16 Feb 2021
The public space belongs to everyone and nobody. That is its quality, its democratic potential. It includes anything built and designed, all of its physical infrastructure: architecture, streets, sidewalks, squares, parks as well as means of transport such as trains, buses, trams and subways, provided they are state property and not privatized.
Klara Lidén focused on the theme of public space during her studies at the School of Architecture of the KTH Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Her reaction and approach to the subject reminded one of her teachers of street art. Street artists don't wait for a white wall in a museum. They work with the means available to them, look for surfaces and spaces and show how society functions in a process of exclusion, they show where the fatal breakpoints, systematic flaws and tendencies are, that restrict the rights of freedom and make them forgotten.
In 2003, Lidén participated in a seminar on urban development entitled “The New Urban Planning Office”, which was held at the Färgfabriken Art Gallery. Lidén's first video, “Paralyzed”, was created within this context. The idea sprung from the request to give a talk on the theme of urban planning in Stockholm. Instead of a talk, she decided to show a video of a “dance” performed in a subway train in Stockholm which was filmed by a friend. She then added the first audio studio recording of "Paralyzed", a three-minute piece by the singer-songwriter The Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
The first sequence of the video shows construction sites appearing alongside the subway tracks, as seen through window of the train. Then the focus is briefly placed on a person sitting across from Lidén, wearing torn jeans and a hoodie pulled down into the face, staring out of the window in an attempt to avoid eye contact. In short sequences and clippings, the camera captures Lidén’s performance as she strips off her clothes layer by layer, down to a pair of shorts, a pink blouse and socks, while she interacts with the seats, handrails and luggage rack. The focus then switches to the train tracks, showing the subway car driving above ground through the dark night, while Lidén moves across the aisle performing ballet-like jumps.
Since 2003 "Paralyzed" has been shown over and over again. The video’s stills have become independent works within Lidén's oeuvre. She did not pursue the architectural degree that would have led her to work as an architect in the public space. In 2009 she published a manifesto-like statement; its copyright is held by Reena Spauldings Fine Art, the gallery that represents Lidén:
„Part of me is this poor architect dealing with the problem of existing structures in the city, part of me is this amateur dancer or performer who wants to return ideas of the rhythm to the activity of the building, or of re-appropriating the built environment. Building is also un-building, recycling or improvising new uses for what´s already been set in places like New York, Berlin or Stockholm.
Whether in a museum or in my own apartment, and the question of re-appropriating privatized, urban space always somehow begins with the body, its ways and moving and the temporalities it engages when it goes to work or opens up spaces of non-work in work. There is an idea of play what and what isn´t useful in the activity of building.”
“Paralyzed” is presented on the ground floor of the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart in close proximity to large-format photos showing people sleeping on the London Underground. The photos were taken and posted online without the knowledge or permission of the sitters. Mark Wallinger downloaded these authorless, “poor images” from the “public domain” of the internet and included them in his work “The Unconscious” (2010).
This constellation offers the opportunity to reflect on our own civil involvement within society, while focusing on ourselves instead of on others; it leads us to question our behavior in the current, socio-political era and where our personal responsibilities as individuals in the public space lie.
Stefanie Manthey, art historian, art mediator and free-lance author