Closed to the public at Melbourne Art Fair

Catherine and Amy will present a new work, Closed to the public (protecting space), at the 2014 Melbourne Art Fair, as part of the MAF Edge Program, “Social Capital“, curated by Jacqueline Doughty. We will employ two security guards to protect a demarcated area of the Royal Exhibition Building while the Art Fair is open, from 13-17 August 2014. If patrons and visitors to the Art Fair accidentally or deliberately cross into this space, security guards will remove them.

The work’s creation was prompted by reflection on the regulation and control of the public sphere, from the repressive presence of private security operators to the mundane signage and markings that are used to control our everyday movement in urban environments. We are interested in what spaces are still available to the free movement and assembly of the public.

Victorian Police protect an East West Link tunnel drilling site. Photo: Nicole Garmston.

Victorian Police protect an East West Link test drilling site. Photo: Nicole Garmston.

The ‘maintenance of public order’ is often used as a justification for our restricted access to truly public spaces. The British philosopher and journalist, Nina Power, writing in a UK context in Strike Magazine, describes the policing of public order as follows:

The public – that living body of astute passions – has been squeezed out of existence. No more public space, only public order. This phrase has been going around my head for about a year and a half – when I think about the immense efforts put into guarding every tiny piece of land, of the private ownership of virtually everywhere you can think of, where is the public to go, what is it to do? […] Public order is what the police in their crude way ‘protect’ when they beat protesters back, or cart them off to police stations all over the city, or harass black youth. But ‘public order’ – or, really, the ordering of the public – transcends the police. It is every CCTV camera, every potential ‘have you seen?’ poster, every ‘dob in your scrounging neighbour’ leaflet posted through your door, all the bored security guards whose uniforms are indistinguishable from the cops’ own. Any counter-idea of the public depends upon there being a space for that public to go – a ‘realm’ – but any attempt to find this magical realm, perhaps filled with communist unicorns, results in being ‘moved on’, incarceration or a quick baton to the head.

Closed to the public is part of a series of works that explore the policing and control of what can and can’t appear in public space. These works have included Nothing to See Here (Removal of Sydney Harbour Bridge), a screen-based installation at the 2013 Underbelly Festival, and Nothing to See Here (Dispersal), a performance presented at the 2014 Festival of Live Art.

You can buy tickets to the Melbourne Art Fair here.

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