Pay Attention Please! was an exhibition about Amsterdam’s public space. A space which residents share with visitors. A space which is contested, full of contradictions, never finished. More than the highlights, the canals, the museums, the coffeeshops or the Red Light District, this space is the essence of Amsterdam. It is a space in constant flux, a place of conflict and appropriation, where ideals and ideas, propositions and obstacles, goals and deceptions flourish.
It is a space in motion. The subject matter of Pay Attention Please! is transitory. But the exhibition made it visible through the artworks that have been placed in that public domain in the past decades. The artworks reveal very clearly what kind of place Amsterdam wanted and wants to be. The artworks express forgotten ideals, promote values we no longer believe in, but they also show us the hope for a better world and the refusal of the kind of worldview that tries to fix things permanently. Artworks never convey a simple and unequivocal message, and the same counts for the many artworks in the public space of Amsterdam. These artworks lay bare the city’s complexity, the layers of experience which have accumulated there over time, its reflections and dreams.
Pay Attention Please! aimed to make you see the urban environment with fresh eyes and takes you to the outskirts of the city, to the neighbourhoods that aren’t constantly in the centre of attention. Because that is where you can really see the change happening. That is where the differences become most evident. That is also where parts of the city effectively remain out of sight, undiscovered, where life has passed indifferently for over thirty years. Other places have become invisible altogether, swallowed up by a ravenous housing market which necessarily but unscrupulously seizes what has grown patiently, effacing existing living patterns and street rhythms to replace them with new ones. A process in which art is also often unwillingly involved.
Pay Attention Please! is the result of a unique joint initiative of eleven Amsterdam art institutions. Most of these institutions do not usually place artworks in the public domain. This summer they do, in order to show with new, temporary works of art that they have more to offer to their neighbourhood than the number of visitors stipulated by government policy.
Around these eleven focal points of cultural activity seven art routes have been mapped out, which take the visitors past existing artworks to see what is happening and what has happened before in these places in the public domain. The routes, however, are not limited to sculptures and monuments: six writers have been asked to imagine and narrate the public space of six districts, precisely to underline that public space is more than what is concretely present, that it is also formed by dreams and ideas.
Cities these days like to market themselves by organising huge events and spectacular projects attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. Projects like uninvited guests, like megalomaniac beer bike riders, which for a short while dominate the public domain. Projects, also, which do not generally succeed in leaving a lasting and meaningful imprint. Pay Attention Please! is not such a project. The manifestation was a bottom-up undertaking. It contemplates the things we have ceased to see because they’ve been around for so long, it advocates interventions which really engage with what’s going on in the city, it is devoted to the space people share with one another. This space cannot be objectively defined and therefore it is impossible to draw up routes with regards to all its aspects and that please all of its users. The routes have been composed by young researchers: their selections and their texts will guide the visitors through the streets. The researchers, and with them the visitors, consciously take part in the formation of public space.
This website is your essential guide to the edges of the city and the extremes of experimental temporary artworks and the extraordinary public programme. Pay Attention Please! did not provide a complete overview of public art in Amsterdam. And oftentimes there is much more to be told about the works these routes do feature than this website contains. But Pay Attention Please! aims to be the first edition of a recurring biennial exhibition, each time adding different temporary artworks to the public domain, opening up new layers of meaning and reviving existing artworks in order to disclose and increase the richness of Amsterdam’s public space.
LAPS-Gerrit Rietveld Academie