Who's Afraid of Public Space? opens at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

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Who's Afraid of Public Space? opens at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
Nicola Cortese, Lauren Crockett, Stephanie Pahnis, Reading Space: The Common Room 2021. Courtesy the designers.

MELBOURNE.- Over the summer season, ACCA will present a multifaceted project of exhibitions and programs exploring the role of public culture, the contested nature of public space, and the character and composition of public life. Taking place at ACCA, the project will also extend across the city through a series of satellite exhibitions in collaboration with cultural partners – Abbotsford Convent, Arts Project Australia, Blak Dot Gallery, Bus Projects, City of Melbourne, Footscray Community Arts, Metro Tunnel Creative Program and Testing Grounds – as well as installations and projects in the public realm.

Who’s Afraid of Public Space? continues ACCA’s Big Picture exhibition series which explores contemporary art’s relation to wider social, cultural and political contexts. This major exhibition and research project will engage contemporary art and cultural practices to consider critical ideas as to what constitutes public culture and ask who is public space for?

Developed by ACCA curators alongside a curatorial advisory group and a diverse group of collaborators and partners, and informed by a series of workshops, think tanks and public projects, the exhibition will be hosted at ACCA as well as extending beyond the walls of the gallery into public space itself, with artist projects and interventions occurring at partnering venues and in the public realm across Melbourne over the summer months.

ACCA Artistic Director/CEO Max Delany said that “Who’s Afraid of Public Space? will explore and animate recent debates and phenomena related to the increasingly contested nature of the public sphere; the dynamic relations between urban design, surveillance, regulation and gentrification; as well as ideas of place, community, collectivity and the commons.”

While the exhibition was first conceived over two years ago, the pandemic has amplified global discussions around the character of public and private space. As Delany notes: “Over the past eighteen months many of us have conducted our working and social lives from bedrooms and living rooms, and at the same time we have developed a more intense relationship with our local neighbourhoods. Who’s Afraid of Public Space? also explores these developments and the radical shift from the civic space of the public square to the virtual space of the digital commons”.

“As we emerge from separations caused by lockdowns, we are excited to present a program that encourages dialogue with ACCA as an institution and our communities and wider publics. The exhibition also encourages the idea of the city as a studio in which artists create new perspectives, connections and ways of being together,” Delany said.

ACCA as a CIVIC Space

In considering the role of the gallery as a public space, ACCA will open its four galleries up to the public as civic spaces to be programmed and occupied for multiple uses by diverse communities. Artworks and new commissions will be presented across the galleries, alongside a series of gathering, education and common rooms, providing a conversational starting point to the extended exhibition, while also reflecting on the theme of public space more broadly.

ACCA’s four galleries will take the form of:

• Gathering Space: Ngargee Djeembana, a large topographical installation and gathering space in ACCA’s main exhibition hall designed by N’arweet Carolyn Briggs AM and architect Sarah Lynn Rees which explores the materiality of public space and Country. This space will be available to be booked for community events, programs and gatherings throughout the duration of the exhibition.

• A dedicated Education Space: Making Art Public, curated by artist and ACCA Educator Andrew Atchison, presents models, maquettes and concepts for significant works of public art by leading Australian artists, as a stimulus for students and members of the public to consider new forms of art in public space. The Education Space will also host artists in residence, school programs and education and making workshops. Students can propose and design their own public artworks using an array of media and techniques.

• Reading Space: The Common Room, a dedicated reading lounge offering books and digital resources related to urban design, architecture and public art projects. Designed by Nicola Cortese, Lauren Crockett and Stephanie Pahnis, the space will be available for small community meetings such as book groups, readings, university tutorials and other gatherings.

• Project Space: The Hoarding, designed by Sibling Architecture, will bring together documentation of ACCA’s off-site program, and partner-led projects, while also considering the polyphonic language, materiality and expansive nature of public space.

Beyond the gallery walls

Who’s Afraid of Public Space? will extend beyond the walls of ACCA with a program of artists’ projects, interventions and events presented in public spaces across Melbourne, from billboards and public announcement speakers to suburban shopfronts, carparks, public squares and housing developments.

Participating artists and artistic collaborations include Guled Abdulwasi, APHIDS, Beth Arnold and Sary Zananiri, Jon Campbell, Michael Candy, Simona Castricum, Keg de Souza, Field Theory, Laresa Kosloff, Callum Morton, Steven Rhall, Hoang Tran Nguyen, David Wadelton, and XYX Lab create engaging, incidental and often surprising works – including interventions into public architecture, broadcast and communications systems, guided walking tours, excursions and karaoke performances.

Satellite exhibitions and events

A program of exhibitions and events created by landmark Melbourne cultural organisations and arts initiatives, including The Abbotsford Convent, Arts Project Australia, Blak Dot Gallery, Bus Projects, City of Melbourne, Footscray Community Arts, Metro Tunnel Creative Program, and Testing Grounds will also explore and elaborate upon the theme.

“Off-site and satellite programs offer a range of diverse perspectives on the subject of public space, whilst also contributing to the reactivation of the city in the wake of Melbourne’s extended lockdowns,” Max Delany said. “In the spirit of openness, inclusion and civic generosity, programs are free and have been designed for audiences to gather together to participate in the exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

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