Daily Archives: February 6, 2022

Something about public space

I went to see two exhibitions. “Who’s Afraid of Public Space?” at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) and “Re-locate” at Assembly Point.

Mariana del Castillo Re-locate (photo courtesy of the artist)

Assembly Point is almost across the street from ACCA, a series of large display classes in a pedestrian way between two buildings and Sturt and Moore Streets in Southbank. Damien Vicks, Moment 2013 the red geometric flower highlights the building. There are several theatre-related offices and studios on the ground floor of Guild Apartments on Sturt Street in Southbank. A class of drama students were enjoying the fresh air, sitting half inside and half outside NIDA’s Melbourne studios. A place in between public and private space.

Mariana del Castillo is a Canberra-based artist with experience re-locating from her Ecuadorian birthplace. Re-locate creates the feeling of migration, travelling headless, carrying part of their home with them insulated in wool. The glass cases with her Arte Povera influenced tableaux progress to an unknown destination. The contradiction between the private life of an immigrant where your life is alien and public because you are the observed newcomer. Covered in a layer of wool for protection from the emotional toll of moving to another country, details stitched into this second skin.

Detail from “Gathering Space: Ngargee Djeembana” at ACCA

I am very into outdoor exhibitions in public space at the moment, for many reasons, including avoiding COVID but also my long term interest in public space. This brings me to “Who’s Afraid of Public Space?” at ACCA. Riffing on Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? The exhibition has as much to do with the theatre as Albee’s play with Virginia Wolfe.

Public space is an important topic. If the exhibition is to succeed in its objective of raising issues for discussion then different questions needed to be asked. Who owns public space? What are the public allowed to do in public space? Who benefits from public space?

Starting with “The Education Space: Creating Art in Public”, which looked back to the modernism of Clement Meadmore and Ron Robertson-Swann and forward to a speculative future with an exhibition of maquettes by younger visitors. Next came “Reading Space: The Common Room”, with a collection of books and magazines on public space. (Nicola Cortese, Lauren Crockett and Stephanie Pahnis did not include my book on public sculpture, so it wasn’t brilliant.) “Project Space: The Hoarding” brought together elements from an exhibition that spilled out into many public places. Finally, or to begin with, depending on which way you entered, there was “Gathering Space: Ngargee Djeembana” in the largest space. It looked impressive with the minimalist repetition of cubes of material, but raised questions unaddressed questions about how the material was gathered, who gave permission and how this fitted with the rest of the exhibition.

Then a walk to the river and lunch. A pleasant day until it came time to go home. Who’s afraid of public transport? I am with good reason. The ticket machine took my $50 bill from me without putting anything on my card; I spent another 20 minutes making the complaint because of the “high volume of calls” they were receiving. They might put the money on my card in 10 working days time. The public transport system has not let me down; it is consistently poor. Public transport is a public space.


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