How we relate to our surroundings, inhabit our spaces of dwelling, connect with neighbouring cultures and mobilise platforms for expression are urgent questions. Faced with fewer resources to develop networks of support and languages of exchange, it becomes pressing to ask what role arts programming can play in generating open spaces – spaces for creative practices that not only actively interrogate contemporary issues, but also challenge conventions by experimenting with the limits of established formats.
of the residences in the city’s new builds are empty, ‘as are 19 per cent of
dwellings across London inner boroughs.’ As the luxury housing market
thrives…low-income housing [is reduced]. 
Istanbul: Taksim Square, the backdrop to the famous 2013 Istanbul
protests and a space long associated with liberal secularism, is to be taken up
by a new, monumental mosque nearing completion endorsed by President Erdoğan.
Washington: President Trump advances his campaign pledge to build a
multi-billion wall in an attempt to prevent Mexicans from crossing the border
into the United States.
Tripoli: According to the UN, an average of six migrants died crossing the Mediterranean every day last year and increasing numbers of migrants are intercepted and returned to Libya, then held in life-threatening detention camps.
Contemporary topography is increasingly defined by the dwindling of social resources for urban inhabitants, and the shrinking of public spaces for gathering and dissent. Migrant populations seeking refuge from poverty, conflict and war regularly face barring, deportation and violent quarantine. It is not by chance that the above vignettes – London- Istanbul-Washington-Tripoli – are each the direct and deliberate result of policy-making. Space feels out of our hands, repeatedly instrumentalised as a tool for surveillance, as a weapon for exclusion, as a means of othering, as an excuse for inaction and as a mechanism by which profit is privileged over fundamental human rights. Ironically, the structures that deploy these physical barriers to free movement, free expression and basic welfare, are the ultimate sentinels of what the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman has termed our era of ‘liquid modernity’; in Bauman’s words, ‘power has become truly exterritorial, no longer bound, or even slowed down, by the resistance of space…the prime technique of power is now escape, slippage, elision and avoidance, the effective rejection of any territorial confinement with its cumbersome corollaries.’ Social bonds and territorially grounded networks of association are threats to a ruling class enshrining a flexible, de-regulated, accelerated, expansive and instantaneous – in a word, fluid – rule. As Bauman argues, ‘global powers are bent on dismantling such networks for the sake of their continuous and growing fluidity, that principal source of their strength and the warrant of their invincibility. And it is the falling apart, the friability, the brittleness, the transcience, the until-further-noticeness of human bonds and networks which allow these powers to do their job in the first place.’ How we relate to our surroundings, inhabit our spaces of dwelling, connect with neighbouring cultures and mobilise platforms for expression are therefore urgent questions.
Faced with fewer resources to develop networks of support and languages of exchange, it becomes pressing to ask what role arts programming can play in generating open spaces – spaces for creative practices that not only actively interrogate contemporary issues, but also challenge conventions of form by experimenting with and pushing the limits of established formats. Further – what can be salvaged from the liquid order of modernity and put to good use? Might anything be appropriated from the models by which power and information flow and in turn be subverted to create alternative sites of meaning? Operating without a fixed space, the structure of Open Space to a large degree reflects the characteristics of a contemporary liquidity – in the previous four years its itinerant,pop-up projects have deployed the mobility, instantaneity and flexibility of our time. As it transitions from its previous incarnation as Open Space Contemporary to Open Space, it retains its itinerancy but develops a consolidated group of projects under a recurring, annual programme. The space in the organisation’s name then, is not physical, literal, but rather an aggregate of ideas and a dense network of relationships that together weave possible sites for activation.
Michel Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia as another
possible space is apposite here: in contrast to utopia, Foucault elaborates heterotopology as consisting of ‘places that do exist…which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which…all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.’ For Foucault, the heterotopia par excellence is a ship; a ‘floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea.’ This is particularly relevant to the concept guiding Open Space’s inaugural programme, Space without spaces. The programme, drawing on the organisational structure of Open Space itself, tests the potential of arts programming as heterotopy; it is at once an exercise in placelessness and multiple placefulness, outside of a fixed logic of brick and mortar and yet given over to the multifarious contexts that characterise each of its projects. Positing an arts programme that enacts place without place, or space without spaces, begs consideration of what place and placelessness might entail. For Marc Augé, ‘like the place, the non-place doesn’t exist in pure form; it’s more likely that new places are generated, relations are reconstructed within. Place
and non-place are contrary poles; the place never disappears completely and the non-place is never fully established – they are palimpsests on which the confusing game of identity and relation finds its own reflection over and over.’ This constant, layered reconstruction is key to the four new annually recurring projects, which constitute Open Space’s programme. Each of these projects experiments with different sensory and conceptual spaces: digital, discursive, residential
In the first iteration of Edible Goods, a new exhibition series exploring food as a medium in art, Huma Kabakci and Inês Neto dos Santos co-curate Tender Touches. This exhibition takes the shape of a porous space that shifts between the gallery and the café while probing at the possibility for haptic, sensual artworks en lieu of a sanitised and sanctified experience of viewing art. The primacy of embodied experience is at the heart of the project, echoing Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the ‘flesh of the world’; in the philosopher’s words, ‘the body is our general medium for having a world.’ If Edible Goods is concerned with space as embodiment, Forum in turn moves away from phenomenology to focus on the discursive as a possible site of experimentation, articulation and exchange. Of Hosts & Guests, this year’s iteration of Forum guest-curated by Katherine Finerty, will coincide with the planned date of the UK’s exit from the European Union. The project will critically explore the dynamic between hosts and guests through site-specific artistic interventions including workshops, performative lectures, screenings and discussions across different London spaces. Meanwhile, the Open Space Residency creates a bridge between Open Space’s original dual-city roots in Istanbul and London to support the practice of young curators. Applications are invited from emerging curators to develop a project responding to a six-week residency in Istanbul, to be presented in two iterations in Istanbul and London. While in Istanbul, curators will gain access to the Huma Kabakci collection and have the opportunity to develop connections with artists and institutions in the city.
Finally, we arrive here. As both a self-contained digital and textual
space, Writing Space becomes its own micro-heterotopia within the Open
Space website, inviting multidisciplinary text-based responses to Space without spaces, this year’s
programming theme. Continuing Open Space’s commitment to multiple voices and practices
beyond the visual arts, Writing Space will host, among others, architects,
scientists, theorists, and curators drawing on their personal practices to
offer critical, poetic, and creative reflections. What forms might space
without spaces take? What perspectives might different fields offer to conceptualising
contemporary space? Are sites inherently political? In what ways might the
concept operate as a cross-disciplinary framework? How might creative practices
find novel ways of making space, literally and figuratively, where previously
it may have been lacking? Writing Space will act a site for live ideas, still
processing thoughts and text-based experiments. As Merleau-Ponty points out,
there is a close correspondence between words and spaces: ‘The space could be to the place
what the word becomes when it is spoken: grasped in the ambiguity of being accomplished, changed into a term
stemming from multiple conventions, uttered as the act of one present (or one time), and modified by the
transformations resulting from successive influences.’ It is ultimately along these lines that arts programming might hope to make
possible new, open space(s) .