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Concluding remarks

by Lene Noer and Birgitte Ejdrup Kristensen

Dear reader. So we’ve made it this far. We hope that the material you have been presented with in this book, the works themselves, and the citizens and our own and others reflections on the processes and works will give you food for thought.

The project contains many experiences, that in part have been internalised but which we have aspired to convey and share with a wider circle of people with this book. When we give talks about the project, we are often asked for five good pieces of advice on citizen participatory art projects. These could be as follows; 1. Listen, 2. Don’t arrive with preconceived, finished ideas, 3. Try to understand the social dynamics, 4. Conduct a poll of expectations and be clear about roles and responsibilities, 5. TIME. Another piece of advice would be, from the very outset of the project, to encourage the setting up of teams consisting of, for example, the municipality, citizens groups, one or more artists and where responsibilities and tasks can be divided between several partners. This will strengthen the project, creating a broader sense of co-ownership and activate extra resources at appropriate times.

But in reality every project is different and it is impossible to predict how the process will unfold. Fundamentally, one can say that it takes time to understand and create something new from complex circumstances involving people, places and interpersonal relationships. This realisation was the decisive contributing factor when we chose to continue the project after Selde. We had a sense of beginning to understand the area and the people, and that there was a growing confidence and curiosity among the residents, and we were therefore at a place where it would be interesting to continue and explore where that road would take us. After four more years of work, we have to conclude that we still have much to learn. And yet at the same we have a feeling that we have discovered something important.

With Clair Bishop’s words; ”Participation in art is about assigning art a constructively active role in the world” the participatory element, or participatory art, points forward towards a wider, unexplored field of possibilities where art can play a decisive role in far more contexts than it does today. The involvement of art in concrete situations is not an attempt to instrumentalise art but rather to point to an additional, but not fully exploited or recognised potential.

What do we get, then, when we involve the recipients of the work in its creation? Or involve the artist in a complex situation that one wants to change or set in motion? Well, then we get “something else”. Perhaps something more empathic and feminist as Trine Rytter Andersen suggests in her essay Endeavouring to live in a world together. Perhaps an artistic practice that voluntarily operates with a social responsibility and an interest in addressing and uncovering new solutions to societal problems, as Sofie Maj Thomsen cites Clair Bishop for in the essay On ’artist participation’. Dutch artist Sjoerd Wagenaar would say that we artists have to abandon the creation of objects and instead concentrate on the processes, where the artistic element consists of a “push” that moves the situation forward without defining or locking it into an end point.

Art can be one of the many factors involved in numerous contexts, indeed there are no limits to the imagination in this respect. Art cannot “save” a village, nor is that the intention. But art and artistic methods can illuminate certain conditions that would otherwise be difficult to spot. It can draw traumas and taboos into the light. It can create focus and thus enable a discussion around common concerns. If even only for a brief time, it can lift a group of residents from a small rural village out of a sense of being isolated, forgotten, worthless to society, superfluous and redundant. And perhaps the artistic interventions can cause a micro-revolution, creating rings in the water and carrying other micro-revolutions with them. We have seen it happen in Selde, which is flourishing and even has experienced a slight population increase. And in the pride and pleasure felt in Åsted, Thorum and Junget over having succeeded together, whether it was with murals, a village forest or a new village square.