Graffiti made from cake icing, man-made clouds floating indoors, a luminous moon resting on water. Collected here are dozens of jaw-dropping artworks—site-specific installations, extraordinary sculptures and groundbreaking interventions in public spaces—that reveal the exciting things that happen when contemporary artists play with the idea of place.
Unexpected Art showcases the wonderfully experimental work of more than 50 innovative artists from around the world in galleries of their most astonishing artworks. An unusual package with three different-coloured page edges complements the art inside and makes this tour of the world’s most mind-blowing artwork a beautiful and thought provoking gift for anyone interested in the next cool thing.
You don’t have to buy a ticket to a public space. It’s yours. It’s not like going to a theater or a museum, where you are choosing to be exposed to a type of art. It is my job as an artist, if I am allowed the use of a public space, to connect the audience to my work. You have to involve the people. The audience is not only the spectators— it is part of the art.
Recently, I visited my hometown. It’s a small place, the kind of place where everyone knows one another. The neighbors were happy to see me; they’ve been keeping up with my career as I have become more well-known. One neighbor came up to me and said, “Do you remember, Florentijn, when you used to build scenes out of soapboxes and come around asking us to see what you had made?”
As a child of six or seven, I would create little worlds, adventurescapes, fantasy lands, out of soapboxes and take them around the neighborhood asking, “Have you seen what I made?” I always had the sense that if I was going to make art, it had to be big, and it had to touch many people. From my days as an art student, when I started a small business with two friends painting murals each summer, public artwork is what I fell into naturally. After I graduated, I continued my work with public space—I had a feel for it, a love for it.
I love the connection with people. And I love the unique challenges posed by working in a public space. There are clearly logistical considerations in work of this scope: dealing with the paperwork and the local governments, making a work “asshole proof,” as we call it in Holland; that is, protecting it from vandals. The challenges of public installations—the approvals, the safety standards—push you to be more creative. There are problems that you have to solve, issues to overcome. As a result, it becomes a collaborative process. Part of the strength of the work comes from this collaboration with the many hands that touch it.
When beginning a project, I start with a site visit. You have to take into account all of the ingredients—the history of the place, the demographics, who lives there, the buildings—everything that comes together to make the place what it is. A public space can become so familiar that a person doesn’t see it anymore. People pass through a space that they’ve been through dozens, even hundreds, of times before, and it has become completely invisible, utterly strange, to them. When I insert a new object into that space, it provides a bright new perspective to the viewers, so that all of a sudden, they experience their surroundings once more.
Changing the volume of the space is one way to make the familiar fresh and new. The materials I use are also key to providing the unexpected—I have used flip-flops, tiles, plastic bags, thatch. If I try to astonish myself first and foremost, I can feel confident about bringing the awe factor to an installation.
Slow Slugs, in Angers, France, took many hands to complete. I worked with dozens of volunteers who tied forty thousand plastic bags to the frames forming the slugs, which crawled up the stairs to the church. Seeing this location in Angers, a stairway to a church—to God, to religion, to death—as well the way to a commercial district behind the church, brought to mind a race to the finish. The slow race of slugs up the church stairs combined with the suffocating effects of plastic bags and commercialism all came together in this public work. As with many public pieces, it was up for only a short time—days—but if I have succeeded in changing the space, providing the audience with a new perspective, then the impact has been made. And the work will live on in publications and on the Internet.
A dozen years ago, I bought a world map. I fashioned stickers in the shape of a rubber duck, and I stuck them all over the map in the hopes that one day, I would bring my Rubber Duck project—a giant version of the child’s bath toy— to these places. Now, it’s happening. The Rubber Duck has been to more than twenty locations in eleven countries, and the momentum is growing. It’s an installation in which the audience reaction, the joy, the togetherness, is intrinsic to the experience. We all want to be amazed and astonished. The strong visual reference to a familiar object—an enormous rubber duck—draws the audience in. The scale of the Rubber Duck turns the harbor, bay, river into a giant bathtub and makes us all feel small. The audience becomes part of the installation, its reaction integral to the piece. You could be a CEO or a butcher, but we are all the same before this work. It interacts with all layers of society. It makes the world smaller. In my work, I play with scale. The effect of my work is to change your perception of reality.
Art doesn’t always have to be difficult; you don’t have to sweat to understand it. It can be a work that is all about relating, where we are all free to watch and investigate and discover. My sculptures don’t change reality. They reveal what is already there and make you part of it.
Text © Florentijn Hofman