We have a deep interest in working in public spaces, of making art that lives outside of the elite, privileged spaces of artistic reception, and dwells in the world in many diverse ways. From time to time, we will report on our own individual projects within the context of the Mythological Quarter.
Giving Harbor is a large public project I initiated several months ago, here in Copenhagen, with the support of a local group of artists and curators who call themselves publik. publik is currently Katarina Stenbeck, Johanne Løgstrup and Nis Rømer. They have been supporting the production of ambitious public art projects in Copenhagen for many years: www.publik.dk.
The first installment of Giving Harbor appeared in Copenhagen’s harbor from September 16-October 22, 2011. The installation was a sign system comprised of many individual letters mounted on the harbor’s wooden moorings. The message was generated in collaboration with the users of Trampolinhuset and contributors to visAvis magazine, which “focuses on migration and asylum, produced by people with or without citizenship living in Denmark."
Rasmus Pedersen (left), Peter Olsen (right), and Jonas Georg Christensen helped with the installation of the sign. Jonas took this photo. The sign was made in sections that were easy to manage, transport and install. One chunk accidentally ended up being the Danish word "trist" that translates to "sad". Peter joked that this could become his new graffiti tag.
Giving Harbor’s interchangeable letters can be used to make an unlimited number of large-scale public signs. We had initially planned on putting out three phrases in the first iteration, but that became untenable given time, money and labor constraints. Plans are to put the system back out next summer.
A key reason for initiating Giving Harbor is that the shared spaces of cities exclude signs and messages from people who do not have power or money. To put your sign up on a building or beside a road on a billboard, you must have these things. If you do not, you are not allowed to insert whatever you want into these spaces. If you try to, your sign will be removed and you could face arrest. In this way, these spaces are deeply undemocratic. Giving Harbor was conceived as a way for different groups who do not hold power within the dominant culture to express their concerns in a strong, very public manner.
On the first day we tried to install the sign system, security guards and managers from the Marriott hotel came out to talk to us. We had permission from the hotel to put the sign up on the mooring in front of their building so we thought there would be no problem. This did not stop the head manager from shutting down the project temporarily. He didn't explain the reason to us, we just got word from the person who had initially given us the go ahead that we would have to stop. The hotel offered us the option of storing the sign and that we could put it up after the national elections that were taking place that week. Initially, this was a deeply frustrating and disempowering situation that produced several sleepless nights and a lot of anxiety on my part.
Project Thank-yous: I want to personally acknowledge and thank Tone Nielsen, Morten Goll, Søren Rafn, Liv Duvå, Rasmus Pedersen, Sami Saabet, Faruz, Mohammed, Carlos, Stan, and many of the great folks who come to and use Trampolinhuset and discussed this project with me. Thanks to Jonas Georg Christensen, and especially to Peter Olsen for his terrific production work and mad skills. Big thanks to publik and Kristofer Hultenberg for production of the vinyl letters and taking photographs of the installed sign. I also owe thanks to the fine folks at visAvis magazine who have been very supportive of this project. It would not have been possible without their support.