The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and of ourselves.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Before Public is Claiming Space - Self Presentation

Over the course of centuries we have seen a progressively stronger and subtler management of impulses and emotions within and between people. Spontaneous outbursts and behaviours such as spitting, drooling, vomiting, ranting and raging; pissing, shitting, sweating, screeching etc, have become increasingly embarrassing. This process started in courtly circles, followed by upper class and bourgeois, until finally by everyone else. Norbert Elias outlines that this process brought along an on-going privatisation of living quarters, a reduction of accessibility, not only physical but also reduction of visibility, audibility. From this fairly recent trend of privatisation people too quickly conclude that privacy is timeless and ubiquitous human need.

However people do not need seclusion as much as they need adequate self presentation. People are keen to present themselves at all times as competent, morally adequate. They expect others to accept them as they are, observe and respect their "space". In order to present oneself, they need to work on their self-presentation, away from prying eyes... before getting into costume and applying make-up for the next scene. As long as people can take care of their self-presentation without being seen, as long as nobody violates their "space", the public space can accommodate anything.

Successful public space is more than an area accessible to all: it is a space that includes, excludes, conceals and displays, raises and lowers at the same time. Some argue that this kind of environment cannot be designed, one can merely facilitate it - inviting to careful social explorations.

"To create such settings which are central, public and open is to recognise and invite diverse, new and unpredictable behavioural possibilities rather than serving narrow, predetermined instrumental activities. These gathering points imply and stimulate social interaction and ´transfunctional´ usage, transcending the orderly routines of everyday life. " (Henri Lefebvre in Writing on Cities, 1996)

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