Tag Archives: homeless rights

Deutsche, R. (1998). _Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics_. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

In this book, Deutsche looks at “cities, parks, institutions, exhibitions, artworks, disciplines, identities” (xi) and “the less visible and the therefore more pressing struggles that…produce and maintain all spaces” (ibid). She names this exploration the “urban-aesthetic”/”spatial-cultural” field, and divides the book into three sections. (All chapters with the exception of “Agoraphobia,” an examination into the various public spheres, were published in the decade prior to 1998).

“…beauty and utility: weapons of redevelopment” (49).

The first, “The Social Production of Space,” maintains the dominant urban-aesthetic discourse obfuscates the city’s use of art to legitimize urban redevelopment. She upholds Lefebvre’s (1991) “appropriation of space,” as well as his characterization of capitalist space as “abstract” since it’s “pulverized,” hierarchical, fragmented by/for commodification, and made homogeneous for easy use/exchange. She affirms that late-capitalism urbanism, with its emphasis on property and exclusion for others’ comfort, shunts to the side those residents no longer useful in the city’s economy (see Castells, 1998; Smith, 1996; Zukin, 1989, 1995, 2010). Deutsche wants a counterpractice to this valorization of public art (which can be monumental, functional, ephemeral, digital) for its “usefulness” (64).

The second part, “Men in Space,” engages with the neo-Marxist geography discourse for forgetting gender altogether. Soja’s (1989) Postmodern Geographies, Harvey’s (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity, and even Davis’s (1990) City of Quartz, despite his using the noir trope, are utterly absent women. In “Boys Town” (1990), Deutsche corrects Harvey’s several mistakes/confusions, particularly his assertion there “is always a politics of representation” (230).

The third, “Public Space and Democracy,” interrogates exactly what is it we mean when we say “public,” and asserts that site-specificity should in fact be a critique of modern art. It is not autonomous, never undocked from arts, social, economic, and political operations. She argues that had Serra’s Tilted Arc (1981) defenders moved past artist/work hagiography and instead demanded actual dialogue about democracy, they might have gotten further. Further, claiming art is transhistorical neutralizes the shift in contemporary art. “Urban space is the space of conflict” (278). There is no absolute social foundation, and the premise that there is one unitary concept of urban space is a conservative one (e.g. notion of appropriateness). When someone has the right to name, they assume the rights of property.

“Conflict, division, and instability, then, do not ruin the democratic public sphere; they are the conditions of its existence” (289).

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Deutsche, R. (1992). Art and Public Space: Questions of Democracy. _Social Text_, 33:34-53.

Rosalyn Deutsche, PhD, Art History from CUNY, is an art historian and critic who teaches modern and contemporary art at Barnard College and Columbia University. She has written on interdisciplinary topics such as art and urbanism, art and the public sphere, and feminist theories of subjectivity in representation. She teaches courses in modern and contemporary art, feminist theory, and urban theory.

Starting with the story of Friends of Jackson Park, who sought to close out “their” (scare quotes intentional) neighborhood park at the night to the homeless, and thus dispossessing them of their “right to have rights” (Arendt), Deutsche avers that public space shows the cracks in a totalitarian system. It’s where “people declare rights and which, paradoxically, is constituted through the declaration” (51). As such, one cannot discuss art in the public realm without talking also about democracy. The need to do so is all the more pressing since public art often articulates the conservative, status quo objectives of the elite, imbuing major redevelopment projects with legitimacy by virtue of their art-ness.

However, if we infuse the notion of the public sphere into public art, we are no longer limited to thinking just about physical public spaces. We can instead think of public art as “a practice that constitutes a public by engaging people in a political debate” (39). Artists can recoup the public purpose of art by resituating “public” in their practice. They do this by: (1) returning to creating actual art, not the developer’s precious, pseudo public art for privately owned public spaces, and (2) exploring “public, rather than the private nature of meaning and subjectivity” (41) of the 70s and 80s.

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Mitchell, D. (1995). The End of Public Space? People’s Park, Definitions of the Public, and Democracy. _Annals of The Association of American Geographers_, 85(1): 108-133.

Don Mitchell, PhD Geography, Rutgers University, is Distinguished Professor at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. His specialties comprise: cultural, urban, and historical geography, public space, landscape, labor, social theory, and Marxism. His publications are grouped thusly: on landscape and laborers; on public space, radical politics and marginalized peoples; on culture, geography, and general trouble making. He approaches these three areas of study through a broadly Marxist, and certainly radical and materialist, framework, starting from the position that scholarship and political commitment cannot be divorced.

Mitchell recounts the controversial decision for UC Berkeley leadership to partner in 1989 with the City of Berkeley to wrest the People’s Park from its marginalized users and turn control over to middle-class and student interests, who believe the conservative argument that in order for public spaces to work, they must be safe, orderly. From the 60s through 80s, Cal students became increasingly conservative, actively avoiding the space, though one official admitted the park was no more dangerous than anywhere else. It was just a matter of perception.

“Activists see places like the Park as spaces for representation. By taking place, social movements represent themselves to larger audiences” (125).

Following Lefebvre’s (1991) two visions of public space, Mitchell argues this is a battle between the City’s desired the park’s representations of space — planned, controlled, orderly — and the park’s experienced representational space — appropriated, lived-in, used for and by the homeless. Without this park and like public spaces, these and all similarly affected homeless struggle and fail to “represent themselves as a legitimate part of ‘the public'” (115). Theirs is a “double-bind” (118) in that they are at once too visible and too defenseless against the interests of late capitalism.

Bringing Fraser’s (1992) subaltern counterpublics to earth, Mitchell avers public space “constitutes an actual site, a place, a ground within and from which political activity flows” (117). In the contemporary city, meanwhile, privatization has been prioritized, evoking Sorkin’s (1992) “disneyfication” of the United States. Boyer (1992) proposes that even diversity in a public space is often artifice: “territorial segregation created through expression of social difference has increasingly been replaced by a celebration of constrained diversity” (120).

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Kohn, M. (2004). Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public Space. New York: Routledge.

Margaret Kohn, PhD in Political Science from Cornell University, is Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Political Science. Her interests are the history of political thought, critical theory, colonialism, and urbanism. She is the author of Radical Space: Building the House of the People and Brave New Neighborhoods. Her new book Political Theories of Decolonization (with Keally McBride) was recently published by Oxford University Press.

Kohn discusses the impact of the proliferation of restrictions and privatization of public space in the United States. She says that while some say we need more civility (read, no homeless) in our public spaces, she advocates for diverse, heterogeneous actions, even civil unrest. Simply, the loss of public space is bad for democratic politics.

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