Public Space and its Narratives: A (non) Random Distribution

Natalia Botonaki | PhD Researcher, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain

Angela Denore Lopez | Educator, Visual Story-Teller and Founding Member of the Association, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain

Against the linguistic assumption that public is the opposite of private, it is beginning to become clear that with regards to space terms are no longer absolute. “Public” space is increasingly less available, indeed, less public. Judith Butler, in Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly pointed out that “bodies in their plurality lay claim to the public, find and produce the public through seizing and reconfiguring the matter of material environments.” (71) These comments were written in light of the global square movements of 2008-2012. Now, within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic however, public space has become politicized in a radically different manner. In the effort to curtail viral spreading, the random nature of public space has come to be perceived as a danger as opposed to an opportunity. This shift opens a number of questions around the ways in which public space is manufactured through narratives which are (re)produced and contested, vitalizing space, and making apparent its epistemologies. To us, members of a hybrid collective mixing arts, education, and academic research, the interaction between discourses and spaces lays in the foundations of our practice and interests. We therefore consider this an opportunity to explore the academic dimension of this crucial topic. Feminist literature has demonstrated the direct impact of discourse on the distribution of bodies in space, as well as the nuances in the private/public dichotomy (Mernissi, Butler, Woolfe, Zafra, Hernando to name some); we will be using it to shed light on the contemporary distribution of access to space.  Considering that such access is contested through media, we look  at the construction of narratives (Benjamin) within the context of the information economy (Fisher, Berardi, Duque), to arrive at the relevance of the concept of randomness. The Covid-19 pandemic and the measures taken to curtail it have become an opportunity for the elimination of randomness (in movement, in mobility, in space distribution and in the distribution of bodies within space); our hypothesis is that the paradoxical attempts to submit such randomness to control, in fact solidify hegemonic narratives while diminishing the possibilities of transformation of existing space/body dynamics.