Art, culture, presence and Spatial Justice | Nur Shkembi

30 Mar

Art, culture, presence and Spatial Justice

When considering art, culture and cultural development within the realm of contemporary society, grasping a basic understanding of this notion of spatial justice through the conceptual, experiential and imagining of spaces becomes an essential starting point. The premise of justice, in this instance, is being explored within the egalitarian ideals of access and presence or spatial access and occupation. (Mitchell 2007, 9) French philosopher Henri Lefebvre posed many essential ideas about space, but most interestingly he surmised that the organization of space is crucial to human societies, in particular, the way in which space is perceived, conceived and lived. (Lefebvre 1974, 40) With the anticipated “promise and perils” in shifting justice from the “social to the spatial” it can be suggested that it is within the realms of public space that spatial justice becomes essentially determined through the variations of presence, access and anonymity. This justice, as David Harvey passionately offers in The Right to the City, should move beyond the individual right to access urban resources and suggests something more significant: “the freedom to make or remake our cities” and that this is “one of the most precious yet most neglected of human rights.” (2008, 23) Through the exploration of space we begin to learn that much of our experiences may already be determined through our personal perceptions which are more often than not, inextricably linked, not only with our past, and in particular our childhood memories (de Certeau 1984, 10) but also with those present perceptions that are determined, not always necessarily by us, but rather for us or about us.

To make any attempt at understanding the concept of spatial justice without first finding within oneself a reasonable understanding of what space is or what space might be would be somewhat misleading. With his comprehensive theories on space, Lefebvre challenges the most common premise or ‘misnomer’ about space, that being the idea “that empty space is prior to whatever ends up filling it”. With that, Lefebvre suggests that space is a social product, and more precisely, he makes a distinction between the physical, social and mental space (Conrad 2006). Lefebvre than offers the subsequent suggestion of a differentiation made between the problematic of space and spatial practice; “the former can only be formulated on a theoretical plane, whereas the latter is empirically observable. It is not hard, however, for an ill informed approach, one that misunderstands the method and the concepts involved, to confuse the two. The ‘problematic’ the term is borrowed from philosophy of space is comprised of questions about mental and social space, about their interconnections, about their links with nature on the one hand and with ‘pure’ forms on the other. As for spatial practice, it is observed, described and analysed on a wide range of levels.” (Lefebvre 1991, 413) This distinction forms the basis from which we can start to perceive the concept of spatial justice, for it is within space and the presence of body that we experience justice and that justice can be seen to be experienced through this presence or occupation of space, and it becomes, as Lefebvre suggests “empirically observable.”

“A Boundary is not that at which something stops but, as the Greeks recognized the boundary is that from which something begins its presencing.” (Martin Heidegger)

More posts on Spatial Justice to follow…