- Urban Encounters: Art and The Public ed. by Martha Radice and Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier
This collection of essays explores the intricate relationship between the cultural and the urban in contemporary Canadian cities with an emphasis on reciprocity and the potential transformations that public art and the city may produce on each other. It works with a general notion of public art as agent of inflection in the social and cultural life of the city and probes that potential for active change in a selection of art media and genres through the trope of the encounter between art and the public. The specific urban/art spaces examined are in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, and Vancouver. Bringing together authors from a variety of disciplines and fields in the arts and the social sciences, all the chapters share a practical collaborative methodology based on original empirical research and an active engagement with the case study.
Firmly mooring their introductory discussion of public art in the specific physical and social spaces of the cities studied, the editors Martha Radice and Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier propose to look at public space as: a) the setting of encounters between strangers; b) the arena for the discursive production of political actions; and c) a site that constitutes the public as audience; a site, in other words, that 'emerges in relation to texts, or artworks, that address it' (p. 8). Each of the volume's three parts provides a slightly different approach to these three modes of looking at public urban space: the first part, Performing Art Publics, deals with the performative function of public art with an emphasis on the bodily quality of participatory performing events; the second part, Making Art, Making the City, addresses the material and symbolic production of urban space through art; in the third part, Meeting Art in Public, the focus is on the possibilities of the artwork as a site of encounter between people in public space.
Whereas the collection is somewhat uneven in terms its theoretical underpinnings, its strong eclecticism is coherent with the hands-on nature of the analyses. There are many assets to be mentioned. One is the practical engagement that each chapter enacts with its object of investigation. The reader will also value the diversity and interest of the art projects analysed, including traditional performance, flash mobs, participatory happening, media art, and installations, as well as the multifariousness of the specific spaces discussed, from alleyways to main squares and from real to virtual sites. But perhaps the volume's most interesting contribution is in its overall belief that public art actively transforms not only the space in which it is located, but the whole city and the way in which its [End Page 240] inhabitants relate to it, supporting, reclaiming, questioning, critiquing, disrupting, or renewing those relations. The result is a fascinating book, a significant addition to the expanding critical field of Canada's urban cultures.