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Public Space? Lost & Found

Lobby, MIT Media Lab. Through October 30, 2014

Public space occupies multiple places in our collective con­sciousness of the city. Prosaically, it permits shopping, relaxing, or simply passing through, whether on foot or in a car. Urbanists often see a design opportunity to reshape public activity and city form. And the civic-minded see a building block of democratic society, whether through protest or simply speaking freely.

Public space is all those things, but it is also much more. The current exhibition Public Space? Lost & Found in MIT’s Media Lab shares contem­porary perspectives on public space through the eyes of professor of practice Antoni Muntadas, recently retired, and several years of student projects from his seminar “Public Space.” The exhibition’s direct questions — Who? What? Where? — are answered by projects ranging from performance to narrative, from video to install-ation. Some annotate iconic public spaces; others occupy modest, generic, or virtual space.

Animating many projects is a conviction of public space’s ability to communicate additional and multiple meanings beyond its current range. Some are didactic; public space should say this, one must be aware of that. But this hardly diverts from the esthetic and intellectual generosity of Muntadas and his students’ enterprise or its outcomes.

The exhibition design by professor Gediminas Urbonas shares public space’s semiotic quality. Its billboards are cheerful signs livening up a minimalist space and providing ample room for additional content and interpretation behind. The exhibit’s location in a quasi-public lobby provides diverse passersby the chance to experience public space’s many meanings.

Installation view of Public Space? Lost & Found. Photo: John Kennard/MIT