Utopic Wastelands: Site-Specific Art and the Re-Making of Germany's Ruhr Region
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Browne, Cynthia Jean
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CitationBrowne, Cynthia Jean. 2019. Utopic Wastelands: Site-Specific Art and the Re-Making of Germany's Ruhr Region. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis thesis examines the role of site-specific art projects in remediating and re-adapting former industrial “wastelands” (Brachen) into new sites for culture, leisure, and recreation in the Ruhr region of Germany, beginning in the early 1990s and continuing through 2015. Though signs of crisis in the Ruhr's heavy industries appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, regional authorities only recognized such trends as indications of an enduring structural crisis beginning in the 1970s. This crisis rendered the Ruhr’s economic reliance on coal and steel obsolete, ushering in a new wave of experimentation and innovation in the 1990s. Instead of a focus on direct job creation and maintenance subsidies, which characterized policy in the 1970s and 1980s, the 1990s marked a turn towards issues of landscape quality, image, and new forms of identity as a means to address the social problems generated by shrinking urban areas and the retreat of industry. A common theme underscoring nearly all of the artistic activities I observed was various “metamorphoses of waste,” to borrow Susanne Hauser’s judicious phrase, in which the past (i.e. pre-existing, devalued material, infrastructures, and resources whose materiality indexes the Ruhr’s industrial past) became aesthetically altered and re-adapted into desiderata of the Ruhr’s new future as a “cultural metropolis.” In my dissertation, however, I attend not merely to the processes through which this disused material past becomes re-signified and what these processes reveal about the work of art in the wake of industry, but also their relation to the demographic shifts and patterns of disinvestment that underlie the presence of these urban wastelands. With each chapter organized around a discrete geographic site in the Ruhr, the thesis demonstrates how disjunctions between the material conditions and lived experiences of long-standing residents in the Ruhr buttress a contrasting phenomenological orientation and temporal imagination to that of invited artists and curators commissioned to reinvent the Ruhr’s industrial image and identity. Such disjunctions shape both modes of participation within the artistic mediation of the Ruhr’s re-invention as a “Kulturmetropole,” as well as the forms of public visibility that accompany this strategic aim at regional rebirth.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41121317
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