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Art in Train Stations

I woke up this morning thinking about art in train stations most likely because these images are the last I saw before going to bed. I’d like to ask you, during your morning commute did you see art like this in your train station?

Do you recognize this work? I’m sure you do… it’s Camilla Engman, an artist based in Göteborg, Sweden for those of you not familiar with her illustrations and paintings. Camilla is well known, especially in the online world, as most of us have swooned over her work at one time or another. She’s exceptional, her work seems to connect with so many and now it has a chance to reach out to her neighbors passing through the local train station. She must feel beyond honored. The city and its citizens should feel honored too. Art in unexpected public spaces, yay!

Seeing her work like this — public, free to all, meant to be enjoyed by the thousands passing through daily gives me chills. I’m always asking why we don’t see more art in public places. We see tons of soda and department store ads but they don’t go out of their way to be pretty. Just a logo slapped on a solid red background, for instance. Bleh. I am so tired of ugly ads on billboards.

There is this massive forest in Hannover, Germany with small orange trash bins suspended from the ground and hooked into a short wood pole usually around a park bench. When I walk through the forest I imagine these bright orange bins displaying graphic patterns, sporting pretty papers, dressed up a bit. I’d love to take on a project where I’d commission a group of artists to come out and do something creative to the bins to make them beautiful. My husand said that the city did do exactly that years ago in one part of the city but nothing recent. Imagine having the bins in the forest spruced up and then those same artists involved put together an Art in the Park event where they show their art and make the work you see on the bins available as prints? Of course, the art would have to be local, the goal would be for the city to learn about the creatives living there and to be exposed to their work. Let’s face it, not everyone goes to galleries but many go to the park so it would expose a whole new audience to artistic works.

I think more objects around us in our everyday life could stand to be made more ‘special’ in addition to serving a function.

I once saw two dumpsters painted bright fire engine red near a brick building and what a difference it made to the vibe of that area. I think that those of us reading design blogs think about this stuff (maybe a little too often) and care about it more than perhaps others who are not that ‘tuned in’ to this kind of thing. Because let’s face it, not everyone thinks about this stuff until it’s actually there and then they say, “Whoa, that is really, really cool”. I think it’s why most of us coo whenever we see Japanese products or visit cities in Japan — the Japanese really invest an interest in making functional everyday items cute. They kick American butt when it comes to product packaging alone. Although I couldn’t live around all of that ‘glow’ I do love the idea of introducing art to the public in subtle ways. I think graffiti is great when it’s not on my house or on historic buildings (in a designated space for instance) but often the complaint with graffiti is that it’s very bold, “look at me”, it tries very hard to make a statement. While some graffiti can be amazingly artistic and interesting, it does tend to scream at passerbys (due to the typical bold colors and graphics) and often when things scream we learn to block it out and no longer notice it.

This is why I’m inspired today seeing Camilla’s work in the Göteborg train station. It’s there, but it’s subtle, it feels special, it’s almost watching over everyone as they go about their day. It’s not screaming for attention yet you can’t help but notice it, be intrigued, maybe even pause to photograph it. I’d love to see more of this kind of thing in public spaces locally. It’s great exposure for independant artists, but aside from that, it can raise the bar so that people who may not normally care about this kind of thing start to expect it and demand it because now that they’ve been exposed and want more. It can help others to become more aware of art and design. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I want more! Do you? What do you think?

If you are in a position to make art happen in a public space, by all means put yourself out there and go for it. Make it happen.

(images from camilla engman)

Posted in Arts + Crafts, travel on January 27, 2009

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