Who’s Afraid of Public Space?

Professor Nikos Papastergiadis is a member of the Curatorial Advisory Committee for Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and panelist on the Zoom webinar and podcast of "Think Tank # 1 – Who’s Afraid of Public Space?"

think tank #1Continuing ACCA’s series of Big Picture exhibitions, inaugurated with Sovereignty in 2016–17 and followed by Unfinished Business: Perspectives on art and feminism in 2017–18, ACCA is developing Who’s Afraid of Public Space?, a major exhibition and research project exploring the role of public culture, the contested nature of public space, and the character and composition of public life itself.

Developed over a two-year period in the lead up to ACCA’s summer season of 2021–2022, Who’s Afraid of Public Space? will engage contemporary art and cultural practices to consider critical ideas as to what constitutes public culture and to ask, and who might it be for? The project will explore and animate recent global debates and phenomena including the increasing incursion of private interests into public culture; the dynamic relations between urban design, surveillance, regulation and gentrification; as well as related unsanctioned counter-positions, improvisation and play. It will explore ideas of community, collectivity and the commons; the cultivation of fear in media and urban space; ongoing debates related to the freedom of speech, assembly and censorship; and the public broadcasting of private lives. It will also explore the ways in which technology, knowledge and mobility impact upon and transform our understanding of public space, culture and its values. In the wake of the coronavirus, and the rapidly changing pandemic landscape which we are currently negotiating, the project will also consider the radical shift from the civic space of the public square to the virtual space of the digital commons.

Developed by ACCA curators, working collaboratively with a diverse group of artists, academics and cultural producers, the exhibition adopts a collective curatorial model. Whilst centred at ACCA, the exhibition will extend beyond the walls of the gallery into public space itself – through engagement with and interventions into public and urban realms, mainstream and social media, as well as community centres and academic contexts.

Working with an assembly of collaborators and partners, and informed by a number of workshops, think tanks and public projects over the next eighteen months, Who’s Afraid of Public Space? is organised according to a dispersed, distributed structure, encouraging a polyphonic and polycentric understanding of our increasingly complex public realm.

Led by ACCA’s curatorial team – Artistic Director Max Delany, Senior Curator Annika Kristensen and Curator Miriam Kelly – working in collaboration with a curatorial advisory group comprised of the following members:

Dr Marnie Badham
Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Art, RMIT University;

Eugenia Flynn
Writer, arts worker, community organiser, and PhD Candidate at Queensland University of Technology

Eugenia Lim
Artist, editor and Artistic Director of Aphids

Grace McQuilten
Lecturer in Art History and Theory, and Leader of the Contemporary Art and Social Transformation Research Group, School of Art, RMIT University

Timothy Moore
Director of Sibling Architects, lecturer at Monash University Art, Design and Architecture, publisher and curator of Melbourne Design Week

Professor Nikos Papastergiadis
School of Culture and Communication; and Director of the Research Unit for Public Culture, University of Melbourne

Nur Shkembi
Artist, curator and PhD candidate, University of Melbourne

Jarra Karalinar Steel
Artist, First Peoples Arts officer at City of Port Phillip, creative and cultural consultant, and Master of Arts (Art in Public Space), RMIT University

Project Partners

Abbotsford Convent
Arts Project Australia
Blak Dot
Bus Projects
Footscray Community Arts Centre
among others