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Themesicon: navigation pathPublic Sphere_sicon: navigation pathPublic Sphere_s
Public Sphere_s
Steve Dietz


In contemporary culture, a number of spheres of activity intersect: speech, art, identity, communications systems, economic and legal regimes. In the so-called public domain, these activities increasingly conflict. This is not necessarily a new development, but with the increasing mediatization and hybrid virtualization of each of these spheres, the boundaries between public, private, commercial and government are in flux. As legal regimes and marketing imperatives adjust to incorporate the new virtual realities, it appears as if these boundaries are being gerrymandered. [1] Nevertheless, ‹digitalness› challenges historic assumptions about scarcity and networks can have an asymmetrical relationship to centralized authority. Many artists are using these ‹tools› to contest, as Krzysztof Wodiczko paraphrases social philosopher Chantal Mouffe, «a new, agonistic concept of public space, which . . . invites and accommodates passion as well as adversarial positions. For her, democracy is not a solution but a process of engaging more actors (and I hope artists as well) in an ongoing energetic discourse in the form of an ‹agon,› that is, acontest.» [2] «Public Sphere_s» is about these contests, which artists continue to foment to enlarge our understanding and practice of multiple public spheres.

Notions of Public

public address system, public charity, public convenience, public debate, public debt, Public defender, public discussion, public domain, public domain software, public easement, public executioner, public exposure, public eye, public figure, public health, Public Health Service Act, public house, Public Key Infrastructure, public knowledge, public lavatory, Public law, public lecture, public library, public mover, public nudity, public nuisance, public opinion, public opinion poll, public presentation, public press, public property, public prosecutor, public relations, public relations man, public school, public security, public servant, public service, Public Service Commission, public speaker, public speaking, public square, Public Switched Telephone Network, public toilet, public transit, public transport, public treasury, public trust, public utility, public violence, public works, public ally, Publican, publication, Public-hearted, publicise,

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publicised, publiciser, publicist, publicity, publicity man, Publicity pamphlet, publicize, publicized, publicizer, publicizing, public-key cryptography, Public-Key Cryptography Standards, public-key encryption, publicly, Public-minded, Publicness, public-relations campaign, public-service corporation, Public-spirited, publish, publishable, published, publisher, publishing, publishing company, publishing conglomerate, publishing empire, publishing firm, publishing house, Publishment, Publius, Publius Aelius Hadrianus, Publius Cornelius Scipio, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major, Publius Ovidius Naso, Publius Terentius Afer, Publius Vergilius Maro. [3]

Plato to Mouffe

Various ideas of ‹the public› have been theorized at least since the Greeks, but whether it is Socrates confronting Callicles about mob rule in Plato’s Gorgias [4] or Jürgen Habermas’ «public sphere,» [5] Walter Lippmann’s «big picture» [6] or Mouffe’s agonistics, this public has almost always been intimately connected with a parallel notion of public space. From the agora to the piazza to the commons to the park, in somesense robust public discourse can only flourish in public space. In part this is an issue of audience. What makes discourse public is having an audience. With the rise of the printed press, radio, television, and now Internetenabled communications, the potential public expands beyond physical space into the virtual spaces of communications systems.

Dieter Daniels, Inke Arns, and Rudolf Frieling each write extensively in their texts for «Survey of Media Art» about the larger media art history and context in which the redefinition of the public domain has been occurring for a century or more. Josephine Bosma in her essay for «Public Sphere_s,» «Constructing Media Spaces,» focuses on how new capabilities of Net (worked) art for access and engagement have helped (re-)define the public domain in three spheres: performing physical interfaces, collaboration and coauthorship, and software art. Erik Kluitenberg’s «Frequently Asked Questions About the Public Domain» takes up this challenge of understanding «future public spaces in digital media environments» [7] by outlining a series of interconnected terms – public domain, digital commons, creative commons, free software, open

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Conversation Map (Sack, Warren), 1997Agonistics: A Language Game (Sack, Warren), 2004

source, copyleft, network society, information economy. Each of these essays presents a contemporary history and its advocates, which are germane, but it is not the goal of «Public Sphere_s» to provide a comprehensive, critical overview of the philosophies and histories of the public. It is more empirical. It does use the lens of changing notions of the public domain to look at many different artists, whose work might not normally or primarily be viewed as ‹public art.› It also highlights artists whose work does deliberately engage historical, expanded, new, and threatened notions of the public across many different spheres: aesthetic, legal, economic, government, communications, community activism, and personal identity.

To return to Wodiczko on Mouffe, «Her recognition of antagonisms and the need for agonism in a democratic process radically questions the prominent liberal philosopher Jürgen Habermas for his popular legalistic and rationalistic position on democracy which seeks to resolve disagreements in a blind drive for consensus.» [8] What are the new tools and methodologies for both enabling and mapping suchdebates?

Software artist and media theorist Warren Sack refers to the new «spaces» of conversation enabled by the Internet as «very large-scale conversations» (VLSC) and argues that «VLSC poses a fundamental challenge to all existing social science methodologies because it constitutes a different scale of conversational interaction, a scale that has not been previously addressed by social science.» [9] Two of his projects specifically address this new space, «Conversation Map» (2001) and «Agonistics: A Language Game» (2004). «Conversation Map,» as its name implies, is a way of mapping—and hence understanding better—the type of very large-scale conversations that happen on the Internet, such as in Usenet groups. The software program has four components.

• A network map connects message authors who respond to and/or quote one another. This is a visual overview of the connectedness of the group—a social network map. • A list of themes is extracted through analysis of the messages’ content. • «Conversation Map» performs automatic thesaurus computation on the themes to create a semantic network map of

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potentially connected terms in the conversation.

• Finally, highlighting any of the nodes or themes highlights related information, including the conversation thread that generated the mapping, so that the user can review the original, if she desires. One of the most interesting aspects of «Conversation Map» is how its thesaurus function will connect terms that are being used in very different contexts by different ‹sides› of the debate. For instance, in an analysis of several hundred messages to the Usenet group soc.culture.Palestine during August 2001, «Conversation Map’s» thesaurus computed «Jews» and «Arabs» and «lands» and «peoples» as possibly similar terms. [10]

In «Agonistics: A Language Game» (2004) the «software play» of «Conversation Map» becomes a defining aspect of the project. Sack writes: «Political philosophers have been arguing about arguing for a long time. . . . a third camp tries to break up the fight between the moral conversationalists and the political rhetoricians by attempting to get everyone off the battlefield and to reconsider the shape and forms of the field of engagement. . . . Political theorists likeChantal Mouffe provide us with alternatives by pointing out that—even if argument is war—war is just one form (although a deadly form) of contest between adversaries. Mouffe’s alternative to a utopic, moral, deliberative democracy is—what she calls—an agonistic pluralism where agon is understood as the ancient Greek term denoting ‹A public celebration of games; a contest for the prize at those games; or, a verbal contest or dispute between two characters in a Greek play› (OED).» [11]

The rules of «Agonistics» are such that conversants in a very large-scale conversation are ‹players.› A player ‹wins› the conversation (at least temporarily) by articulating the issues in such a way that not only does a broad swathe of players respond to her posts—they are in dialog—but her ideas are influential and propagate throughout the conversational network. Visually, this is represented by placing automatically assigned faces of the most influential players closer to the middle of the screen. By awarding points for agonistic behavior and building a game-like interface to a very large-scale conversation, Sack intends to both map the dynamics of the conversation and influence

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4\'33\'\' (Cage, John), 1952Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (Cage, John), 1951

how it is ‹played out.›

Notions of Art

Parallel to debates about the public, artists have been challenging consensual notions about art as well. As Allan Kaprow put it, «The Japanese Gutai, Environments, Happenings, Noveau Realisme, Fluxus, events, noise music, chance poetry, life theater, found actions, bodyworks, earthworks, concept art, information art—the list could go on—confronted publics and arts professionals with strange occurrences bearing little resemblance to the known arts.» [12] From Umberto Eco’s theories of the open work [13] to Joseph Beuys’ influential formulation of social sculpture as «an art that ‹releases energy in people, leading them to a general discussion of actual problems› and which ‹would mean the cultivation of relations between men, almost an act of life›,» [14] there has been over half a century of practice and theory expanding art into the everyday realms of public life.

From the Open Work to the Open Platform

In «The Open Work,» Umberto Eco writes, «howoften have new creative modes changed the meaning of form, people’s expectations, and the very way in which humans perceive reality?» The poetics of the open work is an expression of such a historical possibility.» [15] A work such as John Cage’s «4’33''» is a classic example of an open work that changed the meaning of form by presenting silence as a composition. Cage’s «Imaginary Landscape No. 4» extends the compositional elements beyond the ambient by introducing the public sphere of radio transmissions into the concert hall.

In both cases, Cage is relying on the audience to interpret what in information theory would be called noise as signal – as intentional. [16] And by using this ‹noise› as his compositional elements, Cage forces the eternal dialog between artistic form and public reception further and further beyond the notion that the work is open to interpretation toward the notion of the listener as cocreator of the open work.

With much new media work, this essentially virtual relationship between a work and its audience becomes concretized. The open work becomes an open platform. [17] For example, for George Legrady’s

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Pockets Full of Memories (Legrady, George), 2001BumpList (Brandon / Brucker-Cohen)

«Pockets Full of Memories,» (2001) the public is asked to submit items from their pockets to a scanning and cataloging system, which then utilizes a Kohonen self-organizing map algorithm to position objects of similar descriptions near each other. Jonah Brucker-Cohen’s «BumpList» (2003) shifts the public being addressed from that of an exhibition to that of the Very Large-Scale Conversation—at least in concept. In actuality, only 6 people at a time can be subscribed to the list, and if a 7th person subscribes, the first subscriber is bumped. This additional rule for the «Bumplist» listserv format has two effects. As with Cage’s silence, limiting the size of a VLSC emphasizes that which is replaced or missing as form, as something not natural. Furthermore, it is a rule that is ‹performed› by the public, not by performers. Literal participation in the work of art is an increasingly common form of public art, growing out of the notion of an open work as theorized by Eco.

Notions of Public Art

Traditionally, public art has been a more delimited sphere than the public who experiences any art,although in part, it is precisely an attempt by artists to expand their public. As Dieter Daniels writes: «The use of new technologies like film and radio, which are potential mass media, is associated with the hope that the avant-garde can be released from its self-imposed isolation so that ‹art and the people can be reconciled with each other,› as Guillaume Apollinaire put it in 1912.» [18]

In part, however, public art is simply the recognition of the need for public discourse to create a public at all—and hence a public sphere. As Patricia Phillips writes: «A growing number of artists and agencies believe that the responsibility of public artists and agencies is not to create permanent objects for presentation in traditionally accepted public places but, instead, to assist in the construction of a public—to encourage through actions, ideas, and interventions, a participatory audience where none seemed to exist.» [19] Many artists, for example, are appalled by the lack of public discourse in the emerging arena of biotechnologies. Critical Art Ensemble’s «GenTerra» (2001) is a participatory theater project, in which the audience is invited to decide

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One Trees (Jeremijenko, Natalie), 2000

whether to release into the environment transgenic bacteria. The «set» is a biotech company tradeshow with CAE members dressed as scientists, who explain to the public why what they are doing is safe. «By setting itself up as a corporation that is driven by profit, but also by a sense of social responsibility, ‹GenTerra› highlights the complex relationship between for-profit ventures and the ethical considerations involved in transgenics research and product development. The project aims to make the public more aware of transgenics and the facts and fictions that surround it.» [20]

Similarly, Natalie Jeremijenko’s ambitious «OneTrees» (2000) project cloned 1,000 trees as a way to express genetics’ complex interaction with environmental influences, which is often oversimplified in public discourse about cloning. These clones are planted in public sites around the San Francisco Bay Area and because they are genetically identical, as they grow, they will express the social and environmental differences to which they are exposed. In an offshoot of this project, so to speak, «Tree Balance,» (2005) Jeremijenko balances two clonedtrees, which «means that the people seeing the clones in the gallery can resolve the small dynamic differences that the clones are accruing. . . . rendering something that would otherwise not be visible to a nonscientific audience.» [21]

Community Art

One of the variants of public art has been so-called «community art,» such as the murals created by Judy Baca with community participation or projects by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. [22] Increasingly, artists such as the collectives Superflex, Mongrel and PDPal are creating platforms for local audiences to utilize without getting very involved in the actual creation of content. The Danish group Superflex’s «Superchannel» is a tool that offers the capability to simply create live Internet TV using off-the-shelf technology. Local groups are able to broadcast local content and host topical chats. In Liverpool, for instance, Superflex was invited by FACT in Liverpool to work with the residents of a local high-rise housing, Coronation Court, to use self-programming as a way to maintain their community while the tower block was being renovated. The

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Nine(9) (Harwood, Graham), 2003PDPal (Bleecker/Paterson/Zurkow), 2003Tapp- und Tastkino (Export, Valie (Höllinger, Waltraud)), 1968

residents’ efforts were so successful that they formed their own group, Tenantspin, which «aims to promote resident participation in regeneration and social housing issues through constructive debate and shared experience.» [23] The UK-based group Mongrel is a community oriented artist collective, which has worked with communities in Hull and London, UK; Adelaide, Australia; Cape Town, South Africa; Helsinki, Finland; and the Bijlmer in Amsterdam, Netherlands. They provide self-created software tools such as «(9) Nine» to enable specific communities from these cities to participate in their selfrepresentation in a way that is both engaging to them and a powerful experience for outsiders. «(9) Nine» is an online space that allows each participant to create a «knowledge map» by uploading text, sound, images and video and composing them according to a recurring pattern of nine elements and linkages. These build up into a grid of hundreds of interlinked maps that become both an expression of each participant’s personal experiences and a way of visualizing the communal interrelationships between them.

Julian Bleecker, Scott Paterson, and MarinaZurkow’s project «PDPal» (2002) uses mapping and narratively driven scenarios to encourage people to self-represent their «image of the city» [24] beyond its Cartesian coordinates. Aggregated together, these image-maps create a «communicity» that is an emergent public space based on use and knowledge «on the ground,» rather than a formally articulated park or plaza.

Art in Public Cyberspaces

While some artists and artist groups create tools and platforms for a participating public to self-represent, others entice the public into complicity in public spaces, such as Valie Export’s classic «Tap and Touch Cinema» (1968). Just as Export brought performance out of the theater into the streets with her project, mixing genres, many new media artists are bringing their work to the ‹streets›— and markets—of cyberspace, where a different audience can be involved. Net artist Rachel Baker has written explicitly about the relationship between the ‹streets› and cyberspace: «The public domain of the street, of ‹outside,› is where the borders of public and private

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‹property› can be tested and contested. The notion that there are ‹no go› areas, that there are systems of exclusion and inclusion built into the surface of the city, is one that prompts the desire to navigate these borders and cross them—find the gaps in between. It is the hacker’s desire, along with the artist and entrepreneur, to be both aesthetic and political. The defining quality that historically hinges the core relationships around Irational.Org is an exploration of that desire.» [25]

In 1997 Baker questioned the boundaries of the economic public sphere with her project «TM Clubcard,» which pirated the loyalty cards of a British supermarket chain, Tesco, and created a kind of Web ring where people holding the cards could be rewarded for surfing to specific sites displaying the Tesco logo, if the club member entered her PIN number into a Web form. The site was eventually closed down through legal action, making explicit many of the property law issues that were to become increasingly prevalent in the ensuing years, challenging and redrawing the public boundaries of cyberspace.

In 2001 Keith Obadike began selling his blackness,«an heirloom in the possession of the seller for twenty-eight years,» in the new virtual public marketplace of eBay. His descriptions of his Blackness—«This Blackness may be used for gaining access to exclusive, ‹high risk› neighborhoods; The Seller does not recommend that this Blackness be used while seeking employment.»— played with various stereotypes, which underlined the project’s connection to historical slave markets. Ultimately, eBay cut the auction short. This kind of censorship is presented by the corporation in question as being responsive to «community values,» but, in fact, it is what the Austrian group Knowbotic Research has dubbed a «legal bug,» which is discussed below.

Space As Public Art

Public Space is traditionally thought of as a site for installations and/or actions. With the advent of cyberspace, it has become another site for such work in the public sphere. Increasingly, however, the fabric of physical public spaces, not just what happens in them, is becoming hybrid, reactive, virtualized. This is happening with all of the traditional public spaces from

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Amodal Suspension (Lozano-Hemmer, Rafael), 2003Vectorial Elevation (Lozano-Hemmer, Rafael), 1999Body Movies (Lozano-Hemmer, Rafael), 2001Peoples\' Portrait (Zhang, Ga), 2004

plazas to lobbies to café’s to the buildings and even the city itself.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s series of «Relational Architecture» works are seminal examples of space as public art. He writes: «Relational architecture can be defined as the technological actualization of buildings and public spaces with alien memory. Relational architecture disorganizes the master narratives of a building by adding and subtracting audiovisual elements to affect it, effect it and re-contextualize it. Relational buildings have audience-activated hyperlinks to predetermined spatiotemporal settings that may include other buildings, other political or aesthetic contexts, other histories, or other physics.» [26] It is the audience-activation aspect that is important in terms of a public discourse. As media theorist Timothy Druckrey writes: «Relational Architecture is neither attempting to ‹build› consensus or to conjure up post-cinema. It is an evocation of the kind of social space in which active participation is not a byproduct, but the driving force in the creation of dynamic agora in which every position is established in an open system that ruptures hierarchies and dismantles thenotion that the pubic is an undifferentiated mass, the media not the harbinger of a utopian global village, interactivity not the opiate of shoppers.» [27]

The New Public Plaza

Two of Lozano-Hemmer’s works, the breakthrough «Vectorial Elevations: Relational Architecture 4» (2000) and «Body Movies: Relational Architecture 6» (2001) specifically transform existing plazas into mediated sites of public action and interaction and in this sense are also platforms in which active participation is the driving force. For Krzysztof Wodiczko’s 2001 «The Tijuana Projection,» the harsh personal experiences of the woman population of the Mexican border city of Tijuana were projected live in audio-visual form onto the monumental dome of the building El Centro Cultural, also turning the prominent public site into a witness of «alien memories.»

In November 2004, «A People’s Portrait» by Zhang Ga simultaneously displayed the portraits of people taken in New York, Singapore, Rotterdam, Linz, and Brisbane on the Reuters electronic billboard in Times Square and other sites in the connected cities, as well

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Access (Sester, Marie), 2003Electronic Café (Galloway, Kit; Rabinowitz, Sherrie), 1984netomat (Wisniewski, Maciej), 1999

as online, transforming the public plazas into translocal sites.

The Liminal Lobby

The lobbies of buildings have always been ambiguously public space. Technically and legally controlled by the building’s owners, and often only used by employees and visitors, nevertheless, lobbies constitute an important interstitial public function in the urban fabric. This ambiguity is perhaps best captured in Marie Sester’s «Access,» (2003) which lets website users anonymously track individuals in public spaces by pursuing them with a robotic spotlight. While it has primarily been shown in the entries of cultural buildings and events, such the Grande Halle de La Villette, Paris, «Access» perfectly identifies the lobby as a liminal zone in which public discourse can be acted out but which is often tracked and scrutinized and, ultimately, chased away. George Legrady’s «Transitional Spaces» (1999) is installed in the lobby of the Siemens World Headquarters, Munich. The movement of people passing through the space trigger narrative sequences on large projection screens. Whilenot reactive, David Small designed a text display system for the lobby of the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity in Boston, where «great ideas from throughout history that have transformed the world in a positive manner» flow from a fountain across the floor to vaulted arches in the walls, where they can be examined like traditional, if changing, carved inscriptions.

The Electronic Café

Since the 19th century, the café has been a commercial establishment important for the public intercourse of a city’s flaneurs. In 1984, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz’s seminal «Electronic Café» for the Olympics Arts Festival introduced networking and multimedia, multimodal computing to the café scene. They went on to found a commercial version of their café, which hosted hundreds of events over the ensuing years.

Since then, the cybercafe has become a staple of contemporary urbanism, but it is also becoming reactive and immersive, not just a place for some computers. Maciej Wisniewski’s «netomat» can be

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Kinetic Light Sculpture (Möller, Christian; Kramm, Rüdiger), 1992Enteractive (Electroland), 2005

installed as wall-size projections, which display via a customized browser, Internet search results based on verbal queries. There are numerous interactive wallpaper projects being deployed, including «Artifacts of the Presence Era,» an installation from the Sociability Group at MIT Media Lab, which uses a geological metaphor to create an impressionistic visualization of the evolving history of a space. «Swiss House» (2001) by Jeffrey Huang and Muriel Waldvogel, while it includes a ‹knowledge café,› is designed to be much more; it is «an inhabitable interface for connecting nations.» Proposed as a means to provide a reverse feedback loop for brain drain from Switzerland to the United States, the principles of the Swiss House included embedded information devices, intimate links between physical and virtual spaces, defined boundaries between public and private spaces, and deliberate use of the senses of perception— acoustic, visual, touch, and smell.

Reactive Architecture

As early as 1954, Nicholas Schöffer created a 50m cybernetic sound tower for the ExpositionInternationale des travaux Publics au Parc de Saint Cloud in Paris. In the 1960s, the British avant-garde architectural group, Archigram, was conceptualizing provocative visions of «Plug-in City,»«Living Pod,» «Instant City,» and «Walking City.» While they were not then buildable projects, their possibility is becoming less outrageous. In 2000, Archigram architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier won an international competition for the Kunsthaus Graz, an alien, blob-like structure, for which realities.united designed «BIX,» a 900 square meter installation of controllable light rings, which acts as an urban screen for artistic production.

Many artists have worked to make building façade’s not just expressive but reactive to various inputs. For Christian Moeller’s «Kinetic Light Sculpture» (1992), the Zeilgallery in Frankfurt changes color according to current weather conditions. For Electroland’s «Enteractive» (2005), pedestrian traffic into the building controls lighting on its façade as does kinecity’s work for «7 World Trade Center» (2005). Ben Rubin is designing a lighting system for the Cellular Biology Building at the University of Minnesota that corresponds to sound levels in more than 50

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Blinkenlights (Chaos Computer Club e.V.), 2001IO_dencies (Knowbotic Research), 1997

microphones throughout the building’s interior. One of the most enjoyable reactive architecture projects has «Blinkenlights» (2003) by the Chaos Computer Club, whose software program «Blinkenpaint» enables users to create animations that can be played on office towers, whose lights are turned into a very large-scale computer screen. It was even possible to play Pong or Tetris on the building façade using a cell phone as the interface. As Inke Arms writes: « ‹Blinkenlights› is not concerned with the aspect of dynamic architecture as media supported ornamentation, but precisely with the maximum possible visibility of a participatory impetus in urban space. It is concerned, in other words, with an emphatic notion of what is public.» [28] The architects Diller + Scofidio have a long history of interactivity integrated into their architectural projects. «Facsimile» (2005) is a 16’ high by 27’ wide video screen that traverses the façade of the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. Live feeds of the interior (private) space are interspersed with various fictional scenes that one could imagine to be happening. On the interior side of the screen, Ben Rubin and Mark Hanson have programmed 3 live feeds of Google tocreate off kilter, poetic news of the outside world.

The City As Interface

But as Archigram theorized and the reactive architecture of individual buildings points to, it is at the scale of the networked city that public space and the new discourse architecture of very large-scale conversations are converging. As researcher Anthony Townsend has written, «while computer scientists’ laboratory fantasies of seamless global access to broadband communications remain unfulfilled, urban research must acknowledge the pace at which reality is rushing to meet those expectations. The potential spatial and social implications of these new infrastructure networks must be identified and explored.» [29] And a number of artists and research projects are addressing the city as a whole. An important early project in this regard is Knowbotic Research’s «I0_dencies» (1997). While it specifically shifted issues about urban processes from the real, physical space into an «experimental field of events and flows in the data network,» [30] «I0_dencies» identified the possibilities in the tension between local

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and global, physical and virtual in imagining «how far the extension of urban areas into the electronic space may allow for the emergence of unfamiliar qualities of the urban.» [31] Moreover, «I0_dencies» brought together architects, urban planners, anthropologists, and city inhabitants in a discussion that provided access to specialists but did not privilege the specialist points of view and indeed created an algorithmic mediation that no one person could control or see how every flow was affected. The (virtual) city and its flows of information and discourse was the interface, larger than any individual, for change and actions.

«D-Tower» (2004) by Q.S. Serafijn and Nox Architects is interesting because it reverses the direction of «I0_dencies», in a sense, from virtual to physical. Residents of Doetinchem in the Netherlands fill out a questionnaire, which contains 360 questions. Every other day, four new questions are made available. An example: «Are you happy with your partner?» Possible answers: «very much»—«yes»—«a little»—«no»—«absolutely not»—«not applicable.» Each answer has a score, and these score can be mapped to the respondents' emotional states—specifically love(red), hate (green), happiness (blue), and fear (yellow). Their answers along with their postal codes are used to create a dynamic, emotional map of the city, showing which parts have a happier profile, for instance. A tower at the edge of town is lit by a combination of colored lights that represents the emotional state of the town that day. If it's too hateful or fearful, you might want to stay away.

Communications Systems

As mentioned earlier, artists have always looked to new technologies to expand their potential audience—among other goals. The same is true for every communications system and its related infrastructure. It is in regard to these communications systems that artists have perhaps most clearly and decisively expanded notions of the public sphere. According to Arns, «Since the 1970s, artists have used their work to address the way public space is increasingly being transformed by the influence of (mass) media and private commercial interests. Pioneers in this field include Dan Graham, Hans Haacke, Sanja Ivekovic, Jochen Gerz, and Jenny Holzer.» [32] As

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PDPal (Bleecker/Paterson/Zurkow), 2003

historian and media critic Tilman Baumgärtel has also written, mail art is «a type of art developed from the Fluxus movement which can be considered a (non-technological) precursor of many telecommunications and Internet projects.» [33] Mail art and Net art are both built on top of networks, through which, theoretically, «art could be democratized and made more accessible.» Paradoxically, as Baumgärtel points out, this did not increase its visibility, «it was the network character that made mail art artists a closed group to which one either belonged or did not.»


With billboards, however, one does not have to participate as a producer to participate as a consumer. The issue for artists, rather, as with TV, is how to both compete with and differentiate from commercial advertising messages. As Les Levine, who created one of the earliest outdoor billboard campaigns «Aim, Race, Take, Steal» in Los Angeles and Minneapolis in 1982–83 writes: «I have for many years concerned myself with the systems of art as they relate to society in general,that is to say with the sociological value of art and art’s real service to society. Media are my materials. I am interested in using media to effect change and understanding of our environment. I want to consider media as a natural resource and to mold media the way others would mold matter. In that sense my new work could be considered media sculpture.» [34] As billboards have become more media-based, so has their use. Jenny Holzer is famous for her various outdoor electronic signage projects. For the media_city seoul biennial, 2000, Hans Ulrich Obrist curated 42 electronic billboards throughout the city by artists including Christian Boltanski, Zaha Hadid, and Pipilotti Rist. Since 2000, Creative Time in New York has sponsored «The 59th Minute» on the NBC Astrovision by Panasonic in New York, a series of 60 second video clips by contemporary artists—including one for «PDPal.» [35] It is the addition of network connections, as with Zhang Ga’s «The People’s Portrait,» however, that begins to make it possible to imagine these billboards as sites of public discourse and not simply public address.

For her project «Poétrica» (2003), Giselle Beiguelman created a font of dingbats and system

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fonts, which would be legible on any device from cell phones to billboards. She then invited the public to submit texts via SMS, the web and wap, which appeared on three electronic billboards in downtown São Paulo. According to Beiguelman, «The nomadic reader is someone who reads on the move, in mobile phones and PDAs, in accordance to entropy and acceleration logic, it is a kind of multi-task reader adapted to distributed content who reads in between, while doing other things… Poétrica seeks that reader: the inhabitant of the global city.»

Tim Etchell’s proposed «Alphabet Billboard Cambridge» (2003) combines aspects of a community platform with electronic billboards. Every week, one inhabitant of Cambridge (England) is able to, essentially, use a 7.5 m billboard as a photo blog, documenting their personal «image of the city» of Cambridge. Over the three-year lifespan of the project, these individuals’ phlogs combine to create a community-based portrait of the city for view by both locals and visitors as they drive by.

Telematic Media

In their excellent resource, «Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality,» authors Randall Packer and Ken Jordan argue that the future of media was first expressed in Richard Wagner’s notion of the gesamstkunstwerk and that in the 150 years since convergence is the defining characteristic of what they call multimedia. «By proposing that the Dynabook be a ‹meta-medium› that unifies all media within a single interactive interface, Alan Kay had glimpsed into the future,» they write. [36]

Whether one considers this a stifling or liberating vision of the future, there is no question that the boundaries between media defined primarily by their technical description—radio, telephone, television, Internet—are breaking down. In 1985 Eduardo Kac created the videotex animated poem «Reabracadabra.» In 2003, he adapted it for cell phone displays, and in the example of Beiguelman, she created her font so it could be displayed on multiple devices, since the texts would be transmitted in multiple ways. In 2002 r a d i o q u a l i a (Honor Harger and Adam Hyde) began broadcasting «Free Radio Linux», an automated reading over the Internet, and at times on radio, 4,141,432 of

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Name.Space (Garrin, Paul), 1991

the Linux kernel’s code. [37] According to Micz Flor, this stream references an earlier media crossing. «In the late seventies and early eighties, pirate broadcasters would exploit the fact that in the early days many computers would store and retrieve code by using audiotapes. The ZX Spectrum is probably the most popular home computer using this technology. Broadcasting such an audio signal allowed listeners to tape the software and load it into their computers. Systems employing different ways of storing data would require special software to modulate it into audio signals, which would then be demodulated by the users at the receiving end.» [38]

In 1995, Guillermo Gómez-Pena and Adrienne Jenik produced «El Naftazteca: Cyber-Aztec TV for 2000 AD,» a live satellite transmission in which Gómez-Pena plays a Cyber-Aztec pirate who commandeers a commercial TV signal from his underground studio. In 2005, as demonstrated by «Superchannel» and numerous other projects, anyone can have their own «TV station.»

The point is that all of these telematic works, regardless of what medium they are modeled on or what media they are combining, extend the publicsphere and create the possibility for extended public discourse. Except…

Code Is Law

In law professor Lawrence Lessig’s «Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace», he argues that how systems are coded – and this can apply equally to business rules and protocols as software written in a formal language – can have the de facto effect of legal enforcement. «We live life in real space, subject to the effects of code. We live ordinary lives, subject to the effects of code. We live social and political lives, subject to the effects of code. Code regulates all these aspects of our lives, more pervasively over time than any other regulator in our life. Should we remain passive about this regulator? Should we let it affect us without doing anything in return?» [39]

There are many artists and cultural organizations taking direct action regarding laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [40] or the DeCSS case, [41] including Paul Garrin’s «Name.Space» project, but I want to focus on two particular aspects of the public sphere in relation to code and legal regimes.

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Minds of Concern: Breaking News (Knowbotic Research), 2002

The Legal Bug

For the 2002 exhibition «Open_Source_Art_Hack» at the New Museum curated by myself and Jenny Marketou, Knowbotic Research proposed the work «Minds of Concern: Breaking News». For it, they created a jukebox interface that would select at random the URL of an NGO or cultural organization. It then performed a port scan [42] , which their legal counsel had determined was, in fact, legal, even under the restrictions of the recently passed Patriot Act, as long as there was no attempt to «enter» the server through any identified security weakness. «Minds of Concern» did not publicly identify the sites it scanned, and viewed it as a kind of public service, warning under-resourced organizations about potential vulnerabilities. It turned out, however, that the New Museum’s internet service provider had a clause in their commercial contract with the museum, which prohibited port scanning for any reason. The museum and curators were unable to provide the necessary support to fight the ISP or find an alternative, and the project was shut down. Knowbotic then added in largevinyl letters on the walls of the installation: «_Legal Bug_Artistic_Self_Censorship_» making explicit, the ultimate—and immediate— consequences of such «benign» legal bugs, about which the «New York Times» wrote: «The dispute calls attention to one of the very points the piece is intended to make. Because the lines between public and private control of the Internet are not yet clearly defined, what artists want to do may be perfectly legal, but that does not mean they will be allowed do it.» [43] The legal bug is an insidious restriction of the public sphere.

The Digital Commons

To an extent, the legal bug can also work in reverse. Lessig helped establish the organization Creative Commons in part to use the legal system to ensure that intellectual property could be reused under conditions spelled out in a creative commons license. As they put it, «Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright—all rights reserved—and the public domain— no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work—a some rights

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Opus (Raqs Media Collective), 2001Swipe Bar (Swipe)

reserved copyright.» [44] This concept builds on Richard Stallman’s original GNU project, the idea of «free as in free speech» software, and «copyleft» protection. [45] Many artists and artist groups have structured projects around related concepts. Raqs Media Collective’s «OPUS» (2003), for example, is an «open platform for unlimited signification,» which encourages users to upload texts, images, audio, and video for others to freely modify. Modifications are called «rescensions,» a powerful concept, which Raqs defines in «A Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons» as: «A re-telling, a word taken to signify the simultaneous existence of different versions of a narrative within oral, and from now onwards, digital cultures. Thus one can speak of a 'southern' or a 'northern' rescension of a myth, or of a ‹female› or ‹male› rescension of a story, or the possibility (to begin with) of Delhi/Berlin/Tehran ‹rescensions› of a digital work. The concept of rescension is contraindicative of the notion of hierarchy. A rescension cannot be an improvement, nor can it connote a diminishing of value. A rescension is that version which does not act as a replacement for any other configuration of its constitutive materials.The existence of multiple rescensions is a guarantor of an idea or a work's ubiquity. This ensures that the constellation of narrative, signs and images that a work embodies is present, and waiting for iteration at more than one site at any given time. Rescensions are portable and are carried within orbiting kernels within a space. Rescensions, taken together constitute ensembles that may form an interconnected web of ideas, images and signs.» [46]

Resistance and Engagement

In the face of both the privatization of the public sphere and government curtailment, often on security grounds, a number of artists are leveraging the network to monitor the monitors. Ryan McKinley’s «Government Information Awareness» (2003), for instance, was a distributed platform linking various publicly available databases and constituent input to create a knowledge base about U.S. government officials that mirrors, at least metaphorically, the government’s renamed versions of its «Total Information Awareness» program. [47] «Swipe» (2004) is a bar, which Beatriz da Costa, Jamie Schulte, and Brooke

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Singer use to «serve up a lot more than just wine and spirits.» In their performances, they use real-time datamining to present detailed profiles of patrons based simply on reading the magnetic stripes on their drivers’ licenses. Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon’s «The Status Project» (2004) looks at how people can utilize a database of Do-It-Yourself strategies to meet the bureaucratic requirements for the possession of official identification – from birth certificates to passports. An exhibition such as «Kingdom of Piracy» is an «open work space to explore the free sharing of digital content—often condemned as piracy—as the Net's ultimate art form.» [48]

Making Things Public

In 1997 Eleanor Heartney identified a «third way» of public art, different than the prototypical examples of Richard Serra and Scott Burton, writing: «Although they exist at opposite ends of the public art spectrum, these two examples are united by a failure to grapple with the real complexities of the public context—Serra by reenacting the old standoff between avant-garde artist and philistine public and, Burton by conceiving ofthe public as some kind of uniform mass unproblematically joined by common interests. . . Recently, however, a third approach has begun to surface in the work of artists like Dennis Adams, Alfredo Jaar, Krzysztof Wodiczko and Jenny Holzer that conceives of the city as a locus of competing interests, ideologies, and languages, and infiltrates preexisting forums and forms in order to dramatize rather than resolve conflicts inherent in modern life.» [49]

Heartney’s formulation, similar conceptually to Mouffe’s contested, agonistic democracy, cites the city as the public sphere, but the cybrid environment cannot be ignored—public space is both physical and virtual. Even more importantly, how do we interpret this contest? If not consensus, how do we measure the «will of the people?» As Bruno Latour writes about the exhibition «Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy»: «Our notions of politics have been thwarted for too long by an absurdly unrealistic epistemology. Accurate facts are hard to come by and the harder they are, the more they entail some costly equipment, a longer set of mediations, more delicate proofs. Transparency and immediacy are bad for

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Community Edit (Nold, Christian)

science as well as for politics; they would make both suffocate. What we need is to be able to bring inside the assemblies divisive issues with their long retinue of complicated proof-giving equipment. No unmediated access to agreement; no unmediated access to the facts of the matter. After all, we are used to rather arcane procedures for voting and electing. Why should we suddenly imagine an eloquence so devoid of means, tools, tropes, tricks and knacks that it would bring the facts in the arenas through some uniquely magical transparent idiom? If politics is earthly, so is science… .» [50]

What are the «tools, tropes, tricks and knacks,» such as Christian Nold’s «Community Edit» (2003), software for distributed, collaborative editing of multiple, discrete video sources to create media-based community documentation of a public event, which create a public art for the public sphere? The question remains how that also leads to public knowledge and how this knowledge could be defined.

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