The square, the monument and the re-configurative power of art in postmigrant public spaces
This chapter explores how art in public spaces shapes, and is shaped by, disagreements and conflicts resulting from the need to tackle »togetherness in difference« (Ien Ang), and how contemporary artistic practices play out in postmigrant public spaces, understood as plural domains of human encounter impacted by former and ongoing migration, and by new forms of nationalism. The chapter focuses on two art projects in Copenhagen, Denmark. The first one is The Red Square, a part of the public park Superkilen in the multicultural Nørrebro district. Designed by the artist group Superflex (in collaboration with architects from Bjarke Ingels Group and Topotek1), Superkilen opened in 2012. The second project is Jeannette Ehlers and La Vaughn Belle's collaboration on the sculpture I Am Queen Mary. Installed outside an old colonial Warehouse in Copenhagen harbour in 2018, it is the first monument in the country to commemorate Danish colonialism and complicity in the transatlantic slave trade. Borrowing a term from Chantal Mouffe, these projects could be characterized as »agonistic« interventions into public urban space. The chapter argues that they may provide us with some much-needed answers to the important question of the much debated yet crucial role of public art in democratic societies, particularly how works of art may form a possible loophole of escape from dominant discourses by openly contesting, or subtly circumventing, monocultural understandings of national heritage and identity, thereby helping us to imagine national and urban community otherwise, i.e. as postmigrant communities. The chapter examines what the re-configurative power of art might accomplish in postmigrant public spaces by considering the following questions: How can public art open up a social and national imagination pervaded by anxieties about (post)migration to other ways of thinking about diversity and collective identity? Furthermore, is it possible to identify a common pattern - i.e. a particular postmigrant strategy - that underpins and interconnects various types of artistic interventions into public spaces and debates, which, on the surface, present themselves as radically different kinds of projects?