The Three Functions

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Text/poster works/publication, 2005

The Three Functions project has been developed for the curtorial project Vitrine. Leeds and was on show from 13th May – 8th July 2005. This coincided with Situation Leeds: Contemporary Artists and the Public Realm, May 2005.

For Vitrine, The Three Functions are a series of three posters that exist both within a publication and as a series of window displays in Leeds city centre.

This is the first time the three text works that form The Three Functions have been presented together. We did not set out to make this a long-term project; in fact the first function felt like a culmination of a previous project rather than the beginning of a new one. The project began as the second phase of a commission for the Ixia (formerly Public Art Forum’s) annual conference in April 2003. The first part of the commission, a work called I Won An Artist In A Raffle, was concerned with initiating a debate about the commissioning of public art; conference delegates were entered into a raffle in which they might win the opportunity to commission us to make a new work within their home or work place. The winner was Allia Ali, who after some discussion on how we might collaborate, said “just make a work for me, you can make what you like”. We went on to write and display The Economic Function Of Public Art. The text became a billboard poster, sited in Sheffield, and a contribution to the book Desirable Places: The Contribution of Artists to Creating Spaces for Public Life. The subject of The Three Functions is public art. The aim of the work is to examine the tensions and contradictions that exist within public art practice; to explore how public art is integral to our culture and therefore how it functions in support of the dominant ideology. In order to reveal the hegemony within culture, we chose to describe how public art functions in the broadest of cultural contexts: economic, social and aesthetic. The Three Functions state – in the direct and reductive manner of a one-line slogan – ideas of public and private, social responsibility and expected good behaviour as well as divisive forms of knowledge, like taste. The Three Functions attempt to initiate a discourse around how art maintains cultural division.

The great thing about text works is that they are easy and cheap to reproduce. They can also take many forms, use a range of media and they can exist almost anywhere. We would like the posters in this publication to be removed and used; for us, the more often the texts are distributed, copied and discussed the better.

A major contribution to this work is the essay Sloganeering by artist Dave Beech, in which he asks the question, most cogently, “Public art exists. What does it do?” We would especially like to thank Dave for his collaboration on the development of The Three Functions project.

Vitrine is an 18-month curatorial project for Leeds by Pippa Hale and Kerry Harker. From November 2004 to April 2006, they are staging a series of contemporary visual arts exhibitions in ‘vitrines’ (glass display cabinets) in public spaces around the city centre. The project aims to provide new exhibition and commission opportunities to artists based in the city and the region, to engage with siting art in non-gallery spaces and to explore the role of art in public space.