questionnaire
Shifting Public Spaces

Monument Lab is committed to responding urgently to pressing questions around the social, political, and cultural implications of public space and art. Community engagement and collaboration across sectors have been foundational to our work. As we have built our exhibitions and projects, our team and many collaborators have often worked remotely and asynchronously. To augment local conversations and interventions across the globe, Monument Lab (like many other organizations) has utilized digital tools and social media. Although this approach is especially useful now, the current crisis presents qualitatively different obstacles for public and non-profit cultural sectors. Aside from issues related to economic hardship, the notion of what constitutes “public” has already shifted. The present moment has created new challenges. It has pushed many artists and practitioners to retreat out of public spaces to practice safe physical-distancing on behalf of the larger civic body, while faced with questions of how to adapt to the moment.

At Monument Lab, we have been trying to take care and cover, while discussing the rapid changes around us. In this time of uncertainty, we are collectively reflecting on and rethinking public engagement. To make this process of deliberation public, we reached out to several artists, curators, writers, and collaborators to reflect on shifting public spaces. We asked them two open-ended questions:

  1. What will public space look like after the pandemic? 

  2. What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces? 


We are thankful to our respondents for their generosity, thoughtfulness, and wisdom. We will continue to add responses in the coming weeks. If you would like to share your answers, write to us at info@monumentlab.com.

Patricia Eunji Kim


 

CHEYENNE CONCEPCION 

ARTIST, THE BORDERLANDS ARCHIVE 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA 

 

What will public space look like after the pandemic?

At my day job as a landscape designer I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately! When we return to “normal,” how should I approach spatial design post pandemic? So, I made a collage where I overlay a 6 foot grid over New York’s most famous public space, Times Square.

Picture1

Original image by snohetta. Photoshopped by Cheyenne Concepcion.

 

What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces?

All over the news, I keep hearing the personification of COVID-19 as the ‘invisible enemy’ and the global pandemic itself conveyed as the ‘great war’ of our times. Adopting this sentiment means there will be a battle, followed by a series of winners and losers. Some winners will get monuments for their bravery and leadership. And while I really hope Dr. Anthony Fauci gets a few, our future monuments must do more.

Post-pandemic monuments must celebrate closeness. The privilege of proximity has been so overlooked until now. It is the most ordinary things that I miss the most -- overhead conversations in cramped restaurants, riding the bus to work, hugging friends in the sunshine. I guess this must mean that it’s the most ordinary things that makes life… life. More than ever before, our future monuments, our future art,  must physically bring us to hold each other closer, tighter. Art we can touch with the people that we want to hold, we need art and monuments that remind us of our humanity.

 

 

CHRYSTOFER DAVIS

FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHER AND TEACHING ARTIST  

NEWARK, NJ

Chrystopher Davis, The NORK! Project.

Chrystopher Davis, The NORK! Project.

 

What will public space look like after the pandemic?

 

After the pandemic, I believe there will be a continuous practice of social distancing. Cities and towns will limit seating, signs will encourage others to keep a 6 feet distance, children’s parks may have controlled access or even close. This pandemic is something that our society has never experienced. Sanitizing our hands/clothes and wearing face masks will be the social norm; products alike will be install in all spaces. Social areas like Union Square and Washington Park will nearly be uninhabited due to the fear from the pandemic. Emptiness will live in public spaces.

 

What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces?

An essential worker/first responder monument should be constructed to commemorate them. They are the gears that have kept this country and the world working. A brass/or marble statue completed with figures of doctors/nurses, police officers, firefighters, store clerks, sanitation collectors, food workers, bus drivers, and etc. holding up the world. During this pandemic, these workers/contributors have had the most strength to help keep society operating. It is important that we honor them.

 

 

STEPHANIE GARCIA 

EDITORIAL COORDINATOR & ASSISTANT CURATOR, MONUMENT LAB AND ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR, MAKE THE WORLD BETTER

PHILADELPHIA, PA

 

What will public space look like after the pandemic?

I think that people will value public spaces and the human connectivity they foster more. However, I believe that the way in which we interact within public spaces and the way public spaces are designed will change due to a renewed focus on public health. Moreover, I feel that certain public spaces will be designed not to just serve as places of leisure, but with the idea that they may one day have to function as essential services sites (meal sites, pop-up health centers, etc.) for future crises.  

Additionally, if the current health crisis has made anything more evident it is the inequity in access to public space, among other things, for certain demographics and neighborhoods. I hope that moving forward there will be more of a focus on ensuring that all neighborhoods have well maintained and well designed spaces.


What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces?

Given the current health pandemic, I think we must continue pushing the idea of what constitutes a monument. A monument is not simply a statue or a physical object — it can be a place that is no longer inhabited or purpose has changed; written stories of loss, fear, hope, or resilience; a phone call between friends, loved ones, or strangers checking-in with each other; rainbow drawings in windows; virtual vigils or support groups in honor of those we’ve loved and lost; a record of mutual funds that is evidence of communities coming together to support one another and the lack of government response, among many other things. By transferring the physical space to the online space, I think new avenues by which we collectively remember have opened, or at least are now more important. Moreover, I think this move to the online space helps us in further recognizing what groups may still be left out of the conversation.

Of course there are still ways in which we can commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic in public spaces while still following the current health guidelines — take the masked monuments that have appeared across the world or the makeshift memorials outside of hospitals, for example. For me, a question that arises is how will we remember this time once the pandemic is over and public spaces reopen?

 

 

MASHINKA FIRUNTS HAKOPIAN

SENIOR RESEARCHER, TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE HUMAN PROGRAM, BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE

LOS ANGELES, CA

 

What will public space look like after the pandemic? 

Just as public spaces will be transformed, so too will publics themselves. Both will be arranged to accommodate intensified infrastructures of surveillance. This may involve machine learning tools that monitor individuals’ movements to ensure six feet of distance between pedestrians, compulsory biometric scans, or new mechanisms of geolocative tracking. Like previous technologies of surveillance, the effects of these measures will be asymmetrically distributed and are likely to exacerbate existing social inequalities—disproportionately impacting communities of color, immigrant communities, or unhoused communities. In this way, responses to the pandemic will recode which communities are granted access to public space, and by extension which communities are included in—or excluded from—“the public” as a formation.

 

What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces? 

We will need to learn to think differently about collective experience, including the experience of monuments and public art. A monument may come to mean something other than a physical site accessed by spatio-temporally proximate and copresent bodies with unrestricted mobility. Our conception of monuments might instead expand to include digital objects visited in virtual space, as collective experiences increasingly migrate onscreen. We might then ask, how can we envision digital monuments erected against the backdrop of what Wendy Chun has called the internet’s “enduring ephemeral”?

 

 

CHRISTINE Y. KIM

CURATOR, CONTEMPORARY ART, LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART AND CO-FOUNDER GYOPO

LOS ANGELES, CA

 

What will public space look like after the pandemic? 

This question is extremely difficult for me to answer because my perspective, on day 2 of week 5 at home, is still in a tangle of anxiety, rage, grief and distress, so I'll just say that up front. I believe public space will still have the elements of space, time, bodies (albeit more guarded and fewer at once) and movement, but of course the physical, psychic, social and perceptual distance between and among people will reshape their interactions and thereby alter the role and use of public space. I read about an anthropologist speculating that our culture will lose handshaking as a first, open gesture and greeting toward another person. I have always loved the Polynesian greeting "honi" in which two people press foreheads and/or noses and inhale, sharing "ha" breath and "mana" spirit, exactly because it requires trust and vulnerability between two people. But with this and other types of gestures of closeness gone, while we will still interact, minus an intimacy, vulnerability and openness, interactions between people, especially strangers, in public spaces will feel palpably distant, avoidant and in some cases empty.  

I am also very concerned about the disturbing anti-Asian racism in this country that has ramped up with Trump's rhetoric and thousands of reported incidents (mine included) that continue to increase by the hour. Certainly, my actions and interactions in public spaces will unfortunately have to take my own safety into deeper consideration, which feels regressive and antithetical to where we should be with public safety, equity and inclusion in 2020.

 

What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces? 

I think this is a great time to reconsider monuments, their origins, purpose and meaning. While they have existed for millennia across cultures, what can and should they stand for in a social-media age of post-memory when monuments coming out of the European tradition are all about memorialization?

 


NEYSA PAGE-LIEBERMAN

INDEPENDENT CURATOR

KANSAS CITY, MO

 

What will public space look like after the pandemic? 

Public spaces will still be treasured; but we will have a different relationship with them and won’t experience these familiar sites in quite the same way. Parks, squares and walkways are serving a new essential purpose, beckoning us as potential safe spaces beyond the isolation of home. We’re forming bonds with open spaces and objects where human contact is absent. An unmarked statue of a Greek goddess in my new adopted home of Kansas City is the site beckoning me. With streets deserted and so much distance between the few passersby, I look at her and see care. A mysterious offering of ceramic birds surrounds her and continues to be moved around by indivisible hands. I visit her often during my escape-jogs but I’ve yet to see anyone near her. One day last week, she had a new protective mask, this week the mask was gone and a scarf replaced it. Others are caring for her during a health and economic crisis, paralleling what’s happening throughout the city every day. How many others are living for this like me, coming to see the birds appear, disappear, and change formation. Will we return to these sites to remember this moment? Will it look the same?

 

What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces? 

Public space is also where artists are turning to share images, messages and gestures expressing hope, dissent, love and rage. Pandemic-responsive street art is springing up across the globe and quickly being archived and analyzed.  While the larger-scale, “permanent” monuments we’ve grown accustomed to will be slow to return as the art world heals and adapts to new economic realities, artist are forgoing permissions or invitations to make work for the public realm. They’re embracing the urgency to document the moment, interpret events and acknowledge the workers and leaders who are pulling us through. These works are produced as rapidly as events roll out around us. Commemorating group action, needless suffering and heroic acts from previously invisible workers, the public art of this moment encourages us to re-think who, why and how we make monuments and to pay close attention to who we amplify in the future.

 

 

EDRA SOTO

ARTIST

CHICAGO, IL 

 

What will public space look like after the pandemic? 

Perhaps it is too soon for me to visualize the physical changes of a public space. I’m still hopeful we get to pick up where we left off before the pandemic. I imagine that public policy will become more transparent, and that it will be delivered artistically out of necessity--sort of like when subversive cultures move into a mainstream mindset. Public spaces, like parks or plazas, might remain the same. These places are typically large in scale and sometimes provide enough space for social distancing. Our current global public space policy is in question and our realistic needs will dictate the future usage and procedures to be implemented at those spaces. Our desire for functional public spaces for gathering or leisure time is almost innate. The closing of public parks, for example, presented evidence of our yearning for connecting and the fear of losing this privilege.



What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces? 

I expect to see a post-epidemic rising of physical modifications made to existing public spaces and new spaces designed with public distancing considerations in mind. Perhaps these changes manifest more through policy rather than physically, but maybe we will see a combination of both. Most of my work is motivated by a public approach to design a space or an activation. This is something I’m hoping I don’t have to give up in the future, but I wouldn't be surprised by future changes. 

Edra Soto’s  Screenhouse . Photo credit: Georgia Hampton.

Edra Soto’s Screenhouse. Photo credit: Georgia Hampton.

 

 

CARMEN WINANT

ARTIST 

COLUMBUS, OH

 

What will public space look like after the pandemic?

I can predict the future as well as anyone, which is to say not at all. As of now, I go for runs almost every day in the park behind my house in Columbus, OH. I see tens of people out there -- everyone keeping a great distance, most wearing masks -- and feel some closeness between us, all out there together in early springtime. It seems, if one has access to it, that outside space (the ability to roam out there, take daily walks, be under magnolia trees) is such a meaningful new part of our days. In that sense, our relationship to outdoor space has already changed: it is a refuge, a long-distance meeting place, an opening.

 

Carmen Winant,  I, too, overflow (Woman must write herself).

Carmen Winant, I, too, overflow (Woman must write herself).

 

What kinds of monuments can we envision to commemorate, mourn, and grapple with the current pandemic, especially with the vast shift in our public spaces? 

Those who are keeping the world turning -- the medical personnel, the essential workers of the post office, of the grocery stores, of the pharmacies, and on -- deserve every monument in the world. Everyone who has no choice but to go to work deserves a monument. Everyone who has been laid off or furloughed who is calling, and trying to get through, to the unemployment office tens of times a day deserves a monument. Every single parent deserves a monument. 

Monument Lab

Monument Lab is an independent public art and history studio based in Philadelphia. Founded by Paul Farber and Ken Lum, Monument Lab works with artists, students, activists, municipal agencies, and cultural institutions on exploratory approaches to public engagement and collective memory. Monument Lab cultivates and facilitates critical conversations around the past, present, and future of monuments.

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