Gardens by the Bay

Last week I visited a one-day conference – the annual Publika parker och trädgårdar (Public parks and gardens) in Helsingborg in company with two landscape architects and colleagues from Växjö, Ida and Marielle. The theme of this year’s conference is Interactive parks and spaces, and the focus on interaction reflects a strong movement of today – participation and dialogue – which permeates public gardening, city planning, public art etc. in many projects in Sweden and abroad.

Olof Wiese works with interactive design and is part of the creative company Utskottet in Malmö. Their passion is to get people to enjoy parks and public spaces, and their tool is playful, user-friendly installations. Olof gives a summary of some of the projects, most of them temporary, and I must say they are talented – my favorites are combinations of technology and everyday activities – such as the strange symphony produced by people swinging (Ljudgungan/Soundswing).

Utskottet, Ljudgunga

The Copehagen-based artist Thomas Dambo creates huge installations, sculptures and workshops which highlight recycling and the value of our trash. Thomas holds a Master in Interaction Design and is also a musician (hip hop actually) with eight albums and over 500 concerts on his record (which definitely distinguishes him at this conference). He has made some great birdhouse installations, for example at Arken.

One of his big hits is Happy wall, an interactive, verbal sculpture. Another one is Remake Christmas in Copenhagen, a house and temporary workshop.

Thomas Dambo, Remake Christmas

But the most audience pleasing works of Thomas is probably his Trolls.

Thomas Dambo, Troll

Christina Danick, art historian, is one of the artistic leaders for Urban Arts Ruhr in Germany, an institution established when Essen was the European capital of culture in 2010. Under the motto “Urban spaces as a laboratory” artists cooperate with citizens in the region, where twenty cities create a common identity within the Emscher Landscape Park. I really like the historical background – the coal mining area, highly populated, lost its power in the 60’s and 70’s, people moved to other areas and the economy declined. After a few decades the area started its regeneration – from faded mining industries to cultural and creative industries.

Anne Beate Hovind is in charge of the art projects in the Norwegian Björkvika Utvikling, which focuses on the design of the public spaces in a new urban district in Oslo. The best part of her presentation deals with the work Future libraries by Katie Paterson. One text by 100 authors in 100 years will be kept, unread and finally published. The first one was Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood at Future Libraries

Carly Lamb, which I consider as the main speaker of the day, works for the landscape architect company Grant Associates in Bath in south east England. Carly talks about visions of reconnecting people and nature, “glow moments” of surprise, and bringing in places for humans and nature in the cities.

Recently she returned to England after a seven year long session in Singapore, where she worked with the awarded-winning project Gardens by the Bay. The company won a competition about creating a park for the 21 century in the dense, high-tech city. They developed a design concept based on the orchid-flower, and the result is just amazing – huge, artificial, expensive. But is this for real, is this really to bring nature into the city?

Carly Lamb, Grant Associates, Gardens by the bay, Singapore

Alfred Nerhagen is landscape architect at the Municipality of Helsingborg and project leader for a temporary activity space at Oslopiren south from the city center in the urban development project H+. Within the next ten years the pier will be used for projects co-created by citizens and the City of Helsingborg. The aim is to develop creative and interactive spaces. A grass root-project, unpredictable, spontaneous, unplanned.  It’s definitely a great initiative, all city departments are involved, and I am sure it will turn out well.

Oslopiren, Helsingborg

The project Pixla Piren opens in May 2016 and will never be finished. The area, about 20 000 square meters, is divided in pixels, each about 100 square meters, which people can annex and fill with life. You can use your pixel for one day or for several years, it’s up to you. And you can even apply for funding up to 10 000 crowns from the municipality. There are some other features at the pier – a maker space, an exhibition area, a street art block and some gardening.

The obvious question is of course – what will happen after the ten years of experiments? Well, Oslopiren will be colonized by high prestigious apartments with a great view over the sound and the kingdom of Denmark, I guess.

*          *          *

It’s a good day. When I sum up my experiences from the gathering, some questions remain. One of the crucial questions connected to the theme has to do with the volunteers. Quite a lot of the projects need unpaid helpers. That’s common in the cultural world – think of music festivals, art projects and so on. This might be good – it reflects enthusiasm, pride and engagement? But, according to me, it does also hide something – unemployed, young or retired people are used as workers, without any payment (except a good lunch)… Is culture something you can get (almost) for free? The volunteer trend (which we sometimes call “participation” and “dialogue”) might unbalance the cultural economy – art becomes cheaper than it actually is?

This page was updated 2016-04-17 by Fredrik Sandblad.