Circles, spheres, spirals and knots: paradoxical topologies of public space The Blackwood Talks with Adrian Blackwell

Monday January 20, 9 - 11am
Blackwood Gallery, Kanefff Centre

This talk is presented alongside the exhibition Ahmet Öğüt: Strategies for Radical Democracy and in conjunction with the class Activism in Visual and Media Culture (VCC308H5S) in the program of Visual Culture and Communication in the Department of Visual Studies.

About the Talk

Public space is a key concept of contemporary art and politics. However we repeatedly mean different things when we use these words and it often seems as if the concept itself is insufficiently precise. A square is a public space, but what about heavily controlled spaces such as Tiananmen Square in Beijing, or Red Square in Moscow, where spontaneous public gatherings are forbidden? A mall is a public space that may provide essential and necessary space for gathering and community services, but it is privately owned and policed. These contradictions abound in public spaces, so much so, that we should begin to understand these spaces as constitutively paradoxical. Any concrete public space, insofar as it is constitutive of publics, is necessarily a discursive space. In fact, what makes it public is the disagreement that we have over the meaning of the space itself. This is why theories of public space are important to physical public spaces, because a public space is constructed both through physical material operations, and through the abstract theories and ideologies that conflict in its design, construction and ongoing use.

Blackwell will discuss a sequence of his urban art works that explore the paradox of public spaces. The talk will present these projects alongside a sequence of diagrams illustrating the philosophical, political and urban concepts that inform them, using the concept of topology to express the relationship between virtual diagrams and actual spaces.


Adrian Blackwell is an artist, architectural designer and urban theorist whose work examines the relationship between physical space and political/economic power. His sculpture, film and photography have been exhibited at public institutions across Canada and internationally at venues such as the Shenzhen and Chengdu Biennials. He is an editor of the independent journal Scapegoat: Architecture, Landscape, Political Economy, a visiting assistant professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and a full-time faculty member at the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture.


Generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.