A City Never Lies – Situational Irony and the Political Impact of Public Urban Space. (2016)

Denise Ziegler

About this exposition

In this text, I question the concepts of urban space and public art. Experimental artistic interventions are conducted using situational irony as a method for reflecting on the impact urban public space and its user can have. Instead of interrogating people and involving them in the process, the interventions put questions directly to public infrastructure, to walls, fences, buildings and pedestrian ways. In a post-Beuysian vein, an artist workshop is extended to public space in order to work with its mechanisms and possibilities. This is considered a political act. The research aims to contribute to the redefinition of concepts regarding how we look at and develop public urban space.
typeresearch exposition
keywordsUrban space, visual art, Public art, artistic research, artistic intervention, experimental artistic intervention, city planning, irony as a methode, political impact
last modified03/10/2016
affiliationAalto University
published inRuukku Studies in Artistic Research
portal issue6.

Ruukku portal comments: 1
Silja Nikula 22/09/2016 at 09:41

With ironic eyes


Denise Ziegler is a visual artist, researcher and person walking through the city. She proposes a way to see a familiar environment with ironic eyes. Through this kind of observation, ingredients of new kind may arise, behind the views considered self-evidence. Ziegler directs her critical gaze to everyday situations and tries to deconstruct the ways we usually react them – even to reveal political statements behind them. Irony as a manifestation does not contain a hazy critique but offers a gentle, indirect and hidden message.

In this exposition, Ziegler moves from the artwork as an end product to experimental and participatory research cases, using interventions as means. She visits and revisits public urban spaces and realises similarities but also conflicts between the visual elements. She also settles her own video in the middle of noisy and colourful shopping paradise.

Intervention as a way to interfere and stick to something is a research operation that raises questions. It could also be a mean to participate in processes when complex environments are built, achieve change and break hierarchic manners of an approach.

Ziegler positions herself thoroughly. As doing practice-based research, she takes part in many discussions, but at the same time struggles rid of the specific definitions of doing research: Her research is artistic, because she is not following a path defined beforehand – still this research is more clearly structured in comparison with usual artistic research cases, in which there is ”a laboratory without any protocol”. When the writer describes her role, she meanwhile takes part in defining the concept of artistic research and showing the diversity of this working field.

Ironic situations are not intentionally constructed as ironic, but waiting to be found. In the first example, Ziegler saw similarity in a cosmetic shop between colourful logos and the coats of the arms on the wall. At the same time, she noticed their contradiction. Irony does not normally become revealed if one does not know the context, and in this case Ziegler was aware of the cultural history of the town. Her aim was to approach objects open-minded, but there arises a suspicion if the observer might have been a prison of her own expectations. Why could commercial and non-commercial representation be involved, as they both belong to the multilayered and hybrid urban place?


In my comment, I have paid attention to that seeing situations with ironic eyes is subjective and precisely the researcher´s own insight – by all means a good starting point to settle questions forward. The most interesting in this exposition is the new kind of way to see and it leading to further speculation about how this experimental method could be more generally adapted.

The images are essential in elucidating the interventions. Often, the first picture has a key role in leading the readers to understand the context of the article. The largest or the otherwise dominant one rises interest and tempts them to get acquainted with the article. Here the layout is clear, still without contrast. The video ”I got a pennant” works more powerful in the shopping mall when framed tightly on the vertical screen. The fourth image appears as a nice SURPRISE, and works as a metaphor of the ironic gaze.


comments: 1 (last entry by Seppo Kuivakari - 21/06/2016 at 07:29)

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