Twenty-First Century Places

It is clear that place-making presents new challenges in an increasingly globalised world. For UAP, creating a public artwork for a city, place or building requires research, understanding and artist engagement with that place. And these elements of authenticity and meaning are implicit in a recent article by Samanth Subramanian in The Guardian which looks at historical and contemporary developments in place-making.

“Nation-building” is described as relating to the contemporary identity crises that may be the dominant note of our time, the insecurity that has come with globalisation, immigration, and the changing flux of capital. It describes the drive for places – nations but also towns and cities in their own right – to be distinctively branded. While this is ostensibly for tourism and income-generating reasons it, more importantly, offers deeper rewards to its residential community and, in this area, meaningful public art, sculpture created for a particular place for particular reasons, may assist and even initiate identification with place.

Since the 1990s millions of dollars have been spent on refashioning a national identity for countries. While much of the work in the “nation-building” vein has degenerated into hype, with marketing and public relations overwhelming the fundamentals and authentic expression, investment well-directed to identification of unique aspects of place can be productive and affirming, for both residents and visitors. Subramanian cites the work of London company “Instid” (the Institute for Identity) which casts contemporary trends over “nation-building”. Owners Natasha and Alex Grand regard their work “as a kind of psychology: counselling for countries, therapy for towns. Look inward, discover yourself, find your place in the world.”

However, in an increasingly globalised world, distinctiveness is harder to achieve, with a “single, anodyne culture – the culture of the same global market” all pervasive. An early leader in this field was Simon Anholt, whose work in the late 1990s was couched in marketing terms. Yet he has come full circle with, “His later work … much more on the abstract business of a country’s positive influence upon the world.” And it is this that makes the difference in terms of residents of a place, where its authenticity becomes discernible to others. As Subramanian suggested, “Countries need to fix the way they run if their reputation is to shift. A well-regarded country, Anholt thinks, does as much for humanity at large as for its own people.”

This article makes a strong case for an invested community, an ethical government, city-planning and “nation building” broadly and place-making more specifically, to be engaged with the history, both old and new, of place. The “Bilbao factor” is now well known, but distinctiveness of place does not, necessarily, require extravagance. Existing cultural precincts such as Sydney’s Chinatown have become so central to a city’s authenticity and history. The value of holding tight to historic family associations, small business, and deeply rooted cultural tenets where they are already potent is worth celebrating.

Read the full article here.

All quotes are sourced from How to sell a country: the booming business of nation branding published by The Guardian. Text by: Louise Martin Chew.

Image credits (top to bottom): Papillon at Barangaroo in Syndey, Australia. Photo: Jamie Williams Photography. Sydney Chinatown, in Australia by Artist Lindy Lee. Photo: Roger D’Souza Photography. Memorial Park, ‘Wahat Al Karama’, in Abu Dhabi by Artist Idris Khan. Photo: Surface Photography.