Public Art (Marble slab on pavement and website). Sassari, Italy. 2014

Sassari is a place I know very well. I’m not from there. I’m not even from the Sardinian island, but somehow thanks to the incongruences of life, I know this place better than all the places I have lived in.
Like many remote regions, Sardinia has a very particular and somewhat peculiar cultural effervescence, one which formed by its artists (students, commercially successful artists and their frustrated counterparts), its local institutions (art academies, museums, associations) and its  culturally specific aesthetic tendencies. This effervescence is dependent on random and sometimes divergent political strategies, a precarious and fragile market, as well as connections to the outside and  internal divides.
In July 2014 I was invited to Sassari to produce a piece for a public space. They actually invited 5 artists and let us each  choose one of several significant public spaces in the city for a site specific work. I made a good choice: Piazza Tola ( piazza tola sassari ). This “Piazza” is the veritable  center of Sassari’s decrepit “old town”. Early every morning it transforms into the site of the town’s bustling open air market ;  in the afternoon, locals flock to the piazza to seek shelter in the shade of the square’s adjacent buildings; in the evening Piazza Tola hosts all of Sassari’s urban fauna who lounge at its restaurants and wine bars;  later in the night, the square takes in the region’s students, drunks, and stray-dogs side by side, who hang out all night long on its marble tiles. This place is just perfect. At least for a good living.
Now, the thing is that I’m a kind of immaterial, conceptual artist; I am not at all convinced by most participatory dynamics and am very skeptical of institutional public art. You can understand perhaps that this position defined a rather embarrassing starting point for me to work in public space.
This was good though. From this inherent contradiction, and the inspiration provided by the square’s existing monument (a lonely figure in the centre of the Piazza sitting high on his chair and gazing beyond the town’s roof-tops towards the sea)  emerged a title : Solo di Fronte all’Orizzontalismo or, Alone Facing the Horizontalism. It came up immediately. This sentence was so stubborn that I had no choice but to work with it. It raised two questions that made up the heart of the entire project. The first question was regarding the kind of relevance public space could have for an artist of my genre. The second was about the actual stakes of this presumed horizontal relation between political institutions and a public targetted by commissioned public art.  That’s how I came up with the word Horizontalism –  the suffix -ism brings the notion of a romantic landscape into the (ideological and critical) sphere of political and social behaviors. Coming back to the title for a second,  the idea behind the work was to clearly state my position as an artist told to create some public art.
In terms of the art that was produced, the result was a a white marble slab engraved with  the title-statement  in black contrasting letters. The slab has the exact dimensions of the original stone that it replaced in the square floor. Its stark whiteness contrasts with the rest of the paved  market place.
Oh, yes, the title also simultaneously functions as a poetic statement and a web address : . The website per se is a short texte. It’s short because I wanted it to respect the quick glance given by a normal passer-by. The language is also very friendly and light.
I chose to place my work (somewhat unconventionally) directly behind the Tola monument . As I mentioned earlier (but without referring to his name), Tola is the guy represented,  sitting in his chair looking beyond the roof line into the horizon towards sea. I decided to place the slab directly behind the statue in order to kindly push people to look in the direction of his gaze, and to suggest a lonely state of mind, or mood.
It was also important for me not to take up too much space or to create an imposing presence because I don’t usually produce objects and did not want to make something too catchy or obvious.  Even though I like catchy stuff.
I tried to create something that could provide people with a means to take away. Another space, and another time. In this sense I wanted to have a two dimensional sentence, that could work right in the moment and as a “take away formula” all at once. Everybody can choose to look or not at the slab. Choose to read its title as it is. Make a step further taking note of it and visit the linked website. For me this last step has the potential to shift the public space to a private sphere — with its peculiar tempo and a more critical distance.
Somehow this is a small monument. It was made in the aim of being a statement about art in public spaces. But instead of dealing with the typical issues of building experience sharing strategies, bringing language to the streets or getting beauty available for everybody,  this work takes the public experience back to the private. This is public intimacy.

DL_ 320 rue des palais 1000 BXL B _ _ 0032 472926467 / 0033 698119455


  • Pablo Calderón Salazar

    Your (description of your) project reminded me of Herman Melville’s Bartleby who, when confronted with power, he simply answered “I would prefer not to”. One might interpret that as inaction, but is actually quite the opposite. By ‘refusing’ to add more to this Piazza through Public Art and instead add another layer of perception to the existing elements, you are refusing to play the game of the political instrumentalizaiton of art. I wonder, though, how was the reaction of people? Did you manage to have a sense of people’s experience, either when visiting the Piazza or the website? Is it even important to understand people’s reactions or is it just intended to be a lone-artist lament?

    05.07.2016 — 14:44Yes(1)No(0)Reply

    • David Liver

      Hi Pablo,
      that’s correct! It was exactly my posture dealing with the project. Of course there are many other issues implicit in the result and also in such a posture. But, let’s say that this one of Bartleby is absolutely the main and the one that sum them all. The thing of getting the sense of people there, is of course seducing but I sincerely think that there is absolutely no way to get it for real. Any kind of reaction is theater to me, so one should spend some days with a group of people to get some fresh and sincere reaction from them. That’s not the nature of a walk through a Piazza. By the way, yes, I got some funny reaction while I was setting my lone ranger lament.

      06.07.2016 — 19:55Yes(1)No(0)Reply