Foreword – What Does Public Space Do? / Udi Edelman and Yael Messer

Image: From the series “Open Phone Book” by Nilbar Güreş
Translated by: Maya Pasternak

What is public space and how do we operate within it? These are the mutually basic and ungraspable questions we want to investigate as editors of this issue of Ma’arav. In fairness, each concept and its components – space, public and action – demand individual attention. Thus, we wish to ask who and what is considered public, who evades this designation, and who decides. Not to mention, where does this space exist? If at all. And on top of all this, one wonders if public space is something fixed that has always existed or whether it is a cultural and historical construct that was born at a specific moment and that continues to change and be shaped by economic, technological and regimental shifts.
We seek to clarify this host of issues and investigate the emergence of artistic activity in the public sphere – on whether and how it differs from art displayed in designated arts spaces. When does it address public space, as such, and how? Can it foster relationships or alter spaces? Alter the nature of public space itself? How can it open our imaginations to novel ways of inhabiting this or other spaces? This line of thinking gives us the means by which to destabilize the ground beneath our feet, yet such trembling is the foremost sign of renewed and comprehensive thought. We are interested in holding off on concrete solutions in favor of summoning a broad spectrum of answers with which to develop and forge a new course for contemplation and action.
This issue has been assembled as part of the activities of the recently established Institute for Public Presence at the Center for Digital Art. It is the first issue in a series that will engage in the public sphere, in art and actions taking place there, and the notion of publics in general. This series seeks to establish a foundation for reflection and also definition of where we and our peers take interest in this field. In the current issue, we have invited artists, scholars and activists who are occupied by issues of public space on a daily basis to respond to the open-ended and duplicitous question, “What does public space do?” in terms of public space here and today. What makes space public and how does space impact the public? How does public space function and who operates in it?  What actions have meaning?


The issue, “What does public space do?” starts with six papers and will continue to grow in the coming months with additional articles and materials. Hagar Kotef‘s article launches the issue and offers a conceptual examination of public space in order to hone one’s perspective on the relationships of power inherent within it, especially in moments when it seems that public space becomes safer for a particular group. In another investigation, Hadas Ophrat outlines the theoretical framework of the concept of public space and ties it to various types of artistic interventions in urban spaces and its changing face today.
In an article written after the fall of the World Trade Towers, Ariella Azoulay explores the emergence of “the event” as an unexpected occurrence that reaps havoc on public order and shocks all who encounter it. This kind of disturbance interrupts the many mechanisms that maintain order, yet in its aftermath these same mechanisms will immediately normalize it. Azoulay’s reading reveals the various apparatuses continuously operating and offers an analysis from within an encounter with the event.

In an excerpt from Mati Shemoelof‘s book, “Shower of Darkness and Other Stories,” we discover a futuristic and disturbing world where life has entered a post-humanist stage and where buildings and space itself are filled with the spirit of organic life. Every place in this world puts human life in existential danger. And though it differs from our world as we know it, it shares enough of our local history and current events to not quite qualify as a wholly fictional reading experience.
In the visual essay centered on a discarded mattress on a city street, Moran Shoub looks at the absent and neglected through the casual appearance of the discarded in public and considers the implications that private space may be lacking.
Through a unique case study of a public gathering that takes place over time, Aviv Kruglanski proposes a public time and partnership economy based simply on our desire to cooperate in our common spaces and the right that every person and citizen has to reside in them.
This series of essays and those that will follow in the coming weeks, raise theories and attitudes that are not necessarily aligned with one other, but all of them, in one way or another, invite us to pay attention to the details. They ask us not to ignore what is not immediately seen in the public sphere, even when we are prone to ignore our very own presence in it, and contemplate the nature or very existence of this sort of space.
The Institute for Public Presence was established last year within The Center for Digital Art, Holon. The institute seeks to challenge the widespread perception of art and actions in the public sphere and encourages research that will enable the writing of different histories and narratives in relation to our present moment, with an emphasis on the geographical location of the institute – the city of Holon, Israel.  The institute’s site:


Udi Edelman, Curator and Director of The Institute for Public Presence
Yael Messer, Curatorial Fellow of The Institute for Public Presence