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19 | 2018
What do images in public space do?

Editor's notes

What do images in public space do?

Editor's notes

Invited editors Allison Huetz, Clémence Lehec, Thierry Maeder and Jean-François Staszak.

Recently published or translated works in visual studies have addressed the agency of images: what power do images hold? What do they accomplish? What do they want? Can we speak of an image act? In parallel, concepts of performance and performativity have gained prominence in social sciences, especially in geography. This overview raises two key issues:

On the one hand, visual studies put more emphasis on the images than on the apparatuses of visualization, their spatial context, or the social networks in which they are embedded. Scientific works on the agency of images focus on specific images regarded as powerful or performative, for instance works of art, while giving little attention to mundane images, the conditions of their agency, or the spectators themselves.

On the other hand, visual culture has hardly been an object of investigation for social sciences, particularly as tied to urban life. Some studies have certainly examined the image of the city, or art (especially artistic performances) in public space, but rarely visual culture in its everyday life and its location in the city. By reflecting on the role of images—all images—in urban public space, we hope to advance on both fronts.

This issue of Articulo intends to question the power of images in public space through specific case studies. Following up previous publications that study the production of cities through art and the production of art within cities, we would like to pursue further this inquiry through the specific angle of performativity in the context of public urban space.

Based on WJT Mitchell’s argument that “visual culture is not limited to the study of images or media, but extends to everyday practices of seeing and showing, especially those that we take to be immediate or unmediated”(2005), the purpose of this publication is to study how we react to the images exhibited in public urban space, and how they shape in return our conception of urban space.

The images play an important role in everyday life since they are expressing controversial meanings and power relations. They contribute to shape (sometimes unwillingly) a specific vision of the world. It is thus a public space, saturated with political and social issues – both space of control and emancipation – that this issue intends to address. 

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