The South Collection Rotterdam

The South Collection is an intervention in public space through an identity correction creating an art collection out of rejected architecture and monuments.

More precisely, it is a simulation of a museum experience in the form of a tour through a fictitious public art exhibition. The project transforms large closed objects into a work of public art, made by the designers and artists of public space, the city developers and policy makers.

Walkling Tour

The subject of the sculptures was a block of soon to be torn down buildings. The project sees these buildings (in Oranjeboomstraat, Rotterdam, Netherlands) as sculptures from the moment they loose their function (to be inhabitable) by becoming covered in metal plates and sprayed with a red x, as a sign of protection from being squatted, remaining in this form sometimes for years. The South Collection tackles the issue of institutionalization, whether of public space or public art in terms of growing privatization to the point where public space will no longer be space for the many, but for the few.

The facade of the project is an identity correction of a powerful institution. In the case of Rotterrdam it is the identity of the CBK (center for visual arts, the organization in charge of public art in Rotterdam). The audio guide, on the other hand, is a reflection of a self sufficient and self referential art system which supports and feeds a hermetic language, that can, at a point of sufficient abstractedness, become applicable to almost anything, where the curatorial choice becomes the authority of meaning.

Are public sculptures ornaments of the city, a commodity, connected to a democratic understanding, giving public the freedom of visual speech, or are sculptures meant for the public to see? The catalogue of The South Collection says: “What does the term public in public art stand for? Does it stand for the people, is it art for all, art for the many, or is being situated in something that is called public space enough of a guarantee of a model different from a classical institutional, especially when the classical model brings out strategies of intervention and appropriation as its own. Situated in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where the conversation between liberal conditions and strict regimes is well maintained, this large collection of sculptures deals with the everyday person, bringing up questions of home, boundary spaces, closure, immigration, human rights, temporality, questions of spaces and communication.”

The South Collection postcard triptych

Using the form of the museum, the project is battling a typical understanding of public space as being an open, participatory space for debate. Institutionalizing freedom (avant-garde, public actions, street art) lessens the sole possibility of actual freedom of speech, exactly because it becomes accepted and appropriated. Susan Buck-Morss talks about “authors in a position to speak to the masses that do not speak for the masses”. So if we surrender our idea of public art coming from the public, and accept broader interests concerning public space, who are the actual public artists? The South Collection leaves its authors anonymous, but the artifact itself draws possible conclusions. In a large scale canvas of the city, public artists become nothing more than appropriate tools fitting into planned city landscapes.