Art & the Public Sphere

PhD Seminar
Date/Time: Wednesday, 20th January, 5pm-7pm
Venue: Senate House, 1 Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU (Room 261)

Invited Guest
 (30 minutes + discussion)
Dr. Mel Jordan 
Royal College of Art

To what extent can public sphere theory contribute to the understanding of art, its function and its publics in the practice of the Freee art collective 2004- 2012?
Freee’s art practice (2004 – 2012) has been concerned with the notion of the public sphere. My research proposes that the use of public sphere theory -the philosophy of participatory and deliberative democracy in general – could aid a more complex analysis of art and it’s onlookers.  Public sphere theory theorized by Williams (Williams: 1958), Habermas (Habermas: [1962] 1989), Mouffe (Mouffe: 1999), Fraser (Fraser: 1990) – suggests ways in which dialogic understanding and the resolution of differences may aid engagement by a range of publics, including those normally marginalized or excluded from the public sphere. This presentation will introduce the theory of art and the public sphere and discuss how my art practice was used as a methodology for addressing the problems outlined in the research.

> Dr Melanie Jordan is an artist and academic; she works collaboratively with Dave Beech and Andy Hewiit as the Freee art collective. Jordan’s research is engaged with problematising the historical understanding of public art by utilising public sphere theory to enable a new understanding of art and its publics. Jordan is principal editor for the journal, Art and the Public Sphere.  

Student Presenters
 (15 minutes each + discussion)
Dawn Woolley (Royal College of Art, Photography)
I am and have a female body. Using psychoanalysis, Marxism and feminist discourse I examine my own experience of being an object of sight. In earlier work my body only ever appeared as a photograph, in my current work I replace my body entirely with the objects it consumes and is inscribed by. Through the consumption of commodities people increase their own value; they become commodities. My research tracks how bodies of consumers and artists are incorporated into the signifying system of commodities. I make artwork that plays with the ideological messages of commodities, in an attempt to bring them to the attention of viewers. To achieve this I present my work in the public realm. I buy commercial advertising spaces and billboards, populating them with artworks that critique the contradictory messages of consumerism. To reach a wider audience and intervene in a commercial space more cloaked and insidious than traditional advertising media, I began making work for social networking sites. This presentation will centre on social networking sites as sign-value exchange networks and potential spaces for disruption where commodities can be inhabited and made to act abnormally.

> Dawn Woolley completed her undergraduate degree in printmaking 2001 and has since developed a visual art practice that encompasses digital video, installation and performance and photography. Recent exhibitions have included; “”Basically. Forever” Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and “Recollection” Ruimte Morguen Gallery, Antwerp (2014). Solo exhibitions include; “Visual Pleasure”, Hippolyte Photography Gallery, Helsinki, Finland (2013); “Visual Pleasure”, Vilniaus Fotografijos Galerija, Lithuania (2012) and “Visual Pleasure” at Ffotogallery in Cardiff (2011). She is currently undertaking PhD research in photography at the Royal College of Art. The broad aim of the research is to articulate a form of fetishism, which is not based on sexual difference but historicised as a capitalist pathology. She explores the relationship between people and objects, and the impact of images as disseminators of sign value. 

James O’Leary
 (University of Brighton, Architecture)
In this presentation I shall discuss my research, which aims to establish new modes of architectural representation and proposition conducive to working in politically contested architectural sites. Focusing on the ‘Interface Areas’ that separate Nationalist and Protestant communities in Belfast, I undertake a practical and theoretical investigation into the architect’s role in the transformation of blighted urban areas that have been neglected through the course of political conflict. I propose to innovate tools and tactics appropriate for architectural intervention into these areas in two specific ways. Firstly, by developing new modes of site analysis that employ 3D scanning, video recording and time-based media to draw-out and communicate the complexities and tensions in a given site. Secondly, by mobilising the ‘architectural device’ as a propositional spatial and technological tool capable of probing the limits of architectural possibility on such sites, where more permanent structures would prove divisive.

> James O’Leary is a RIBA qualified architect and installation artist. His work explores the inter-relationship between human beings and the spatial systems we inhabit. As a practitioner and academic operating between the disciplines of art and architecture, his specific interests include narrative, interactive and reflexive systems in architecture; performative and site-specific practice in contemporary fine art; and the codification and documentation systems deployed in these fields. He has held previous positions in architecture practices including Hopkins, MasaStudio, SoftRoom, Theis & Khan and in academia at the Royal College of Art and Chelsea College of Art & Design. He is currently a Lecturer in Innovative Technology and Design Realisation at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, where he leads the M.Arch Architecture Design Realisation Programme. He is co-founder of, and collaborator with, Kreider + O’Leary (

Hattie Coppard
 (Royal Holloway, Geography)
To stop and simply observe the world forces an alteration of established ways of seeing and reveals what is difficult to grasp when going along with the flow – the complex, multi-layered, fullness of ‘now’. Thrift (2004) argues that ‘practices of slowness’ such as those associated with creativity and contemplation, provide a way of experiencing the world directly as it is rather than as it is assumed to be, challenging the rationalist and progress-orientated assumptions of modern capitalism. Skilful observation requires simultaneous detachment and engagement, artists talk of evoking a state of ‘un-knowing’, a space of open-minded investigation in which thought and experience merge and where no answers or conclusions are being sought (Fisher, 2013). This is a mode of enquiry that places affect and subjective experience at the heart of the research process, enabling sense and meaning to emerge through an embodied and imaginative response of the observer. Following a (very) brief discussion of different ‘ways of knowing’, I will invite the group to participate in a simple activity that turns everyday expectations on their head and enables a way of experiencing the world afresh.

> Hattie Coppard is founder and director of snug & outdoor, an artist-led company who design original playful environments in the public realm. For more than 25 years she has explored the relationship of object, environment and behaviour through exhibitions, public art, urban design schemes and experimental play projects. Frustration with conventional evaluation methods and the ways in which lived experience is equated with measureable outcomes led Hattie first to an MA and now a PhD in play and play work. Raising questions about the relationship of an artist’s practice and academic research, she explores ways of seeing and making meaning and the relationship of play and place-making.

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