Loughborough University
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Art, its function and its publics: public sphere theory in the work of the Freee art collective 2004 - 2010

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posted on 2015-05-08, 15:22 authored by Mel Jordan
This thesis and subsequent artworks present a critical examination into the degree to which public sphere theory can contribute to an expanded understanding of art and its publics. This research proposes that the notion of 'public' in the idiom 'public art' should be understood as a discursive construct as opposed to a physical, spatial understanding as in the term public realm. This revision considers the act of being public as a process, a series of inter-subjective temporal experiences, rather than a spatial condition. This helps expand art's role from an autonomous field of exhibition making into a position of publishing, thereby recognising art as a contributor to collective opinion formation. The thesis comes to a number of key conclusions. First, if we take into account that artworks are published as a consequence of being exhibited then we can understand art as part of the process of opinion (re)formation, thus contributing to a wider reflection upon art's social function. Second, by clarifying the distinctions between the terms public space, public good, and public sphere it is revealed that the use of the term 'public' in public art is heavily reliant upon the inherent physical, spatial differences between a primary and secondary audience. Third, by examining the traditionally accepted polarity between the street (public realm, open access) and the gallery (private, exclusive) it is determined that these spatial conditions are obsolete when establishing whether an artwork is considered public or not, as in the term public art. Finally, public sphere theory enables us to reconsider what constitute publics; members of the public are hereby declared as agents of opinion formation. In drawing these conclusions, this thesis (including artworks) argues for the validity and usefulness of Habermas' theory of the public sphere (and subsequent extensions of public sphere theory) both in an analysis of the function of art and its publics and in the production of artworks. I conclude that what public sphere theory ultimately provides us with is an alternative version of art and politics. As part of this analysis, the thesis develops a theoretical approach based on the work of Jurgen Habermas in order to contribute to and move beyond the existing understanding of the relation ship between art and its publics. The artworks function to demonstrate the distinctions between a physical, spatial use of the term public and a discursive use of the term public. The concepts and approaches embraced in the production of the artworks echo key ideas adopted from public sphere theory and operate as instances of publishing in themselves.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • Arts


© Melanie Jordan

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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The thesis is closed access for copyright reasons but the introductory narrative is available as a separate open access file. A thesis by publication submitted to Loughborough University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Arts, English and Drama


  • en