Posts Tagged 'Experiments on Public Space'

Experiments on Public Space

As part of my time as a McDermott Intern in Education at the DMA, I was given the opportunity to carry out an independent project. Experiments on Public Space (EPS)started with the aim of evaluating and measuring “publicness” through a research approach that is grounded in artistic practice. From the beginning, the project hoped to contribute to the Museum by initiating an active reclaiming of publicness of the institution through the creation of opportunities for thought, transformatory participation, and active discussion. By doing this, the project’s ambition for the DMA was, and is, to exemplify and animate what it means to be a public museum in the 21st century.

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The decision to focus on the issue of publicness is responsive not only to the field of art and culture but also to a globalized context in which our notion of democracy and democratic space is constantly being tainted and distorted. The project is a result of my past research, and my belief that performance art and participatory projects have the ability to provide social, political, and/or personal experiences.

The project launched during the February Late Night with Gesture—Tribute to Tania Bruguera, an unannounced performance that placed Museum visitors in crowd control situations. The piece was the first attempt at creating a space in which to ask participants to explicitly consider the differences between public and private, control and freedom, access and limitations.

The second experiment, Alternative Signage, took place during the March Late Night. This program, which was the result of a collaboration with the DMA/Perot Museum of History and Science Teen Advisory Council (T.A.C.), was also a performance piece where I and a group from the T.A.C. intervened in Museum spaces by installing alternative signs that were conceptualized and designed over a period of three months. The signs reworked and reimagined the ways text, symbols, and signage can influence participation and experiences, and therefore overall publicness.

I Am a Monument… is the third of four experiments that constitute EPS. The program involves a series of workshops that were held during the Museum’s Studio Creations program with guest artist Giovanni Valderas; visitors worked collaboratively to build a temporary monument recognizing and celebrating the Latino community of Dallas. The workshop itself becomes a gesture of coming together to celebrate and participate in this building of relationships between communities. The unveiling of the monument, in the shape of an arch, will create a passageway that represents the desire for mutual understanding and the welcoming of the Latin American community. See it revealed on the Ross Avenue Plaza during this month’s Late Night on Friday, April 17!

Experiments on Public Space will come to a close with a fourth and final program, a panel discussion titled when “public” becomes a verb…, which will bring together four speakers to present a series of visual statements produced in collaboration with the DMA and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science Teen Advisory Council (T.A.C.). The panel discussion will take place during the May Late Night on Friday, May 15, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Center for Creative Connections Theater.

Poster 1 of 4 - Example

For EPS, each program was conceived as a way of collecting “data on publicness” of the Museum. The results of these “experiments” will be on display at the Center for Creative Connections beginning on April 17. Visitors will become evaluators of this data, providing their thoughts and comments and an overall measurement of the individual issues of publicness explored in this project through a series of interactive activities in the space.

Eliel Jones, McDermott Education Intern for Visitor and Community Engagement at the DMA.

Experiments on Public Space

The word public is defined as an adjective: it is used to attribute a quality to someone or something, usually modifying and describing a noun. But what happens when public becomes a verb–an action, a state, the main part of a sentence? Public suddenly stops being passive and becomes active–an occurrence, a happening, an event…

But what makes a museum public? What are its responsibilities? How do we build democratic space/vision? Is it possible or necessary? And if it’s true that we’re losing publicness, how do we reclaim it back?

These are some of the questions I hope to explore with my new work, Experiments on Public Space (EPS). EPS came about thanks to the opportunity to carry out an independent project as part of my McDermott Internship at the Dallas Museum of Art. My background in both research and artistic practice is focused in an interest to understand, explore and expand the ways audiences interact/participate with contemporary art. This project is an extension of that line of inquiry specifically looking at institutional contexts.

Experiments on Public Space / Dallas Museum of Art, February - May 2015

Experiments on Public Space / Dallas Museum of Art, February – May 2015

I’m fascinated by the language used in museums when referring to issues around publicness, because what do we actually mean when we refer ourselves as a “public museum”? What does it entail? How does a public museum feel or look? What do our visitors understand by “public”? Are they not the public themselves? And why probe publicness? Why now? Why here?

Coming from England, I was very curious about the differences between public cultural institutions here in America and those back in Europe. I think the dialogue is particularly of relevance to the DMA because of its historical founding as a public museum and it’s recently reestablished free general admission, something that is rare in this country. I’m also intrigued by the context of the Museum in a city as diverse as Dallas. Considering the city’s large latino population, I want to explore the standings of the institution in serving a wide range of communities.

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The project itself is built on a series of practice-based evaluation methods that take place in the Museum. The public will provide the data with their participation in performances, interventions, seminars and workshops, aiming to collaboratively measure the publicness of the environment in which the institution acts. With this approach I hope to implement active research into the life of the Museum, collecting both inside and outside voices as a way of opening up dialogue. In this sense, the project uses unconventional evaluation methodologies to promote opportunities for reflection, thought, participation and active discussion. The goal is that through these programs, we might collectively exemplify and animate publicness and what it means in the context of museums in the 21st century.

Alternative Signage

Members of the DMA/Perot Teen Council during a production session for “Alternative Signage”, one of the EPS programs happening during March Late Night.

Confused? Challenged? Excited? – This is a very brief introduction to a project that has almost taken a life of its own. Publicness is a complex issue that touches upon many different fields and it is easy for it to be overlooked or even forgotten. With EPS I hope to bring it back to the fore in an attempt to reclaim its importance. I believe there is a big difference between possessing a quality and being one, and it is crucial that we understand the difference. To claim ‘publicness’ requires more than a certain kind of perception or view; it demands responsibility and action.

Program scheduling will be published on the DMA website, under Center for Creative Connections –  Community Projects. I hope you’ll join me in this experiment!

Eliel Jones
McDermott Intern for Visitor Engagement


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