Reclaiming public space

A panel presentation on collective redefinitions of public space

Nelly Alfandari, Orsalia Dimitriou, Rastko Novakovic

Public space is a political space and a highly contested one. Its core elements are the public and publicness. This publicness turns claims and struggles public and therefore recognised and legitimised, since they are brought to the public domain and attention (Koutrolykou, 2008). Rosalyn Deutche (1991) states that rather than a real category, the definition of the public, like the definition of the city, is an ideological artefact, a contested and fragmented terrain. “The public” as Craig Owens observes “is a discursive formation susceptible to appropriation by the most diverse- indeed opposed- ideological interests.” ( Deutche, 1996)
The aim of this panel is to illustrate the contested character of the notion of public and public space and challenge naïve assumptions of neutrality in their formation and use. Challenging these assumptions is important (especially nowadays that a number of ‘public’ rights are under attack), since quite often those assumptions are the key point of initiatives in shaping political agendas based on the rights of the public. Public space is necessarily ambiguous, combining aspects of its ideal manifestations and problematic, conflicting manifestations, its inclusions and its exclusions. It contains idealizations of stability but is simultaneously defined by its instability. And despite its decline, public space still provides a powerful terrain for the expression of political actions and a powerful arena for collective claims.

Deutsche, R. (1991), “Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City”, in Ghirardo, D. (ed.) (1991), Out of site: A social Critique of Architecture, Seattle: Bay Press
Deutsche, R. (1996). Evictions: Art and spatial politics. Boston: MIT Press.
Koutrolykou, P. (2008), Ethnocultural Relations in East London’s ‘Multiculturalism’: Regeneration, Governance and Potentialities of In-between Arenas, PhD thesis, University College of London.

Nelly Alfandari

Be Use-Less: in-visible theatre workshop

A campaign on the shared use of public space called by City Mine(d), Be Use-less in Public Space, taking part in different cities at the same time, on 15th of May 2010:

Use streets, squares and parks you share with people you don’t know – not for making/spending money, reaching voters or control.                                                            Use them to hear different stories, new ideas and projects waiting to happen. Join others in Brussels , London, Berlin, Paris , Lyon, Istanbul, Gothenburg,…                                   And gather, picnic, loiter on your preferred public space because that’s what they are there for!

(The pictures are from the in-visible theatre workshop in Hackney Central, London)

                                                                                                                                                            photos by Jose Ruiz

Orsalia Dimitriou

Collective /Common/ Squatted/ Autonomous/ Municipal/ Public Space 

A video presentation on the multiple social definitions of public space.

Avaton [Sanctuary] is a documentary based on PhD research material about the Athens district of Exarcheia collected from December 2008 to September 2010. The documentary investigates the meaning and management of public space in a tense and singular urban area where the inhabitants, the shop owners, the drug addicts and dealers, the Municipality, the police, the anarchists and the antiauthoritarians fight each other for the use, occupation and control of public space. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Who’s breaking the law, who are the bullies and, ultimately, who has a right to public space?

Rastko Novakovic

Three films on public spaces and public claims

Kentish town  lebensraum (2010) /3.32/ A performance held at 176 gallery and on Prince of Wales Road, London on 18th January 2009. Watch here

What is the role and importance of mass action and mass organisation? How can we claim history from the rhetoric of the mass media? What kind of space can we imagine, perform and inhabit that acts as a combination of the public and private, the personal and the collective, the historical and the materially present?

Words From a Police Kettle (2010) /3:14/ David Graeber and Clare Colomon speak from inside the police kettle on Whitehall during the student protests on 24th November 2010.  Watch here

A guided tour of Climate Camp 2009  (2009) /8:37/A guided tour of the site of Climate Camp 2009 in Blackheath, Greenwich, London. Watch here

Read more here

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