Within these writing thoughts of mine, I aim at a quick overall look at the Public Art topic with more specific attention towards its applications and implications in the process of undertaking and having/possessing a Public Artwork in rural areas. This text is a personal reflection on this matter and perhaps a premise for further theoretical and practical investigations on this specific field of study. My interest in the field has grown naturally starting from working with mural painting projects in the urban areas, and cities where I used to live and continued further when moving to live in the countryside of Malax, commonly associated as a peripheral area of the main city of Vasa, although it has a distinct administrative municipality and so on. It was at this point that I encountered the question of creating art in the rural context. Making art for the community living in these territories, these areas, where the traffic of people, resources and attention seems limited. The necessity of reaching and speaking to a wider and dispersed audience led me to think and explore more public art as a whole category rather than focusing on a specific discipline or practice of doing art in this specific context.
Having included this introduction, I will continue toward the main content by first giving a brief description of what is the conventional definition of Public Art. What is generally understood to include this category of arts? According to general opinion, Public Art is art in any media whose form, function, and meaning are created for the general public, mainly through a public process. Public art is visually and physically accessible to the public; it is installed in public spaces in both outdoor and indoor settings. Public art seeks to embody public or universal concepts rather than commercial, partisan, or personal concepts or interests. Notably, public art is also the direct or indirect product of a public process of creation, procurement, and/or maintenance. Apart from this conventional definition of this category of art, there are other contemporary theories that question the notion of what should be considered or not Public Art. An example of this counterpart is the case of street art whose unconventional character, the way it is manifested, its private political point of view, and its private implementation acts, make this independent form of art not fully recognized as a Public Art genre. Nevertheless, I consider the latest a respectful branch of Public Art with all its colorful characteristics and controversies. The proof is given by many cases in our contemporary age when Street Art works have been not only accepted but loved, influential, and with a lot more community-shared values than the ones approved by art Institutions or other public authorities. This is to say that when studying or looking at this category of art making, there shouldn't be considered defining boundaries between these two counterparts which I see as extremities of the same constructed category. Public art as a whole genre is evolving and increasing its influence out of permanent monumental forms toward a wider and inclusive approach, both in content and form, challenging all sorts of concepts related to the public such as the medium, the presentation, the space, the content and so on.
When thinking about the general definitions of public art, we come to the point where one wants to know the implications that are brought by public art during and after its final implementation. Well, we can start by saying that public art is implied to be generally accepted as a public good and in the service of the community and its well-being, for instance. Though it is a public artwork, selected by an expert committee or else wise, its community consent is crucial and relevant to the artwork's lifetime, role, or importance. From this aspect comes also its inclusive features that can be seen as a consequence of this direct/immediate relationship between the artwork and the public. The praxis for the realization of a standard public art project is known and all new forms seem to look for a balanced and democratic approach throughout all the phases of funding, selection, and guidelines that further can shape the taste, meanings, expression, and content of the final artwork.
Now again, I would like to bring back our focus to a more particular aspect of this text and talk about the application of public art in rural geographic areas. Although this sentence seems to be a contradiction, as we generally are used to associating public art with urban areas, I am stimulated to discuss it further. The questions that emerge are:
Can it be done in Rural Areas and at what cost? How is it useful to rural audiences and communities? What is its role?
´Burning man festival´, Black rock desert, Nevada, USA, Artist Bryan Tedrick-“Lord Snort”-photography by Duncan Rawlinson
Before trying to answer these questions, we need to first understand why public art was developed within the Urban areas! Is it because of the centrality concept that we traditionally inherited? It is obvious that the concentration of the population, businesses, and crossroads brings an increase in the interest to develop and invest in Public Art both intentionally and naturally, knowing its role in shaping our urban landscapes and its relevance of direct/constant communication with the community.
On the other hand, public art in rural areas would need more intentional initiatives to create the premises for the sustainable fruition of Public Art by the rural communities and serve as an attraction for future inhabitants or visitors. Of course, the funding and its methods of implementation may vary too, and they need to be reformulated diversely to fit into the frames and needs of the new context.
Such initiatives require more conscience from the institutions at a local, regional, or national level. The role of Public Art in rural areas is to be considered even more important than in urban areas, as it is an added value on top of the natural surrounding landscape, human-made landmarks, and subjects that may shape the community’s identity.
The increasing interest from the general public and its limitless applications are bringing this form of art into serious consideration for sponsors, foundations, and artists too.
Artwork by Valentina Gelain and Bekim Hasaj, for MuralRural festival/ Malakta, Malax, Finland, 2021. Photography by Sebastian Sundlin.
After discussing the role and the potential of public art in rural areas I would like to open up and briefly analyze the concepts of ´central-peripheral´ and their implications in undertaking or applying such a project in rural or peripheral urban areas.
The concept of centralization is deeply ingrained in our human history and the way our society works. It is the concentration of control of major activities and organizations under a single authority, a single entity. This applies to municipalities, cities, regions, and so on at a global level. Without further discussing its political connotations, this same concept is visibly reflected by the art organizations and government-private funds towards all forms and applications of art. This fact has brought an overpopulation of cities and metropolitan areas and created a not sustainable social environment in many contexts. I brought up the question of central-peripheral concepts as a comparison for the arts field with a particular focus on public art, street art, and the challenge to create a counterpart or to dissolve/annul this duality. A decentralization reform/reshaping at an institutional level can bring enormous benefits to the rural community and their artists.
It will manifest in art activities, artists' lives, financing, decision-making processes, etc. For this reason, Public Art in rural areas has become a more relevant and attractive proposal at the present times as it serves as an act of decentralization in its own field and beyond.
Author: Bekim Hasaj, Bergö 23.04.2023
Bekim Hasaj (1990, Bajram Curri) is currently based in Ostrobothnia, Finland.
He studied painting at Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, Italy and had several exhibitions in Finland as well as abroad. He is also very active in the visual art scene of Ostrobothnia participating in local art festivals and working on mural art projects with artist Valentina Gelain.
Seeking an approach towards transdisciplinarity, being open and ready to experiment outside the primary field of study, his practice remains strongly connected to the research on color, sign, and painting in addition to other ‘tools’ and mediums outside of it. He is interested in psychology, philosophy, and social and anthropological themes, developing and studying them in a form of self-analysis and self-perception. Hasaj likes to reflect in terms of co-existence, visible and not, known or unknown, which he sees as a parable of the own process of art making.