Bodies in Urban Spaces: Human Sculpture in the City

29 October 2013

If you live in a town or city then you are probably quite used to seeing young people lounging about in hoodies and tracksuits.  Yet over the last few years the inhabitants of Paris, Vienna, Seoul, Montreal, New York and Bangor (North Wales) have woken up to something of a surprise.  These Bodies in Urban Spaces have taken hanging around to a new level.

The brainchild of Austrian artist Willi Dorner, the project began in 2007 – and its aim is rather more than an impressive show of contortionist skills by young people in brightly colored clothes.  Bodies in Urban Spaces (I am going to call it BiUS from now on) is intended to provoke thought – and possibly even annoyance.  Its aim is to motivate and prompt its audience to reflect on their urban surroundings and ultimately to question their own behavior and habits, in terms of their movement.

Well, yes. Absolutely.  However it’s also an opportunity for great delight.  One can only wonder how the (obviously gymnastically inclined) performers managed to get themselves in to some of the positions you can see here – let alone how they might finally extricate themselves from their contortions. It also looks like great, knowing, fun although you do have to worry about how the artists feel after ten minutes or so.  Lots of hot baths at the end of the day, perhaps?

Image Credit Flickr User Bob Harwig
Image Credit Flickr User Andrew Russeth
Image Credit Flickr User Andrew Russeth
BiUS has been known to attract the wrong sort of attention, too.  During a number of their performances they have been stopped in their tracks by anxious police, in the belief that they are a gang of organised burglars (though this does not inspire much faith in the perspicacity of those police forces, it must be said).

Image Credit Flickr User Andrew Russeth
Image Credit Flickr User Stefan Kaz
Image Credit Flickr User Adriatica!
Dorner’s entourage (he is considered one of the most important choreographers working in Europe today) consists of twenty dancers and climbers.  The audience is guided from one place to another by group members while others detach and disentangle themselves and run ahead to a new position.  There they squash, crush, balance and rearrange themselves, awaiting the arrival of the spectators. 

Image Credit Flickr User Mathias Pascottini
Image Credit Flickr User Mathias Pascottini
Image Credit Flickr User a_kep
The human sculptures seems to fit in to the surrounding architecture seamlessly – after a short time it becomes less of a shock to see bodies squished in all directions and that then incites a curiosity which extends beyond what we see in front of us.  How do we experience our neighborhood and what is the relationship between urban design and the human form?

Image Credit Flickr User Stefan Kaz
Image Credit Flickr User Stefan Kaz
Image Credit Flickr User Stefan Kaz
You may not call this art (you have probably guessed that I, for one, certainly do).  You may even hesitate before calling it entertainment.  However, unlike a lot of urban art, BiUS leaves nothing behind.  Once the performance is complete it is as if they have never been there.  The only imprint that they leave behind is in the memory. 

Image Credit Flickr User a_kep
Image Credit Flickr User Stefan Kaz
Image Credit Flickr User Stefan Kaz
Dorner transforms the human body in to form.  Consider sculpture and you realize that BiUS is a complete reversal of the classical conventions which creates the human form from material.  As an astonishing juxtaposition, a complete disconnection, if that isn’t art then I don’t know what is.

Image Credit Flickr User Andrew Russeth
Image Credit Flickr User -Dom-
Image Credit Flickr User Bug138
First Image Credit Flickr User Andy Russeth


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