This symposium builds on the conversations started at the symposium ‘Leaving Traces: Living Politics in the City’ held in Rennes in November 2018. It will be held in Melbourne, Australia on July 15-16, 2019, and is organised by the Centre for Transformative Media Technologies & the School of Design at Swinburne University and the GRIEF Laboratory research centre at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Bretagne in collaboration with the University of Rennes 2.
Space can be performed, made, manifested, enacted, marked, inhabited, occupied. It is taken and re-taken, territorialised and de-territorialised and re-territorialised, it is endlessly becoming. All these processes enable space to be more than geographical location, thus gaining symbolic dimensions and thus able to communicate. The private and public spheres entangle a different enactment of space: the private sphere is more perceived as a natural realm for self-nesting, while the public one is understood in terms of (neutral) sharing. But public space is far from being neutral nor is its sharing equitable.
Metaphors like ‘stage’ and ‘arena’, often used in relation to public space, are symptomatic of this.
In addition to these explicit or implicit tensions, and sometimes in direct relation to them, the public sphere involves permeability between publicity and privacy: the assumed privacy of domestic spaces, the semi-privacy of ritual spaces, the semi-publicness of commercial spaces and the publicness of streets, squares and parks. But all these different degrees rest on distinctions and conventions that are becoming increasingly blurred. Public spaces may be privately owned, front of house becomes back of house, television makes a public spectacle of idealised domestic space and social media reveals unintended aspects of private identities or facilitates façades for alternative public ones. Moreover, those deprived of space – people experiencing homelessness, migrants, refugees live their intimacy in public, constantly scrutinised, controlled and denied privacy.
How can the enablement of space be read or reinterpreted in this context? Which politics become possible and how are they foreclosed or facilitated by new and hybrid forms of public space? If democracy supposedly rests on distinctions between private and public, what is its role today as these categories become increasingly blurred? What has it meant to be political in public space and in what ways does contemporary public space enable forms of political action?
In addressing these issues, we seek to stress the potential for exploring the connections and contradictions, tensions and paradoxes in contemporary public space which may or may not have parallels with past examples.