From a Paris church to Kuwaiti malls: Artistic interventions in public spaces

A screening of Le passage des Chaises, a documentary about Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata’s very public practice, at the Contemporary Art Platform (CAP) in Kuwait City also provided an overview of the public art projects that scatter the country.

The film screening was held on 9 January 2013 as part of a series of public lectures organised by young art space CAP. In Le passage des Chaises, the director uses interviews with visitors, installation technicians and the artist himself to give us a glimpse into the world of Tadashi Kawamata.

Tadashi Kawamata, 'Le passage des Chaises', 1997, work in situ, chairs. View of the installation, Festival d'Automne, Chapelle Saint-Louis de L'hôpital Pitié Salpêtrière, Paris, 1997. © Tadashi Kawamata. Photo credit: Leo van der Kleij. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris.

Tadashi Kawamata, 'Le passage des Chaises', 1997, work in situ, chairs. View of the installation, Festival d'Automne, Chapelle Saint-Louis de L'hôpital Pitié Salpêtrière, Paris, 1997. © Tadashi Kawamata. Photo credit: Leo van der Kleij. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris.

Le passage des Chaises

The film centres around the installation of an artwork by Tadashi Kawamata that consists of wooden chairs placed strategically under the dome of the Chapelle Saint-Louis de L’hôpital Pitié Salpêtrière, a church in Paris. The filmmaker makes a point of documenting the reactions of passersby: some scoff, some stop in wonder, others are amused and all are finally admiring as the chairs gather to form a ten metre high installation.

Watch a short extract from the documentary (French language only), in which you see the artwork being installed, below or on YouTube.

A spiral sun

As the artist himself describes the work, “It’s like a spiral sun that rises toward the sky…. Each of these chairs is a different character with a different story; it is as if we connected the people together with plastic ties and yet it is very strong.”

Through the documentary, we learn that Kawamata mostly uses recycled materials such as cardboard boxes, found objects, timber, crates and packing in his practice. According to the journal lespressesdureel, “His work concerns itself with architectural space as an urban or designed social context or product. A careful study of the human relations that define it and the way of life which results from it allows him each time to determine progressively the nature of his project.”

Distinguished career

Born in Hokkaido, Japan, in 1953, Kawamata rose to fame at the age of 28, when he debuted at the Venice Biennale. Today, he lives and works in Tokyo and Paris.

Since first exhibiting his work in 1977, he has participated in, as well as undertaken, a large number of projects and exhibitions in Japan and abroad. He also served as a professor of the Inter Media Art Course at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music from 1999 to 2005, and was the artistic director of the Yokohama Triennale in 2005.

Tadashi Kawamata, 'Chairs For Abu Dhabi' (centre of image), 2012, approximately 20-foot tall sculpture made of chairs, exhibited at Abu Dhabi Art 2012. Image courtesy Abu Dhabi Art.

Tadashi Kawamata, 'Chairs For Abu Dhabi' (centre of image), 2012, approximately 20-foot tall sculpture made of chairs, exhibited at Abu Dhabi Art 2012. Image courtesy Abu Dhabi Art.

Some of Kawamata’s best known installations include Destroyed Church (1987); Favela in Battery Park (1988); Catwalk (1995); Work in Progress (1996); and Les Chaises de travers (1998). In 2012, Kawamata’s Chairs for Abu Dhabi, an installation of hundreds of stacked chairs, was a central point of attraction for thousands of visitors at Abu Dhabi Art. It was brought to the fair by Galerie Kamel Mennour.

Kuwaiti public art interventions

Following the screening, British artist Lewis Chapman, who graduated from Goldsmiths College, London in 2005, and is currently based in Kuwait, gave a talk that focused on a number of local examples of artistic interventions in public spaces.

Artist Lewis Chapman at Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait. Image by Art Radar.

Artist Lewis Chapman at Contemporary Art Platform, Kuwait. Image by Art Radar.

Billboards and shopping malls

In 2011, Palestinian artist Tarek Al-Ghoussein installed photographic prints onto billboards overlooking a roundabout in Hawalli, a suburb of Kuwait. Al-Ghoussein’s work, according to The Third Line who represent the artist, “deals with how his identity is shaped in a context of inaccessibility and loss”.

Tarek Al-Ghoussein's billboards in Hawalli, Kuwait.

Shopping malls, Chapman said, are also home to public sculptures in Kuwait. The glass sculptures in Kuwait City’s 360 Mall, which were custom built to fit the central atriums, were made by American artist Dale Chihuly. In 2012, architecture students from Kuwait University installed wooden sculptures in the central Al Raya Mall, which is also in Kuwait City. The sculptures, according to Chapman, “created semi-private spaces within the larger public space”.

DP/KN/HH

Related Topics: Japanese artists, public art, art in the Middle East

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