Art as a catalyst to activate public space: the experience of ‘Triumphs and Laments’ in Rome
Many cities have rediscovered and reinvented their river fronts as public spaces in recent years. From New York to Seoul, urban waterways which were forgotten, marginalized, or outright abandoned are now filled with life. In each case the transformation was spurred by a combination of grass roots, bottom-up initiative and savvy government recognition of the projects’ potentials. Once the city leaders embraced the projects - and not a moment sooner - public and private funding materialized and bureaucratic barriers disappeared.
In Rome, whether due to the complexity of the chain of responsibility for the river front, or simply an ingrained aversion to progressive planning - saying no or saying nothing is much easier than taking responsibility for positive change - initiatives to renew the urban riverfront have been small and disconnected. Diverse interests ranging from green space to water transit, from river front commerce to ecological restoration, have all vied for a role in the river’s regeneration.
But one particular discipline, that of art, has succeeded more than others in attracting international attention and changing the way people in Rome and throughout the (art) world see the Tiber. Artist William Kentridge, with his project ‘Triumphs and Laments’, using the simple technique of selective cleaning of the Tiber embankment walls, revealed to the world a procession of figures which populate the riverfront with a life that it hasn’t seen in centuries.
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