Who decides the fate of public space?
Public spaces carry special meaning and a particular burden in our culture: they serve as terrains of shared belonging and places to constantly negotiate the limits of our social landscapes. Whether considering the commons, parks, pathways, municipal resource hubs, or privately operated public venues, public spaces balance shared general principles of openness and each possess a highly site-specific sense of order. Most often, free space is met with accompanying parameters. And just as public spaces are designed, they are adapted and improvised by those who dwell in them. They are not only sites where we work through our democratic challenges, they also are venues for the ebbs and flows of collective memory. What makes a meaningful and viable public space, and who will shape its future? Just as we seek new ways to critically engage the monuments we have inherited and unearth a new generation of commemorative sites, our public spaces are experiencing a related cultural appraisal.
Reflecting Authority, presented in collaboration with the High Line Network Joint Art Initiative’s New Monuments for New Cities, engages collaborators and public participants in a research residency aimed at mapping civic process, authority, and authorship at five High Line Network sites: Buffalo Bayou, Houston, Texas; Waller Creek, Austin, Texas; The 606, Chicago, Illinois; The Bentway, Toronto, Ontario; and The High Line, New York, New York.
In a series of workshops, discussions, and activations in Toronto, Houston, Austin, and Chicago, led by Monument Lab's curatorial research team, participants explored the evolving character of monuments, the lifespans of adaptive reuse infrastructure, and the dynamics of public space, all centered around the research question reflecting who decides how each public form takes shape, gets critically engaged, and/or transforms over time. Each workshop included a presentation of Monument Lab research findings from conversations from our 2017 Report to the City, based on engagements with over 250,000 public participants in Philadelphia, a facilitated discussion about collective memory and municipal pathways around the High Line Network sites, and a shared research exercise that maps decision-making processes and power networks in each respective city.
In October 2019, Monument Lab and the High Line Joint Art Initiative convened a pair of outdoor public think tanks on the High Line in New York City, comprised of artists, organizers, and planners, with open seats for public participants to join, focused around the question of revision – how to revise the monuments we have inherited?
The residency project culminates with this multi-day public research installation, a podcast series interviewing selected participating artists from New Monuments for New Cities, and a publication with research findings, visualizations, and critical essays.