Writing in public space considers artistic research as a performative act whilst bringing artists and writers together to make notes in public space. Rather than conducting research with results and newness in mind being a group of wit-h-nessing writers in public space animates the public space as collective and the writers as inderdepending bodies.
The writerly practice is inspired by the French writer Georges Perec and his experimental book Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien, or An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. Drawing from this work the current development suggests that writing happens on a corporeal basis merging the cerebral and physical – suggesting scores emphasizing different senses, such as write about softness and hardness, writing is tested as a bodily resource.
Georges Perec observed Place Saint-Sulpice in October 1974. His idea was to pay attention to the seemingly insignificant, and to notice what is taking place when nothing special is happening. In many ways this writerly method is put in practice anew by writing together, but within circumstances that manifest societal changes. Writing an inventory of public space, or rather attempting to do it, in the 70’ could be seen as a re-installation of the everyday in Cold War Europe whereas contemporary technological surveillance of public space implements governability. Writing in public space is site-specific and time-bound challenging a panoptical gaze with bodily descriptions.
Perec noted down the date, time of day, place and weather, and then went on to write a list of what was happening within his field of vision. This field is now expanded to include a multitude of bodily senses and their production of corresponding fields or maybe intra-active layers. Perec returned on three successive days and was himself gradually transformed into one of the recurrent figures in the square. His writing, in turn, successively altered what he was observing; the square became a text and a written rendition of a public space. This dimensionality or rather movement between the different dimensions that text, space and image bring forth is paralleled with how the writerly subjects merges. An issue is how transformation can be distinguished from malleability and if there is an indexical surface, action, expression or moment.
A Chronology of Writing in Public Space
Writing in public space was tested as Wording – Collaborative Writing in Public Space during the Research Pavilion #3 in Venice 2019 as a language-based artistic research collaboration. 50 artists took part in the workshop organised 12 - 14 June 2019; 16 in Venice and 34 in different locations from Medellín in Colombia to Marksjön in Sweden. For further information on the performative reading or Rewording please visit the exposition Reading on Reading: Ecologies of Reading and Site and Subjectivity at https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/618624/687608
A second event in conjunction with the activities of the Special Interest Group as well as the artist-run initiative Platform took place in Vaasa, Finland, 13 - 19 September 2020 when six writers came together to write on the market square Kauppatori in Vaasa.
The setting for this collaborative work was an understanding of knowledge as something provisional, limited and maybe insufficient, and that in addition to creating knowledges we also need to develop, learn and practice skills of sharing.
The aim was to investigate collaborative writing in public space as a method and to try out different writing assignments – especially with a focus on the implications of writing in public space. Each participant proposed writing assignments, scores or prompts, which were tested by writing together on the site. The next steps were to read the texts and to redefine the writing restrictions, and then consequently retry and reassess them. The different assignments brought attention to distinct features of the site/text whilst giving momentum to the practice of writing. An assignment could focus on writing from the viewpoint of the body and pay attention to who crosses the square, in what way and for how long, or focus on commercial or informative texts that are on display in and around the square and how they guide, inform or determine our whereabouts. Another way to observe the square was to parallel its visual surveillance and write about that what footage monitoring cannot claim. The matter of fact, observational writing were contested by a prompts giving the market itself an animate, breathing role.
The week of collaborative writing was an attempt to focus on skills that traverse the normative borders of writing, encouraging the group to explore writing as integrated, intersectional, active and embodied. What qualities does collective writing encourage? How is it possible to install narratives for compassionate social co-existence in public space by doing writing experiments? What does corporeal writing signal and how is it read? What does writing collectively discern, differentiate and announce? How is collaborative writing an affirmative gesture? What if our own experiences of being private citizens in public space betray any clean distinction between public and private, personal and political? What does the experience of being an observed body teach us about the act of observation, the mechanisms of the gaze and the politics of noticing?
Writing in Public Space is conceived and organised by Lena Séraphin as a part of a Sharing Text a 3-year program and postdoctoral research on publishing and collective writing in public space. Sharing Text is funded by the Pro Artibus Foundation and supported by the Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies at Åbo Akademi University.