the street action” I think it could be seen as one.
To take the Furnished park as an example of a concept to take the inside to the outside and to show that the boundary between public and private in no more than a thin line. I like to refer to an Interview with Peter Weibel “Machine-experienced space” starts with the phrase “Architecture begins where space stops” and talks about marked and unmarked space. Usually an architect draws a line on a map to mark a territory, and then start thinking how to create a property inside the line. Maybe a park is already a marked space but to put a living room in the middle of it, we mark a space within the marked space and creating unmarked space around us. In theory this is not much different from an house take for example a neighborhood or maybe better a city with a furnished house placed in the middle. What separates a private live and the public is literary a line.