Like the intimate world of blue frogs...

Published: March 30, 2012 - 15:07

In Vienna some artists and architects are resisting private builders who replace public space with private architectures. There is resistance to allowing private developers to decide how the public should live.

According to Barbara Holub, a 42-year-old artist and architect, this attitude is "retropian". Barbara's utopian ideal is to get citizens to imagine how they would like to live. She would like to know what democracy means to people and what makes them happy. It is her belief that a living space should be nurtured by its inhabitants according to their needs and wishes. Cities cannot be set in stone by a master plan drawn only to make money.

Barbara belongs to a growing number of artists who explore social issues in their art. As founder member of transparadiso, a Viennese cooperation in the field of the arts, architecture and urban interventions, she stands up to deregulated corporate development in unique, imaginative ways.

She has launched the Blue Frog Society (BFS) to claim a new habitat without territory as the messenger of a new future, inviting citizens to contribute their ideas, desires, expertise from various angles and backgrounds as well as their critical input for discussing the future of a habitat without territory.

The BFS employs artistic strategies to investigate issues of territory and habitat that go to the very foundation of a worldwide system dominated today mainly by economic concerns.

"We imagine the unplanned and the unthinkable. We emphasize civic engagement and the need for common public space, linking the art's context to society," says Barbara, inviting people to unite in the BFS to tap their imagination for a better vision of the future along with solutions for present problems.

Using the crisis in capitalism and the economic globalization of society as a starting point for her installations and urban projects, Barbara investigates possibilities available to the individual as a public actor. She explores her own utopian ideals through drawings, installations and performance walks. When she organized a performance walk to Aspern, an open field of land between Vienna and Bratislava, it was to imagine what the new lake city promised by the planning department will look like in the future.

Barbara recorded the conversation of the frogs and the audio became part of another installation that includes mirror placards covered in multi-layered writing, which is hard to read.

The purpose of the performance walks is not to halt construction, but to provoke reflection on the use of public space. It is to prevent the master plan from homogenizing life, from ordering life in such a way that no room is left for the imagination and for the healthy growth of the human soul. The walks include a motley group of actors, artists, cultural scientists and audio engineers who came together in Aspern to meditate upon the empty space that will soon be converted into a neighbourhood. What kind of a neighbourhood do I want? That is the question.

On the way, the walkers encountered actors digging earth symbolic of the individual's use of space. Another performance included listening to recordings of voices in different languages, symbolizing the voices of residents from different ethnic backgrounds living in any neighbourhood built in the future.

The name of BFS was inspired after Barbara's visit to Aspern. It was a spontaneous concept, born out of the hectic new urban development activities taking place around her and symbolic of the desire to save endangered species. She says, "I was thinking of the Amazon even though I stood beside a lake in Aspern. And I like frogs, because they have these very intimate and very challenging conversations. I have a recording of the frogs and when you listen closely, you can really understand how their dialogues function."

Barbara recorded the conversation of the frogs and the audio became part of another installation that includes mirror placards covered in multi-layered writing, which is hard to read. The placards resemble posters used during a demonstration, and the writing is a manifesto made up of ideas for a 'favourable' future collected from the society. All of it points to ways people can together turn into reality the fictional ideas of artists.

Any favourable future implies the inclusion of different voices, and listening to others as well as to oneself. As an artist, her job is to deal with the crisis in modern societies from a visionary point of view as if people have already triumphed collectively over the meltdown and the melancholy of the day.

Barbara's ultimate mission is simple. It is to save the world. And all of us are invited to join her in her possibly naïve, but certainly more cheerful, solution to the problems we face, compared to all the 'five year plans' presented thus far by economists.

This story is from print issue of HardNews