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Relational Objects and Practices for Making ‘Public Space’

Part 2 Dissertation 2013
Jonathan Orlek
University of Sheffield, UK
Contemporary theorisations reject public spaces as sites of consensus led debate and instead argue that they should be defined by their ability to accommodate and legitimise excluded groups or ‘counterpublics’. Public spaces become sites of struggle and contestation that help to overturn existing and dominant ideologies. Public space can no longer be defined by ownership boundaries and Cartesian descriptions alone, since it must be continually claimed and fought for. This understanding requires alternative ways of observing, making and researching public space.

The approach adopted by this study is to look at space relationally. That is to say; can the ‘public-ness’ of a space be defined by the social and political relations that it facilitates?

The work of David Harvey, Doreen Massey and Chantal Mouffe is used to understand the implications of thinking about space relationally. Bruno Latour provides an alternative conceptualisation of objects by inextricably connecting them to networks of actants. Contemporary turns in art practice further the discussion by introducing Relational Art and the debates surrounding Relational Aesthetics. Case studies are used to demonstrate how relational-objects are used as architectural tools for the making of (relational) ‘public space’ in London.

This theoretical context recognises that the making and studying of relational practice cannot be separated. The ethnographic work undertaken by Albena Yaneva is examined and autoethnography is adopted to develop an appropriate, original, methodology for making and studying relational architecture practice.

Working with public works during summer 2012 provided an opportunity to undertake fieldwork, from a reflexive position as collaborator and co-producer of the Union Press project. An autoethnographic short story describes the creation and negotiation of ‘public space’ through the practice of collectively making relational-objects. It describes autobiographically a personal process of transformation and self-understanding.

The study’s two main components (theoretical discourse and autoethnographic story), considered together, reveal tools and processes that might conduct to alternative ways of representing and acting in and on space. This line of inquiry shifts ‘public space’ from something static to something that must be continually contested, negotiated and performed.

Jonathan Orlek

Dr Doina Petrescu
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