Over to Caro:
‘I thought of how some places and spaces have an unwritten convention for how one behaves in that space. For example, I remember watching some documentary about theatre and a big group of young people were taken to the theatre for the first time. They were chatting, eating & drinking and responding vocally to the show with praise or disdain.
Other older theatre goers were tutting away, disgusted at this behaviour. This was, according to them, not how one behaves when you go to a theatre show. It annoyed me that they indirectly disapproved of the new theatre goers’ conduct. There are a few points in this example such as ownership of the space and the fact that no-one had informed the group of young people on how to behave during a theatre show. The anti-authoritarian in me also chuckled at the open-ness and freedom and perhaps increased enjoyment of those who were not confined by the space’s conventions.
Another example was at a concert at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. I was loving the performance so I let out a woo! at the end of a piece. My Mum was surprised but then realised that this was allowed ‘up North’ and remarked on how the crowd were more ‘lively’ and expressive in their response than ‘down South’.
I really like how in Manchester Art Gallery there is a couple of little sculptures that have the instruction – PLEASE DO TOUCH. I love this when we are so often told not to touch artworks.
So I was thinking if we could play with these conventions and perhaps use instructions like ‘Please make sure your mobile phone is switched ON for this part of the show.’
Manchester’s Portico Library
‘Parks are a very good example of a space which welcomes participation, and has an architecture for it (parks have no architecture, more or less!), and facebook is another (though the architecture of facebook, defined by software code, isn’t neutral). The kind of arts space that has the least welcoming architecture for participation, is a rows-of-seats-pointing-at-a-stage theatre. It’s rows of seats, bolted to the floor, all pointing in the same direction, and only usable for two hours a day. An un-reconfigurable space. That’s one of the many reasons why the Pub project at the Royal Exchange was so striking. The audience configure the architecture. They pick up the chairs and move them. They are allowed to do that because they know the rules of pub spaces, and often negotiate them to reconfigure the architecture: “Can I borrow this chair?” “Is anyone sitting here?”
‘Wish You Were Here’ at the Everyman Theatre had the same feel as well. A beach is like a park and a pub. People configure it for themselves. That’s not to say that participation and reconfiguration are always a good thing though. I hate people talking in the cinema, and I like books with a plot!’
Feeling inspired, we had a think about spaces for participation that can be reconfigured:
Mobile phone screens
Places of worship
Weddings (and other ceremonies)
…and participatory public spaces that are, in theory, accessible to all…
Public spaces that are free:
City centre squares
City centre gardens
Railway stations and platforms
Motorway rest stops
Travel on roads – cars, bikes, buses, Walking
Take away food shops (burger king etc, kebabs, fish and chips)
Restaurants (some yes, some no)
Public spaces that you can enter for a fee:
…and this got us thinking about ‘public commons’, ‘a place in our world that has a public good that is free for people to view and enjoy and owned by everyone who wants to be a part of it’, according to Wiki. And of course culture is a kind of commons, one that transcends the limits of spaces.
And some final thoughts…
Participatory ‘public’ spaces
- does free / fee / common / private matter as much as our role in the space?
- people feel comfortable with consumer spaces because they understand their role in the transaction.
- do people still know their role in common spaces?
Private / Commons
- There has been an erosion of the commons. Cities and towns have been taken over by agents. Councils (and so the people) do not own the places they manage.
- Liverpool One is a private, made to look like public space. But you can’t legally protest there.
Main Image: ‘Early Morning in Toytown’ by david anderson, da-photgraphy
An Open and Inclusive North