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Street Life: Strasbourg (France)
The art programme for the Strasbourg tramway
Strasbourg Urban Community - City of Strasbourg
The art programme
For Catherine Trautmann, former Minister for Culture and Communication and former Mayor of Strasbourg and President of the Strasbourg Urban Community, "Public transport is an especially effective means of increasing people's awareness of the art of their time and an outlet for contemporary art distinct from the traditional venues." ['Cultures et Transports Publics', report of the Paris conference organised in September 1998 by France's Groupement des Autorités Responsables de Transport]
The choice of art works for Line A was supervised by Jean-Christophe Ammann, who took discretion as his underlying theme: "In museums people see art as a spiritual experience. Art in the public arena, on the other hand, fills a specific need so well that it can afford to be extremely discreet; when all our projects have been completed people may end up wondering just where the art works are, since their very appropriateness will have made them such a discreet presence." For Line B the choice was aimed at making the tram a playfully poetic form of transport, one symbolic of the city of tomorrow. It was overseen by Christian Bernard, whose basic idea was "to establish a connection between artistic styles and clear social and urban functions", while approaching art "in terms of public use and not merely as public space" ['Les Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace', October 1999].
As a result, most of the works chosen are neither decorative nor monumental, and in most cases cannot be totally grasped at first glance.
• To get to know the tickets designed by Gérard Collin-Thiébaut, you have to take the tram several times.
• To read the texts provided by OuLiPo and set at the top of Jean-Michel Wilmotte's columns, you have to continue on from one stop to the next. [The OuLiPo group was founded in 1960 by French writer Raymond Queneau, its focus being "the pleasures, diversions and complexities of overcoming self-set literary hurdles"]
• To understand what Jonathan Borofsky's work is all about, you need to know that the 'Woman Walking towards the Sky' on the Place des Halles in Strasbourg has a male equivalent in the city of Kassel, in Germany.
• To grasp the multiple meanings of the work by Barbara Kruger, you have to scrutinise the Gare (Station) stop in its entirety: the artist has used everything - steps, platforms, advertising hoardings and so on - as surfaces for her texts and images.
• To fully appreciate Mario Merz's 'Fibonacci Suite' between the rails of the tramline, you have to cover the 1.3 kilometres separating light boxes 1 and 987. [Mario Merz's work no longer exists in this form. However, it has been 'reactivated' at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasbourg, where a 'Fibonacci Suite' is displayed on the skylight visible from the interior of the building.]
• To follow the caustically witty playlets outlined by Alain Séchas' large-scale colour drawings in the top windows of the columns at each stop, you have to make the trip from one end of Line B to the other. The presence of a 'cat bather' more than 4 metre 50 tall on the banks of the Aar is also due to Alain Séchas, who has created other cats elsewhere in the form of drawings or sculptures.
• To appreciate the originality of the 24 compasses scattered through the tram stops by Jean-Marie Krauth, you have to guess that by distinguishing the north from an enigmatic 'elsewhere', they turn Strasbourg into something other than just a central city.
• To exchange glances with all Nicolas Fauré's photo-portraits of workers on Line B, you have to follow the itinerary laid down by the hoardings. [Work shown on site for a month from the tramway opening date, and also at the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.]
• You actually have to be in the tram to hear Rodolphe Burger's 'Vox Populi'. This recording of a hundred anonymous residents of Strasbourg announcing the stops is a reminder of the city's cosmopolitan character.
• A night ride on the tram is the best way to see the beacon included in Siah Armajani's 'Gazebo', the 13 metre high pavilion at the Elsau stop. By day this is a new meeting point for local residents, with tables, benches, chairs and barbecues.
• As its name indicates, only pedestrians can cross Siah Armajani's Simmel Footbridge. 60 metres long and 3m 50 wide, the footbridge straddles the River Ill and opens up the 'Cité de l'Ill' by linking it with the tram stop.
• Strollers who take Jean-Marie Krauth's sculpture avenue along the edge of the university campus will find themselves reminded of the 1960's, when the neighbourhood came into being and Hans Arp's three sculptures were installed. A bold series of 18 red, yellow and blue plinths make this a thoroughly modern project echoing the surrounding architecture and its rigorous use of right angles. Among the sculptors called on to join Arp here are Gilioli, Zadkin, Pan, Etienne-Martin and others.
• A handy new meeting place will be Jean-Luc Vilmouth's Bar des Plantes, a little glass and metal building at the Alt Winmärik stop that will also be a flower shop. The site is at the entrance to the Grande Ile de Strasbourg, not far from the main railway station.
• Situated at the République stop, Bert Theis's 'Monument to the Living' is a splendid counterpart to the superb monument to the war dead in the centre of the Place de la République. It also offers a place to sit down and take a break near the Théâtre National de Strasbourg.
• With the creation of Zaha Hadid's 'multimodal stop' at the North Terminus, Hoenheim - part of the Strasbourg Urban Community - becomes a thoroughly modern gateway to the city. Parking for 600 cars and 50 bicycles, a tram and bus station and a shop cover in all 25,000m2, in a structure based on the 'fold' principle Zaha Hadid is so fond of.
The tramway, project context
Since 1989 the city of Strasbourg and the Strasbourg urban community have been working on a sustainable development-based urban transport policy. The aim is to meet current needs while taking those of future generations into account and establishing a balance between economic development, social evolution and environmental considerations. The policy's emphasis is on intermodality and interlinked organisation of different transport modes with the tramway as its basis.
The main phases:
• 1989 Choosing of the tramway as a non-polluting means of public transport and a tool for urban redevelopment.
• 1991 Establishment of a study group for the Line A art programme, chaired by Michel Krieger, municipal and Urban Community councillor, and organised by Jean-Christophe Ammann, director of the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art.
• 1992 Creation of a new Urban Transport Plan aimed first and foremost at excluding automobile traffic from the central city area. A cultural development agreement signed with the Ministry of Culture stipulates commissioning of art works for the Line A programme.
• 1993 Increased policy emphasis on bicycle use.
• 1994 Promulgation of the Bicycle Charter.
• Strasbourg becomes a pilot city for electric car use.
• Official opening of Line A on 25 November.
• 1995 Bus and tram combine to form a single network.
Creation of park-and-ride facilities.
Extension of the cycle path network.
Christian Bernard, Director of the Geneva Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is charged with running the art programme for Line B.
• 1998 Work begins on Line B.
• 2000 Line B opens in September.
• By the year 2010 Continued extension of the tram network: Improved rail service towards the south, outer-urban tram connection to the airport and the south-west, multimodal station at the Line B terminus, crossborder extension into Germany.
The art projects, especially in the case of Line B, are to be interpreted in terms of public use and not merely as public space. The issue here is to relate an artistic approach to a specific social and urban function in such contexts as a parking lot, public transport tickets, a footbridge, a flower shop and public venues for socialising. Thus art made accessible to all and understandable by all, and aimed at uniting people around shared activities, will generate - and focus greater critical attention on - an image of democracy as modernity.
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The Journal of Urbanism