“Dedicated to all of the uncredited modifiers, inventors, communicators, and public citizens whose work has changed our common landscape.” This is the first line of the publication ‘Public Phenomena’ by Temporary Services. The book is a celebration of urban interventions of the smallest kinds by ordinary citizens, entrepreneurs or artists, all uncredited and not done for the reason to get listed in a book. This is what makes this publication special. It’s an observation of the way people deal with the places that somehow mean something for them. Emotions, humor, frustrations, opinions and fascinations are shared with passers-by, and, finally, in a book.
“This book is the result of over ten years of photographic documentation and research on the variety of modifications and inventions people make in public. From roadside memorials to makeshift barriers, people consistently alter shared common spaces to suit their needs, or let both man-made and natural aberrations run wild. The result is a new kind of public space – with creative and inspiring moments that push past the original planned design of cities.”
Some of the small interventions portrayed in the book originate in practical considerations, like the homemade signs preventing private drives from becoming a parking place. Others implicate heart-breaking emotions, like the memorial signs you can find all over the world at the strangest places along express ways.
This book is made with a great eye for detail and for the social and spatial tools that normal people use when acting in public space. In that sense, it’s an exhibition of ordinary behavior. Besides that it sheds a light on the boundaries between regulation and spontaneity. What can a private person still do in the public realm in cities that are full of formal rules and multiple interests? For instance adding a crate to a post to create an improvised basketball accommodation is allowed, and is done all over the world.
Another interesting example are the free items placed at the curbsides in US suburbia. According to the book, this phenomenon is a result of the American consumption-based economy. People just have too much stuff, thanks to their ultimate desire to buy. All these purchases do replace items that have been bought before. Anything that people think should be re-used, from scraps of wood to exercise machines, often accompanied by a sign that says “free” to make it clear to passersby that the items could be taken.
Public Phenomena is not a book about artist installations in public space, but rather about normal people struggling to get the best out of their lives. Fascinating when seeing them collected.
Public Phenomena (2009)
Joseph Heathcott, Polonca Lovsin, Damon Rich (Temporary Services)
Half Letter Press, Chicago
152 pages, dimensions: 8.5″ x 5.5″
$13.50 at the Half Letter Press Store