Moving Plants, Finding Fissures: On Feminist Latencies in Curating Public Art

Carlota Mir

in Radicalizing Care. Feminist and Queer Activism in Curating, edited by Elke Krasny, Magdalena Fritsch, Sophie Lingg et al, Publication Series of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2021.

(currently in peer review)

This essay explores feminist and decolonial potentials, latencies and affinities in the realm of curating public art.

Moving Plants is a public art commission by artist Maider López for Public Art Agency Sweden. The artist’s installation, consisting of 120  plants which can be moved around the space of a suburban functionalist bathhouse in Gothenburg, was commissioned after the building, facing demolition, was saved by a grassroots campaign led by a group of local Muslim women of Somali descent. Taking advantage of the bathhouse’s traditional policy, which typically includes a women-only day for using the pool and spa facilities, the space had become for these women a place for weekly meeting, unwinding, recharging, dreaming and being together, free from the male gaze. Though not coming from a place of self-proclaimed feminist activism, the womens’ self-assertion to have a public space of their own can be read as a feminist ‘latency,’ (Grosz 2010) or an unspoken, yet universal claim for emancipation. In turn, their proposed model questions the Modernist ideals for publicness as male-dominated, mixed, white and transparent, which sit at the root of large-scale suburban planning in 20th century Sweden.

At the same time, mobilising a critical ethics of care for rethinking an existing urban context, the project can be read as a support structure that practices active listening as a curatorial strategy. In responding to the desire not to only represent, but to build needed spaces, the amalgamation of voices that meet in this text weave a network of alliances that help us rethink and transform infrastructural space and public art in supportive, feminist terms.

Several voices reverberate in this essay, among them those of Halimo Elmi, Muna Ali Nuh, Habiba Ali Jama, Malyun Yusuf Jama, Fatuma Abdi Osemal, Sahra Elmi Haad, Jamilo Ahmed Guure, Saga Hassan Abdulle, Amal Said, Idil Adan Ali, Halimo Mursal, Nimo Adam Lord, Zainab Shire, Wenche Lerme, Marcus Jahnke, Jenny Lööf, Maider López, Martí Manen, Alba Baeza, Joanna Zawieja, Lena From, Peter Hagdahl, Magdalena Malm and many others.


Maider López, Moving Plants, 2019, 105 live plants in pots mounted on rails, Hammarkullen (Sweden). Photo: Ricard Estay. Courtesy of Public Art Agency Sweden.

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