Following on my last post about the wildness of urban spaces, I want to share artist Graham Coreil-Allen’s systematic investigation of interstitial urban spaces, which serves to bring awareness to these ambiguous sites, claiming them therefore for public life – along with what they offer: a sense of displacement, awe, irritation, openness, creativity, play, potential. From his text, The Typology of New Public Sites,
Somewhere between a suburban strip mall and its urban surroundings lies a poetic amalgam of space both epic and discrete. Situated within disparate zones of overlap, contradiction, ambiguity and interstice, the ongoing New Public Sites project investigates the ways in which invisible sites and overlooked features exist within our everyday environment.
New Public Sites (NPS) invites a practice of “radical pedestrianism”. If a pedestrian is simply a person traveling by foot, a radical pedestrian is one who travels by foot through infinite sites of freedom, both concrete and dispersed. The radical pedestrian tests the limits of and redefines public space through drifting direct action and insightful discourse.
The NPS project intensifies the publicness of its given spaces while simultaneously cultivating new “publics” among interested participants. The mere act of identifying the sites and representing them through physical installations, dispersed media and promoted events raises awareness of the spaces while also making them more physically and digitally accessible.
The Typology of New Pubic Sites, Graham Coreil-Allen, 2010 Maryland Institute College of Art
The actions and language of NPS are playful and poetic, systematically drawing attention to ambiguity without taming its wildness. This playfulness resists affirming stable identities, such as the idealized urban sites we think we inhabit (home, work, commerce, manufacturing, transit). Instead it can locate the experience of the actual sites we collectively move through on a daily basis (“parking archipelago,” “desire line,” “box of uncertainty”) by focusing on effect, interrelationship and humour.
New Public Sites makes an important point about the wildness of urban spaces. Untamed public spaces are sites necessary for democratic engagement, whether it’s in the form of a demonstration or a community garden. The combination of publicness and undesignated use makes the creative re-imagining of culture possible.
Coreil-Allen speaks to civic engagement and the unique beauty of untamed public space in a profile on the podcast 99% Invisible. You can download the text The Typology of New Public Sites at the website, where you can also access the online Typology database, which can be turned into a web app on your smartphone (instructions are on the site).