Students by the fountain.
HDK-Valand students with LTH-fontänen, Spring 2019.
Photo: Maddie Leach

The fountain: An art-technological-social drama

Research project
Active research
Project size
SEK 3,999,895
Project period
2021 - 2024
Project owner
HDK-Valand – Academy of Art and Design

Short description

Inaugurated in 1970 on the campus of Lunds Tekniska Högskola, LTH-fontänen (The LTH Fountain) was anticipated as a modern “artistic-technological cathedral of steel, glass and water without parallel in the world”. Yet it proved frustrating as a fountain: leaking, fracturing and never effectively carrying water. Today it remains inert on campus; neither an artwork nor a ruin. Our research initiates a recommitment to a substantially state-funded public artwork after a 25-year hiatus and introduces new questions––not about how to get the fountain to work as a fountain––about whether LTH-fontänen offers a platform from which a new public artwork can emerge.

The overall objective of our research is to identify whether “failed” public artworks can be revitalised and thought anew. We seek to contribute an innovative model that has relevance for producers, owners and custodians of public artworks and the communities who live alongside these objects. Our question intentionally unsettles concepts of artistic authorship and ownership, and the evaluation of public artworks in terms of “success” or “failure”. It raises a challenge for commissioners, architects, urban designers and artists to anticipate change within their contractual agreements. To support our research, we propose LTH-fontänen as a case study for the reimagination of a public object. We want to develop a proposal and contract for the adaptation of LTH-fontänen within its contemporary environment at LTH, reactivating discussion on Lund’s largest public commission with a new generation of students, staff and residents of the city. In doing so, we aim to demonstrate an artistic and sustainable alternative to its abandonment or removal.

Art historian Hal Foster has suggested that we understand artworks retrospectively––fifty years on, what collective meaning can be retrieved from LTH-fontänen in changed social conditions? With a raft of nicknames, including “Laxtrappan”, “Döda fallet” and "Fontana di Träti", its cost and subsequent failures have been a source of ridicule and urban myth. Public artworks in urban spaces can be subject to contestation and criticism, causing controversy for their cost, where they are situated, their aesthetics and purpose. Sometimes artworks successfully endure in their communities for generations; on other occasions public pressure, or issues of maintenance, result in removal. As a creative endeavour, LTH-fontänen is not alone in falling short of its creators and commissioners’ ambitions, however it is unusual for having survived fifty years as a largely unrealised project. It offers a unique platform from which to address broader questions of cultural heritage, duration and change in the design of public spaces, and the role of art works within them.