Author: Jonathan Vickery
Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, University of Warwick
2-3 Streets — or 2-3 Strassen, as it is called at parallel locations in the cities of Duisburg, Dortmund and Mülheim an der Ruhr — is an urban art project. The project is conducted by artist, Jochen Gerz, known for his international public art projects, as well as decades working conceptual and multi-media art. This project is part of the enormous and highly impressive program of events around the European Capital of Culture RUHR.2010 – the first time the ‘capital’ designation has been awarded to a region and not a single city. The Ruhr – still the industrial heart of Europe – was once a cultural wasteland but is now stacked with first rate museums, galleries, contemporary cultural centres and many venues for live art. These include the unmissable spaces of Museum Folkwang in Essen, the Museum Küppersmühle in Duisburg, as well as new projects like the Dortmunder U – Centre for Art and Creativity. [see web links below]
Each city has offered one street as the site of Gerz’s project, and each street has nearby a internet café, inviting the participation of visitors. Mülheim an der Ruhr is different – the street is ‘vertical’, in reality a towerblock, at the bottom of which is an office/café and the top an ‘art pension’ for visiting intellectuals, journalists, writers or whomever.
The streets contain a combined total of 78 apartments, populated by around 80 project participants, many of whom still continue their careers or hold down their jobs while there for one calendar year (closing end of December 2010). These participants were selected from a total of 1,457 applicants, a wide international response to an internet announcement, and form a new ‘creative class’ in otherwise lower social-class housing. There is one tangible objective of the project – a book. This may seem a rather conservative anti-climactic objective; however, it’s unlikely to be like any book you have ever read.
The street apartments are networked — using a corporate donation of 78 laptop computers – to a central publishing database. Each of the participants, including visitors, enter their ideas, thoughts, criticism, accounts of creative activities and social life, into the database. Daily inputs are automatically uploaded, forming a continual narrative ordered in a strict chronology. There is no editorial intervention, except for a legal check. There are no limits or restrictions on content, and until the book appears no participant or visitor will read any entry other than the one they have written or collaborated on.
The size of the published book (coming out in 2011) will entirely be decided by the extent of text generated, at present looking to be around 1500 pages (and it must be said, that in Germany publishers still contribute on principle to public culture beyond the quick-profit market segments that are the sole focus of British academic publishers). This act of ‘public authorship’ – Gerz’s ongoing artistic project – is not the only objective of the project. The 80 or so participants are resident in these three streets in order to engage in interactive socially-engaged communication with residents and environment. They are an active creative-social admix, to an otherwise run-down and culturally disenfranchised locale, where a high level of unemployment and diverse immigrant culture exists. The 2-3 Strassen project places a critical mass of ‘creatives’ in each of the streets, designating each street an ‘exhibition’ space for one year. This exhibition designation does not invite a cultural voyeurism, as the creatives do not physically or visually change or add to the urban environment – the only visitors who ‘see’ the exhibition, are visitors who arrive and engage with the participants.
Though many of the participants are artists, many are not. They range from 19 years to 60, and are unemployed, students, artists, performers, designers and business people. During my time there I talked to the youngest participant, a 19 year pre-college chap, a nano-technology consultant in his 40s, as well as an established painter. The young man had discovered that Turkish immigrant women in his housing block could sew and make basic clothes, and he is now designing and manufacturing bespoke T-shirts in partnership. There are a whole range of other activities happening between participants and locals.
Jochen Gerz’s project is artistically independent of the Ruhr 2010, though is part of its funded range of programs. The Ruhr has begun a strategic investment in the creative industries, particularly contemporary art, media, architectural design and music. Its recent ‘creative quarters’ project is using some of the ample unused industrial land and facilities for artists and other creative enterprises. This is a pioneering attempt at urban regeneration, recently showcased at the German Pavilion at the Expo Shanghai 2010 as previously at the Expo Real 2009 in Munich.
In the 2-3 Strassen project, a number of significant issues emerge for urban and public art research. Gerz on one is level testing the recent sociological thesis (most famously expressed in American Richard Florida’s notion of ‘creative class’) — that population movements involving aspirant creative professionals can have a transformative impact on an otherwise undeveloped urban area. There are a number of German university projects conducting a longitudinal study of the 2-3 Strassen project in part to see if this works. A second issue Gerz is pursuing is more in line with his ‘Public Authorship’ agenda – ascertaining the meaning and function of ‘public’ culture in contemporary post-national Europe. What kind of post-bourgeois publics can be created, materialized, visualized by art, and what forms of intellectual energy can they generate. Needless to say, 2-3 Strassen is a unique project – but should be commonplace in every city.