Public space within the urban fabric of our cities has been under increasing scrutiny within contemporary art and architecture practices, driven by the renewed interest in public art commissions, a re-examination of the modernist vision of utopia (including the commons) and the ongoing development of particpatory practices (informed by open and neworked practices). This project moved toward an experimental collective exploration of a question informed by the specifics of one place, often regarded bythe uninformed as a dangerous space.
Peckham Square is in an area of South London associated by the media and non-residents as confounded by crime, gangs and anti-social behaviour. As local residents, we were responding to a brief to create a platform for another artist - Manu Luksch. Office of Experiments worked to examine how to challenge the public spatial imaginary through this project, and to create a new temporary structure in relation to specific questions of surveillance - of critical importance to the local community as well as an ongoing national debate.
Office of Experiments worked with Manu to describe the project in relation to the Human Rights Act, and how it relates to issue of ownership, rights and usage of public space. Seeking to help those who live, work and play in the area, the project sought to inform through debate, discussion and practice, the way in which space has become shaped by such laws, and what routes there are to resistance from surveillance and invasive forces, governmental or private.
In order to create a work that could exist in the public space for a week, The Office of Experiments Kiosk was developed. As a form of information kiosk, the structure became the home for a number of projects, and a visible focus for discussion and informed debate throughout the week. On entering, visitors could watch films, use the panotpicscope or read publications. This included a viewing device to show a series of 3d Films made by Manu Luksch with a local community video group Flix interpreting the local bye-laws. Working with Neal White, Marsha Bradfield edited an official Office of Experiments publication; 'A Field Guide to Unpermitted Events' - see right and artist John Hill developed a low budget periscope - a panoptic proposal allowing visitors (of all ages) to survey the square from inside the Kiosk.
During the week, the Kiosk created an interface to many hundreds of people. In creating a space for the discussion of the role of art, bye-laws, personal rights, access and attitudes towards self-governance, it was clear that we were less invloved in engaging an audience, than being engaging by the emancipated spectator, becoming ourselves a form of listening post. Open 7 days for 8 hours a day, it was an intense and rewarding experience for all involved.
Some of the issues raised were bought together in a public debate 'Civil Liberty and Art' within Peckham Library with the political public-think tank DEMOS, and included local residents, community groups as well as an audience interested in human rights.
As this was an experiment into creating open social structures based on previous project such as Space on Earth Station with N55, we chose to ignore the warnings and recommendations from local community police officers, the council and other insititutions to install surveillance, grills and other protections. The Kiosk was placed as an open gesture, and was embraced, remaining perfectly intact throughout the week, and with many calls to leave it in place.