News for the ‘What is Public Space?’ Category

Allison Cobb: What is public space?





Let’s not be poetic. Public space in capitalist culture is that which has no profit potential because it is not privately owned.

“Public” and “space” both come from the Latin of the Roman Republic. Men gathered in a public space to express their sovereignty by debating issues and voting.

Public means “of the people.” Space is more amorphous. It implies just “there,” an area or extent, but also a stretch of time. Limits are embedded in the idea of space. It is provisional—it is only so large; it doesn’t last forever.

Public space is especially provisional in capitalist culture. As an ideal, it is core to democracy. In reality, it is external to the system of value, constantly vulnerable to conversion to profitable use.

But public space still plays an essential role in capitalism. Because it is external to value, public space becomes the repository of all things that the actors of capitalism consider worthless—what they want removed from their equations. In other words waste, pollution. Economists call these “externalities.”

The open ocean is public space. The air is public space. The climate is public space. See how they are all trashed?

What else?

The medical profession considers the human digestive tract from mouth to anus to be external. It takes in the outside world. You have a tube of public space running through the center of your body.

You also have police. The tiny universe of bacteria swirling in your guts makes sure that bad stuff doesn’t cross the border into your body.

But isn’t it clear that borders are porous? The limits of space are illusion. Space itself is an abstract concept, developed to handle other abstractions like public and private, property and ownership.

In the world where we live as organisms, abstractions melt with the increasing heat of our climate. Where will you live besides here?

Your police cannot protect you. Bacteria recognize threats they evolved with, not substances created in the last sixty years. The outside floods in—through your lungs, your gut, your skin.

Wealth also cannot protect you. Certainly, the wealthy have always channeled their waste toward the bodies of the poor. But industrial chemicals touch every corner of the planet. You probably have a few hundred of them circulating through your bloodstream—gasoline byproducts, pesticides, plastic additives.

No high enough fence exists. But I could think about a different response. Public space is where revolutions happen—the streets of Paris, the march on Washington, Tahrir Square.

I could start here, at the center of my body. What if I understood myself, and everyone I love, as part public space? A dumping ground for the externalities of capitalism?

Doesn’t that make me grounds for a revolution? Wouldn’t I want to transform the very concept of value, which means “price equal to the intrinsic worth of a thing,” but comes from the Latin word for strength and well-being? Wouldn’t I want to take the most radical care of everything we share?


ALLISON COBB is a poet and writer working on a book called Plastic: an autobiography that involves collecting and labeling plastic she finds in public spaces.

Posted: June 20th, 2014
Categories: General Interest, What is Public Space?
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Dakota Gearhart: What is public space?




To let an idea exist separate from my body gives me chills. The reality is I’m afraid of physical space. It makes me have to pee. It wrangles my best thoughts out of my identity and absorbs them into the labyrinth of consciousness, which is truly beyond any understanding I can muster.




It’s difficult to look around physical space, even more so, public space. The confusion part arises in the consequences of seeing. When ideas pop into the mind like popping corn…They gather, sum up, disperse, shift in color, and if focused, they gain momentum, but then stop abruptly, without finality. The switch of madness, apathy, and love are turned off and on, yet I am in space and I know I am real and oh its all very public and its happening now.





Keeping my sanity while living insane is real to me. But public space? It doesn’t have an ending, like a very long string of details asking people to perform the self and make the universe tangible at the same time. In that kind of context, I am not an idea. I am a kernel floating in a shared tumor of energy, which is at once gorgeous and terrifying.





DAKOTA GEARHART, also known as Tiffany Peters and Tiff Mich, is an artist working in video, performance, sculpture, and multi-media installation. Dakota has exhibited work both nationally and internationally in venues such as Interstitial Theater, Seattle; Elsewhere Studios, Greensboro; Launchpad Gallery, Portland; Core Art Space, Denver; Artgrease, Buffalo; Purdue University Gallery, West Lafayette; Universitat de Barcelona, Spain; and Taiyuan University Gallery, China. Her work has been published in Trifecta Magazine, Carpaccio Magazine, and Open to Interpretation Books. She is the recipient of the Julaine Martin Scholarship, the Jane & David Davis Fellowship, and the Cultural Ambassador Scholarship from the Spanish Ministry of Education. She is the organizer of the experimental garage space, The Royal Box, which showcases artists, writers, and musicians of the Pacific Northwest. Dakota was born in Arizona, raised in Florida and lives and works in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, where she recently graduated with her MFA from the University of Washington.

Posted: April 1st, 2014
Categories: General Interest, What is Public Space?
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Ian J. Whitmore: What is public space?

Nowhere #15607, 2010

Nowhere #15607, 2010

Nowhere #3809, 2005

Nowhere #3809, 2005

Nowhere #9104, 2008

Nowhere #9104, 2008


Nowhere is an ambiguous yet ubiquitous space. It is woven into our civic and commercial landscape as irresponsible and irrelevant decoration. In these images we see spaces that we move through every day but rarely acknowledge for their functional purpose or aesthetic value. How we engage with these spaces speaks to how we neglectfully pass through our own communities, and more importantly how we interact with one another.

Through these photographs I am exploring the psychology of our urban and suburban landscape by focusing on the ironic and garish nature of what surrounds us. By presenting ignorable spaces as places that have importance and are of interest we are drawn into the banal—as we linger on these images the mirage dissolves unveiling impotence, benign ornamentation and questions about our direction.

Those promising paths that once led us forward, reaching into the horizon, have been cleared away and accessorized as we seek our destination. Following the rhythm of progress our civic body ceaselessly expands and as the horizon has drawn nearer and nearer—collapsing in on us—it becomes clear that we have arrived nowhere in particular.


IAN J. WHITMORE is a photographer, art director, web developer living in Portland, OR. He is an Assistant Professor of Art at Portland State University. He is currently working on a book series, Onomasticon: A Vocabulary for Nowhere.

Posted: February 12th, 2014
Categories: General Interest, What is Public Space?
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Christine Dong: What is public space?






Public space is a place of adventure. A place used to make ends meet. An infinite abyss of different foods and faces. A place of many surprises—a place to escape.

Saigon, December 2012. Images and text courtesy of Christine Dong.

CHRISTINE DONG lives with her camera in Portland, Oregon.

Posted: January 29th, 2014
Categories: What is Public Space?
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Kelly Schirmann: What is public space?


The public is anyone I could conceivably meet. They let me look at them freely while they are walking or eating lunch. They let me think thoughts about them like COAT or MOTHER. I am the public to the public as well. We are the cave walls for each other’s echoes & we are permitted to yell what we want.

The privates stay in their private spaces & both control exchange. There are gates there, & a specific sky. In the private spaces, every body has been solicited. If they are walking or eating lunch it is on television, or with permission, or from behind a kind of fence. The fence is created for you to think a specific thought. It is built from the way you feel about there being a fence in the first place.

The public space is anywhere the public could conceivably go, & me too. I walk through the public spaces, eating my lunch. The public spaces hold me inside them, my sandwich & shoes & direction. My hello & angry face. The public space invites me to think thoughts about it, & I do. I think BENCH or POWER or SAFE. I think BEAUTIFUL & these are the spaces I like the most. I think BEAUTIFUL & I sit in the beauty & it rubs off on me, the public. I think BEAUTIFUL & I feel much better that this is a place we could all conceivably sit.


KELLY SCHIRMANN is the co-author of Nature Machine (Poor Claudia) & half of the band Young Family, whose second EP will be released from Spork Press this year. She lives, writes, sings, & makes in Portland, Oregon.

Posted: December 18th, 2013
Categories: What is Public Space?
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Chloe Bass: What is public space?


Contemporary urban space seeks the kind of publicity usually reserved for top-tier celebs. Reports of space-spotting, space as trendsetter, spaces that are “just like us,” should be cluttering the airwaves with gleeful, temporary abandon: the prevalence of casual useless news-making that belies a deep, permanent reverence. Give me the eternal life of the space through the sheer force of language and image. Let me love space through my cravings for the details of even its most irrelevant normalcy.


Space, in public, should give us something to live up to. I want to improve myself constantly based on its standards: secret techniques brought to life and embodied in my daily practice. Let’s borrow from the looks of public space, modify our sounds to match its voice. Let us all strive to be public even as we know the pyramid to success is slippery and ever-shrinking.


Space is not just place anymore: it’s phenomenon. Without these goals, we are lost.


CHLOE BASS works primarily in the creation of performances, situations, and installations. “It is my goal to investigate the potential of the everyday as a catalyst for intimacy. I’m captivated by the common denominators of the human experience: the things that people do always. I seek to highlight the seemingly normal as a means of questioning its stability.”

Posted: November 8th, 2013
Categories: What is Public Space?
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Eliza Gregory | What is public space?


What do I think about when I think about space?

What is public space? Is it space without ownership? Is it communally owned space? Is it transient space–space that I move through but don’t remain in? Is everything public space?

Is it the place I see other people? Is it a place where I am not in control? Is it a place that a crowd controls? Is it a place beyond control?

What is space itself? The area around me. The area I move through. The area I move to. What I’ve left. Where I’m not. A structure for me to inhabit. A way for my mind to be bounded. A way for my body to be bounded. A boundary. A body.

Space is a way to organize my physical experience, and my understanding of that experience. It’s a way to organize my needs. It’s a way to organize my day, my desires, my ideas, my emotions.

Space is what lies between me and others. What lies between me and everything else.


ELIZA GREGORY builds multi-layered projects using photography, interviews, events and partnerships in order to catalyze new relationships within a given community. Her recent work has focused on cultural identity, cultural adaptation, and the relationship between people and places.

Posted: November 6th, 2013
Categories: What is Public Space?
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