The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring..
..or is it a doorway into chaos? In Ruben Ostlund’s jaw dropping new movie The Square, Christian, the self-confident director of a Stockholm modern art museum is confronted by his own prejudice whilst curating an exhibition. At the centre of the exhibition there is a simple piece called “The Square” - a neon square which frames the cobblestones of a space formerly occupied by the statue of a monarch. Inside a plaque proclaims:
"The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations."
Whatever the tantalising meaning of this work of art, the exhibition - with its provocative marketing campaign – sparks outrage and introspection as artists and public confront challenging questions about equality, trust and freedom.
How willing are we to trust and help those we don’t know? How does our privilege and prejudice influence who we’re willing to help?
What are the limits of freedom of speech?
In one memorable scene Christian's young daughters are given a preview to the exhibition. At the entrance a sign invites visitors who ‘trust people’ to take a right turn, and those who don't to go left. The girls quickly choose the path to the right. Entering a dark room they are faced by a black and white video projection of people wandering in rags, ravaged by hunger. On the floor a small square requests ‘please leave your phones and wallets here’. The young girls pause to reflect, ‘should we?’
Experiments in learning
There's a lot to play with here. How can we change the dynamics of a space or provoke a response simply by marking out shapes and lines?
Through naming the purpose of the space do our words become reality? Please enter the dreaming circle, the action triangle, the planning square...
A workshop activity exploring issues related to trust:
Ask participants to stand on a continuum indicating the extent to which they agree with the following statement 'I trust people'. Ask volunteers to share why they chose to stand in that position.
Later in the workshop mark out a square on the floor with a request for participants to 'leave their phones and wallets'. Continue the workshop as normal. If time allows, continue the following day, this time mark out a square just outside the workshop - in a public space. These provocations and the way participants respond could spark insightful reflections around how trust emerges amongst individuals and communities, our limits to trusting others, and the social context in which we live.
Share your own ideas and let us know if you try this one.
Influenced by: Ruben Ostlund, spatial choreography, ritual, public architecture, art installation.
The official trailer (English) of The Square