Background  -  A while ago I received an invitation from the Swedish architect association to give an introduction at a panel discussion about art and architecture. When seeing the names of the other 2 participants in the panel, I realized one of them went to the same class as me at architecture school, and his name triggered a memory of a lecture there ...read more / read less

I don’t remember who was giving the lecture or what it was about, but at some point in the talk the lecturer mentioned a building in Paris. As I remember, the building was from the mid 1800s. And in a large apartment, or maybe rather a whole floor, lived an 80-85 year old woman. She had lived there her whole life, and her parents had also lived on that floor of the building their entire lives.
But the property owner had decided that the building had played its part, and that it was time to tear it down, and build something new instead. Those who lived there would have to move out, and everyone in the building had accepted it – except for the old woman on the 4th floor.

The owner of the building tried everything to convince the woman, but she refused.
I guess the owner thought about the option of waiting her out (until she died), but as the old woman was so stubborn, it could well be a challenge such as this which would motivate her to live to 100.
After many ifs and buts, the owner of the building finally decided to devise a very special solution. He lifted up her apartment, stacking it on stilts, and tore down what was on top and underneath. Above and below, he rebuilt completely new. I don’t remember when this happened or what it looked like, but I imagine that it was something modern. Let’s say that the building got a modern glass façade on the first 3 floors, and then suddenly the old woman’s floor from the mid 1800s, and above that, a couple more floors in glass.

I think the reason I remember this story is that the old woman’s resistance and stubbornness, together with the developer’s conviction and stubbornness created a type of performative architecture where several voices and intentions could exist simultaneously. Without their co-existence, it would most probably have ended up as a rather uninteresting new building that did not contribute so much to our built environment. But instead, it became a kind of narrative architecture. An architecture that told a very specific story. And the old woman created the grammatics for the new building and her voice was forever there as part of the dialogue in our common spaces. Politics. Activism. Resistance and development. All in one.

My old classmate did not recognize the memory or the building. Maybe because we all see different narratives in our shared environment. But I think I remember this so clearly because it is connected to, or maybe even the reason why, soon after this lecture I decided to stop studying architecture and instead applied to an art academy. The reason why I stopped was not because I was no longer interested in architecture. The reason was perhaps more connected to the realization that my classmates at the architecture school would not even remember this story because it had very little interest and value to them.

The starting point for and the approach of the studio OF PUBLIC INTEREST is very closely connected to this story. To the old woman. The studio works with art and artistic strategies and methods in our common spaces – as a way of insisting that our voices and strategies take an active role at a time when a pandemic, the climate crisis and issues related to Black Lives Matter highlight the need to rethink the values that our society is built on.
And we, like the old woman, might try to be the ones that add a component of resistance. Not because we believe that the old woman should have succeeded in saving the whole building. A city has to be in a constant process of change to stay alive. What we believe in, is, that it was the multitude of intentions which made that new building interesting in the same way as it is the co-existence of different voices and intentions that form the basis for any interesting context. Whether that context is a city or a conversation over dinner.
In this sense, disagreements can be more important than agreements. And the space that we call public should be able to host them all, while creating a foundation for safe conversations. It is more important than ever to insist on this in the current political climate. A society that strives for absolute consensus, for all of us to agree, to have the same dreams, goals and politics or to look the same, is rather striving for a form of passivity and silence.

The studio OF PUBLIC INTEREST wants to take a seat at the table together with the actors who shape the various regulations, public policies, profit-driven interests which form our common spaces, as well as the differing goals, attitudes and aesthetics.

Jonas Dahlberg
Founding director of the Studio, OF PUBLIC INTEREST 

STUDIO

OF PUBLIC INTEREST (OPI) is a studio and a research lab, working with art works and artistic strategies and methods in our common spaces. What we call “public space”—and the activities that occur within it—is increasingly surveilled, politicized, and privatized. We recognize that the increasingly fluid dynamics of our societies demand a more adaptable, pluralistic understanding of the kinds of spaces we share, and how we inhabit them. Our aim is to critically explore the changes our societies are facing, without taking binary perspectives. By negotiating artistic values we aim to enable them play a crucial role in shaping our common spaces and developing our future environments.

WHo we are

Our team and network include professionals from the fields of art and architecture. The studio is led by the artist Jonas Dahlberg, visiting professor of Architecture and Critical Studies at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. There he runs a postmaster course that operates as a platform for learning, for new collaborations and as a hub for professionals from the fields of art and architecture.

who we work with

We work with architects, artists, art institutions, urban planners, city developers, citizens, and other relevant actors.

how we work

The video work Notes on a Memorial follows Jonas Dahlberg’s work from 2013-2017 with the concept development, the process and politics around the work with the winning proposals for the memorials for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya on 22 July 2011. This work is important as an example of the studio’s approach to working with architecture, in an expanded sense, as material, but adding other narrative layers, casting criticality on the passive and sometimes voyeuristic gaze of visitors to the site of the attack, actively interrupting that gaze and the movements of their bodies. The idea is to problematize and activate a dialogue about our own role in these events. These narratives are embedded within the built fabric of the site, contributing other perspectives that are usually found in artistic practices and not usually associated with the built environment.

OPI works to create new narratives using multidisciplinary methods, strategies and the criticality of art and artistic practice. We have created a studio environment based on discursive and practical research, where we critically examine the languages and methods used by collaborators and colleagues from different fields. Honing our awareness of these languages – verbal, visual, textual, physical – creates a momentum for interdisciplinary partnerships and debates, opening up processes that otherwise would be inaccessible.

what we aim for

OPI’s intention is to explore and expand the potential for and importance of artistic involvement when shaping our common spaces and developing our future environments. We aim to be part of rewriting the script of our common spaces, and to propose alternative imaginaries through cross-disciplinary collaborations.