The territory of Leytron/Ovronnaz as a topographical metaphor to address contemporary dynamics of art in public sphere

A collaboration between the Ecole cantonale d’art du Valais (ECAV) and LAPS, Research Institute for Art and Public Space, Amsterdam

Leytron (Valais-CH), May 27-29, 2016

“The gestations of this book over the past few years is closely linked to my practical and theoretical work, which has, through lectures, workshops, dramaturgical work, work with producers and artists, travels, festivals, and artistic residences put me face to face with the             recurrent question of artistic powerlessness in relation to politics and contemporary methods of production.”  (Bojana Kunst, Artists at Work, Proximity of Art and Capitalism, 2015)


Like many cities and rural areas now adopting the concepts of the creative economy, the village of Leytron in the Swiss Alps aimed to develop an art project to increase its visibility, generate social interactions, and attract outside audiences—particularly the tourists visiting Ovronnaz, a resort located in the upper part of the territory. Ultimately, rather than launching a municipal gallery or a sculpture park, the Municipality accepted to host ¿Creative Villages?, a pilot program that would reflect upon current working modalities in the field of contemporary art.

This pilot project follows Ars Contemporaneus Alpinus (ACA, 2013-2015), a research project of ECAV, which critically addressed the phenomenon of landscape sculpture parks in relation to territorial development policies. Realized as a conclusion, ACA’s video document introduces some of the issues at stake, which will be discussed in the current seminar (see:, password: ACA).


Through focusing on the issue of art in public space, this seminar seeks to address artistic modes of production at a time when, according to John Byrne, “there is no longer any possibility outside the world of the commodity form.” This seminar will question artists’ and curators’ working modalities and production frameworks, and will examine the types of works that are produced in such a context.

Partly thanks to the service economy and global governance, which have made project work a privileged means of action, the activity of art commissioning and calls for projects (by institutions, city councils, governmental agencies, residency programs, academies, local communities, and the like) has greatly expanded the territory of contemporary art. But these working modalities at play within the public sector almost always also reflect specific objectives and working conditions:

Over the last decades, contemporary art has become a sub-function of the globalized tourism and leisure industry; it is leveraged in a creative economy with highly-managed cultural policies to brand cities, regenerate/gentrify neighbourhoods, produce social identities (often in the guise of politically correct multiculturalism), or generate social inclusion/cohesion. It is also a sought after approach, appreciated for its innovative and critical stance by think tanks or problem solving processes.

Through working on “projects” in lieu of the work of art (Boris Groys), artists and curators alike operate as service providers, flexible and connected to an international network. They have to develop projects collaboratively, so dealing with expectations and criteria of other actors (commissioning agents, visual arts officers, funders, local communities, etc.) whose agenda can be antagonistic. In return, their working conditions are becoming increasingly framed, bureaucratic and managerial.

These conditions raise questions about the roles of artists and curators within an economy of project work; the function art fulfils in the public sphere; the type of produced works or projects; and the conditions of spectatorship that they create.

Guiding Questions

the framework

According to a newly published report titled Understanding the value of arts & culture,[1] the “focus on demonstrable outcomes” demanded by policymakers encourages artists to predict in advance what the effects of their work will be, when applying for funding. But the whole point of the arts is that they are unpredictable…

Do the frameworks provided by cultural policies and commissioners condition artists’ and curators’ working conditions, the type of practices implemented in public sphere, and the final works and projects? If yes, in what ways do they impact the outcomes of these sorts of projects, and what kinds of strategies can be developed to deal with or minimize the effects of this conditioning?

Artists’ ands curators’ role

When they operate as “service providers” of sort, artists might play the role of consultants, experts, mediators or problem solvers. They are required to work collaboratively with networks of agents (urban planners, scientists, visual art officers, politicians, etc.) towards specific objectives (see the premises). As for the requested skills (charisma, flexibility, availability, adaptability, attentiveness, creativity, etc.), they mirror characteristics that might be expected of project managers or team leaders in the economic sector. What is the impact of these new roles and functions on art production? What role or position should artists take in network-based structures if they don’t want to be subject to managerial agendas and values?

The dynamics

At the time of the New Spirit of Capitalism (Boltanski & Chiapello, 1999, 2007), is it still accurate to talk about top-down/bottom-up dynamics? How do we describe power relationships when hierarchical organization has been replaced by networked-based organization? Are processes of instrumentalization, bureaucratization, normalization, uniformization or legitimization—all concepts addressed by the Institutional Theory of the Artworld—still relevant today?

To what extend has managerial terminology (such as project management, goals, tasks, objectives, deadlines, and so on) and values such as effectiveness and innovation (which are common terms in the fields of technology and government) now penetrated (and impacted) art production?  

The function art fulfils in public sphere

Now that economically driven global governance is said to progressively supplant the nation state, generating disengagement and de-politicisation (Alain Deneault), how might we consider the public sphere as a context for art? Are artists and curators sometimes compensating for the state's shortcomings? Or, more cynically, are they instrumented to manufacture illusory participation or democracy as these notions are said to progressively recede from public space? Which (critical) positions can artists and curators occupy in the contemporary public sphere? If we agree that everything is a tied into a dominant economic-commodity-consumer network, then what place does art have within it?

If we agree with the assessment that, in the context of interdisciplinary problem solving processes (such as Bruno Latour’s Programme of Experimentation in Arts and Politics or The New Patrons), contemporary art is becoming a discipline among others, valued for its criticality, innovation and effectiveness, shall artists and curators embrace this move as a new opportunity or role? Or should they address it as a form of manipulation?

The audience

Does culture in general and contemporary art in particular need to be everywhere and for everyone, as the slogan for the Arts Council England declares—“Great Art for Everyone”? Who is this everyone? How do we approach the issue of spectatorship at a time when everybody has become—according to Boris Groys and others—a producer? Does art in public speak to communities, groups or individuals?Can art sometimes be sited in the wrong place? Or addressed to the wrong audience? Is there a “right” public space for art?

Artists and curators’ positioning

Considering the aforementioned questions, how can we define “meaningful art”? What criteria should be used to employ works of art (aesthetical, ethical, or other standards)? When do we consider an artwork in public space to be successful?

How should artists and curators position themselves if there “is no longer any possibility of outside the world of the commodity form”?

Should the relevancy of notions of autonomy, authorship, engagement, or criticality be re-evaluated today? Can one—as is suggested by British critic Ivan Hewett—“restore the individual’s experience of art to the centre of the debate”?[2]


The participants to the seminar will be dispatched in three groups, which will work independently the first day before sharing the results of their conversations in plenary sessions (see the schedule below).

Group I                                            Group II                                      Group III

session in Leytron                             session in Montagnon                  session in Ovronnaz


Robert Irland (mediator)                   Jeroen Boomgaard (mediator)      Benoit Antille (mediator)

Tine Melzer                                      Curdin Tones                               John Byrne

Eva Fotiadi                                       Valentina Vetturi                          Hans Van Houwelingen

Giny Vos                                          Nils van Beek                               Rachel Mader

François Dey                                    Eric Philippoz                              Olivia Leahy

Ronny Hardliz                                  Alexandros Kyriakatos                 Suzanne Husky

Javier Juan Andrès Gonzalez            


The three chosen locations can be used as a (metaphorical) starting point to question contemporary dynamics of art in public sphere:

1) located in the plain next to the highway, the village of Leytron might represent bottom-up dynamics: this villages is becoming a semi-urban residential area witnessing the degradation of its social life;

2) located up in the mountains, the ski resort called Ovronnaz suggests top-down dynamics: this resort is designed explicitly for an international audience and is aiming to find ways to attract more tourists;

3) and Montagnon, an almost abandoned hamlet built in a dangerous landslide zone, represents risk-taking or alternative models.

The mediator will be in charge of the session. Each of the groups is free to choose its own methodology, and to develop its own approach to the premises and guiding questions.   

We suggest starting the group sessions with short presentations of public commissions realized by the invited artists.

This seminar seeks to provide artists, curators, and researchers with an open platform to freely exchange their points of view and share their experiences in a transparent and critical way.   


A synthesis of the group discussions and the plenary sessions will be published in ¿Creative Villages? journal.

The sessions will be filmed.

We will ask the participants to send us a 300-500 words text within two weeks of the close of the seminar. The content and form is free, and could emerge as a series of questions, considerations, thoughts, or remarks in the guise of a conclusion.


Friday, May 27th


18:00          welcoming aperitif

19:30          dinner

Saturday 28th

8:00            breakfast

9:00            group sessions

12:00          picknick & walk

14:00          group sessions

17:30          break

20:30          dinner


Sunday 29th

8:00            breakfast

9:00            plenary session

10:30          coffee break

11:00          plenary session

13:00          lunch break


Practical information

Participants flying to Geneva will take a train directly from the airport, to Martigny (direction Brig).

We will pick you up at Martigny.

The group will be hosted at the Hôtel des Bains d’Ovronnaz:  

Contact: Benoit Antille – 0041 78 694 00 97


A partnership between the Ecole cantonale d’art du Valais and the Commune of Leytron, ¿CREATIVE VILLAGES? is a pilot artistic program in a village including an artist-in-residence program, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, public art, and a fanzine. Both theoretical and practice-based, this program seeks to critically address notions of art commissioning, cultural policies, the creative economy, and artists’ working modalities within such frameworks—all from the perspective of the rural territory. This project is realized within the framework of the funding scheme “Cultural Diversity in Regions” set up by Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.

As the main point in the Netherlands, LAPS, research institute for art and public space, contributes to the development, disclosure and presentation of knowledge on art and public space. The research institute is the result of a partnership between the Gerrit Rietveld Academie (GRA), the Sandberg Instituut (SI), the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA).



The territory of Leytron/Ovronnaz as a topographical metaphor to address contemporary dynamics of art in public sphere