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Wim Cuyvers, Intervention on cemetary, 2008

Definitions of Public Space as Common Space

zaterdag 2 mei 2015 14:17
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Wim Cuyvers 

In an article on museums as security space in
the art magazine
Witte Raaf, the architect Wim Cuyvers (google him and his ‘transgressive architecture’) gave a series of definitions of public space that merit to be considered apart
from their context and deserve to be translated, as they give a very unusual
but inspiring content to concept of ‘public space’.


1. Public space is the opposite of private
space, it is the opposite of privatized space.

2. He who privatizes space has acquired this
space, he bought it or has inherited it, he confiscated or occupied it. He is
protected by laws, habits and power.

3. He who privatizes space, has power.

4. He who privatizes space, exercises control
over it.

5. The powerless needs public space.

6. Public space is uncontrolled space.

7. Public space is the space of powerlessness.

8. Public space is economically insignificant,
worthless space.

9. The perfect public space would be this space
where everyone could do anything at any time.

10. So, public space is a Platonic notion: one
hundredth percent public space seems unthinkable.

11. The street is far less public than one
would think at first sight: the street separates various flows of traffic, it
avoids conflict between these various flows of traffic: you need to have a car
to be allowed on one part of the street, or a bike to be allowed on another
part of the street.

12. Likewise, the square is public space only
in limited terms, the pub owner or shopkeeper appropriates this space, installs
his terrace or his goods and carefully sweeps the garbage away.

13. Leisure kills public space.

14. One can recognize public space by garbage littering
it: in society unequivocally focused on profit, the places littered by garbage
are ignored places.

15. Public space is the space of loss, not the
space of profit.

16. In public space garbage is blown against a
vertical structure, a sidewalk, a long wall of an industrial building, a
railway verge, a natural rift: the garbage or those considered garbage by

17. Public space is the space of squander (of
energy), not the space of frugal saving.

18. Public space is, by definition, located
near privatized space; a remote forest is no public space.

19. The moment of social transgression is this
moment when one gets in touch with oneself and the world.

20. Real transgression happens outside of
monitored private space: the child looking to light a small fire, the first
sexual encounters, drugs,…

21. Public space is the space of transgressing the
social norm(s).

22. Public space is the space of being.

23. Public space is the space of non-possessing.

24. Public space is existential space.

25. Public space is the space of need (the
compulsion of having to transgress the societal norm).

26. Public space is the space where those in
need are.

27. Public space is the space where those in
need meet each other.

28. Those in need leave their traces in public
space (garbage from garbage), such as their bodily fluids: tears, urine, blood,
sperm. There is no one to sweep it away, the space belongs to no one, nobody
feels responsible for it, no one has appropriated it.

29. People of different ages, race or culture,
people with very different needs, all seem in search for the same public space.
Those who are, in various ways, in need seem to read space in a virtually
identical way: the child and the aged, the drug addict and the person looking
for impermissible sexual encounters…, all make use of public space in the same
manner: right beside a parking lot near a bustling road, just behind a screen
made of bushes. Those in need, who give in to their need, who accept it, read
the place, read the space in the same way.

30. He who accepts his very own need will see
public space, will read it and understand it. He reads this space as did the
other destitute person, who, before him, has seen and identified the space as
being ‘public’.

31. We all need transgression, we need the
space for the transgression, we need public space; we are all in need and

32. When a writer writes a book, the reader reads
a different book and a next reader will read something else. It seems we can
read space univocally, without disruption or interference, when we accept our
need (instead of power and knowledge, overview and comprehension).

33. Via space a non-verbal – or maybe better
pre-verbal – speaking becomes possible.

34. If I am able to read space in a way similar
to many others, I’m able, across this space, to speak with those others; about
myself, those others, about our needs and our fears, about the world.

35. I can touch you, for just one moment,
through (public) space.

36. Maybe common space, the space we have in
common, is a better word for public space.

these theses are taken from Wim Cuyvers, Musea
voor actuele kunst, van het bordeel via de school naar Ikea.
De Witte Raaf,
editie 128, juli-augustus 2007 (translated by Liesbeth Kennes)

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