Conversations with the Artists: Riccardo Mariano / by Place Lab

Riccardo Mariano is a Berlin-based environmental artist, architect, and designer who will be submitting a proposal for ArtHouse public art commission Surface. The artists selected for ArtHouse's public art commissions will be announced in late May 2016.


What motivated you to apply for the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge at ArtHouse? If you have a connection to Gary, what is it?
I believe my architecture background and [design partner] Polina Chebotareva's psychological background and our specific experience in public art are especially relevant for a project for which understanding the potential of the existing building and its surroundings is key to the development of a proposal capable of engaging the community with its enhanced aesthetic.

ArtHouse is an inspiring opportunity to design an exemplary project for the city of Gary that demonstrates how existing architecture, public art and community engagement can create places of identity and conviviality. The Public Art Challenge at ArtHouse gives the possibility of working with a whole community and giving its rich history a new life. As a design team rooted in European culture we bring an approach to the project which looks at Gary with fresh eyes.

Are there examples of public art works that have had an impact on you?
The Jewish memorial in Berlin by Peter Eisenman, is an inspiring example of a public artwork with great cultural significance becoming part of the city and its citizens' everyday life. It is a work of art that allows both for interaction and reflection, being adaptable to the activities of visitors, while at the same time being strongly rooted in history.

South Bronx (S) Heroes, part of the JR Inside Out Project.

South Bronx (S) Heroes, part of the JR Inside Out Project.

Another artwork that comes to mind is by street artist JR and his Inside Out Project. where posters with portraits of the people living and working inside of a building were posted on its exterior, opening up the interior and making the inhabitants part of the street and public life.

Does your approach to a public commission differ from the approach you take to other work, such as for private clients, exhibitions, galleries, or targeted audiences? If so, how? If not, why not?
Working on public commissions means first and foremost working with the everyday life of communities. Such work creates an active dialogue between the artwork and public life, and allows reflection on how and why public space can be used. Working on public commissions also allows— to a greater extent— meaningful collaborations with other professionals who can help understand the social context and help set the artwork into a meaningful dialogue with the community. Likewise, it allows having collaborations with local activists and citizens, making it a more inclusive process. It is in public commissions that the catalytic power of art for social change emerges. Public art has the potential of making a more significant impact as it also addresses audiences that do not visit exhibitions or galleries.

Why do you feel that public art is important to communities?
Public art has the potential to start a dialogue, to initiate shared activity and to inspire. It addresses social issues where they are, rather than from a detached stance in an art context. This makes it accessible and inclusive, widening its reach and activating its social potential. It also allows the renegotiation of public space. Public artworks can facilitate new actions in a social context that one already knows and uses by habit.

This invites the community to reflect upon how they share and use space. Thus, public artworks initiate the exploration of possibilities of shared space and trigger new dialogues and encounters.

Should your proposal be chosen as the winning artwork, how do you envision the Gary community would be involved in bringing the work to fruition?
Public engagement is at the core of the proposal. [The proposal] invites the public to have a seat and share a moment together. Forming the group Gary's vision, who will use [the proposal] to facilitate meaningful events and dialogue, will further stimulate public engagement.

Steel has been chosen as the main material for the installation because it bears a special role and meaning in the history of Gary. The design team will aim at engaging local steel workers as consultants for the production of the sculptural façade enhancement.

This engagement will facilitate a practical and emotional connection between Gary's local knowledge as a proud steel city and Gary's future resource as a thriving cultural and innovative community. Furthermore, this involvement will foster an inclusion of different audiences for Arthouse Gary.

Interior rendering of Istanbul Disaster Prevention and Education Centre, a conceptual design by Riccardo Mariano.

Interior rendering of Istanbul Disaster Prevention and Education Centre, a conceptual design by Riccardo Mariano.

What do you want to convey about cities in your commissioned work of art (or in the process that leads up to its installation)?
At the core of urban city life is sharing space and experiences. Public space should support this conviviality, and be generous by creating places for people to sit, relax, meet, be inspired and exchange ideas. [The proposal], being an interactive facade with a shared bench and public library, attempts to convey this. Opening up the inside of ArtHouse to its surroundings, [the proposal] draws and gives meaning to its wider context by becoming a gathering place and new destination within the city. The artwork combines the memory of the city with its future dreams and ambitions through its materiality, identity and social significance.

Anything else you’d like to add, or tell ArtHouse fans?
[The proposal] not only facilitates sharing knowledge to its future visitors in Gary, but is also conceptualized by working interdisciplinary and learning from each other. Being a team of an architect and a psychologist allows us to look at public space and understand the potential of a public artwork from multiple angles, and this is truly enriching both for the work process and for the design concept. Hopefully many more interdisciplinary meetings will be made while sitting at ArtHouse and sharing perspectives with each other.


Riccardo Mariano is an artist, architect and designer based in Berlin, Germany. Trained as an architect, he earned a Master of Science in Architecture with honours from Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio Switzerland. Following his graduation, Riccardo joined BIG, Bjarke Ingels Group in Copenhagen (DK) where he advanced his architectural practice working on a diverse range of projects worldwide. Since 2012, Riccardo has been part of the design and development team at Studio Olafur Eliasson in Berlin. Collaborating with the Studio, he has been working on the design and development of architectural experimentations, large-scale installations and sculptures. While working closely with Olafur Eliasson, Riccardo has been independently undertaking public art projects. In 2014, he led an interdisciplinary team for the design Herning Energy Promenade, awarded with the LAGI Green Cities Special Jury Prize. In 2015, he was awarded for Wonderland: East lake Tai international public art competition with the entries Flying Bi and Tao Pavilion.