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Reich and Szyber turning the city into an event

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Carina Reich and Bogdan Szyber, Swedish performance artists, have been labelled part of a new 'event culture' in Sweden. Certainly, their performances in urban public spaces are striking and provocative.

Take, for example, A Perfect Conversation (1998), in which they took over part of a shop window of Stockholm's most exclusive store with robotic mannequins spitting wallpaper paste at each other. One of them, Nancy, had a camera in her eye, allowing Internet users to log on and see what she was seeing, and direct her movements.

The public response was extreme. People started spitting back at the mannequins and defacing the glass. At the same time, they went into the shop to try to buy the clothes which, after three weeks covered with glue, looked repellent.

The critics declared that artists might do this sort of thing in their cellars, but not in a public place. As Szyber puts it, it is not like 'pissing in a white cube gallery' - where nobody would raise an eyebrow.

In another piece, Birger Jarls Fountain (1993), Reich and Szyber choreographed a display of ecstatic nuns, lights and water squirting out of the heads of male performers arranged on a spiral staircase wrapped around the statue of the founder of Stockholm in a once busy square, now occupied only by huge cars. The Hidden (1999) comprises a circle of long-haired women stationed at oil-drums full of water who perform a similarly ecstatic ritual which reaches a climax when they plunge their heads into the water and stretch their legs into the air. In Stadtsritualen, a woman in a strange costume mounts a staircase at 12 noon each day to ring a bell mounted on the side of a building overlooking another of the city squares - for three years.

In this last piece, Reich and Szyber wanted to show that there was another way of bringing life to a square than filling it with coffee shops and other consumer attractions. It worked: as people got to know of the 'ritual' taking place, crowds began to gather each day to watch the event. As the artists put it, the piece took on a life beyond its physical boundaries and origins; it became implanted in the minds of the populace.

Reich and Szyber say they 'work with the vibe of a place', the basis of their practice producing site-specific work remote from the white or black boxes of the arts community. But at the same time, they admit that 'you have to really shout as an artist - play the game of positioning yourself ', which suggests there is not a lot of room for the more subtle, understated gesture in their work. As they say, architects may also have to shout and position themselves to make a mark; yet it seems clear that, for most, even after Tschumi's event architecture, the practice and ideal of engaging with and intervening in public space is rarely so expressionistic.

Carina Reich and Bogdan Szyber's work, The Night Manager, can be seen this summer in London as part of the London International Festival of Theatre

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