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Retail therapy offers chance to reunite artists and artisans

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Valencia will stage its next Biennale on 1 March 2003, for three months. It will be devoted to art in its broadest sense.

I was asked to prepare a concept for part of the event, for which the theme is 'The Idea City'. The theme is a good one because it immediately raises questions about the quality of life contained in such a static, wellknown picture. I invited Bruce McLean and Peter Gabriel to join the search for a concept.

In March we visited Valencia and looked at a number of places as possible locations. Three sites caught our attention, and on our return we made a book as a means of exploring them further. We were excited by an old palace that would soon become a hotel, a street of 'gaps' created by old buildings either falling down or being taken down for safety reasons, and a disused department store.

We noticed that a 'proper' form of life existed in the city. For example, the market place is extraordinary, with a variety of good quality food that we in the UK cannot imagine.

Life there is lived with a passion and a pace designed for people - not an idea of a life imposed by modern day practice. We proposed an urban villa for the hotel site, a sound track or urban opera for the street and a department store - departmento - for the department store. The latter is the project we are taking on.

Shopping is a part of life, a leisure activity as well as a necessity. People are not born to shop, but they need to shop to live.Shopping should be a delightful experience that contributes to the quality of an urban existence.The reactivation of the department store will also regenerate the passage between two important streets in the medieval heart of the city. The original shop represented a short cut from one street to the other. This route has been denied to the public for a long time and our concept includes the idea of the space as being a three-dimensional public space. For this reason it is necessary to adapt the building by taking out all the doors and windows as well as the roof over the atrium. A public space must, by definition, be able to feel the elements. An enclosed space, even though it might be public, is perceived as a building, as opposed to a place. By dematerialising the building we create public ownership. A true ideal.

The new public space will then undergo a further transformation by making it into a new department store. New departments of proper behaviour will be inserted into the public space. For example, there will be the departments of flower arranging, smoking, drinking, clothes, music and dancing, among others. The space will contain soft furnishing as well as the department of deportment.

Each of the installations will involve an artist and/or an artisan. The whole is a celebration of bringing together of artists, artisans and those who make an art out of serving. The relationship between these categories is at the heart of the quality of life, and yet in so many cities there is a separation enforced between these titles that are the essence of life. The whole departmento will be a performance work lasting three months. We wish to celebrate the importance of the artisan and make a stronger relationship between those who serve us. Every job is a 'proper' job.

The 20th century has seen a huge rift appear between so-called 'fine art'and common skills. The departmento is an expression of a reunification of the artist with society and 'normal' life. The real gallery is the street. It cannot exist within the tea strainer of our institutionalised museums. The work is both enjoyable, accessible and useful.

WA, from seat 4A, flight BA 697 from Vienna

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