Roxana Fabius

Tracking the Public

The exhibition Tracking the Public took place in December 2013 in the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. The project explored different notions and concepts of public as found in the diverse publications and artworks contained in the Traveling Magazine Table (TMT) collection.

The TMT is the result of a series of exhibitions organized by Nomads & Residents, an artistic ensemble initiated by Bik Van der Pol, Cesare Pietroiusti and other artists, curators and architects. The format proposed that: in each iteration the collection of publications would grow larger by the additions the host institutions and public would make to it and, the hosts were responsible for the design of the exhibition/library/reading room making it hospitable for the reader and, the complete collection would be available to the public.

The TMT is a child of its own time, originated in 2001 in New York City, it is an example of what Nicholas Borriaud established in his book Relational Aesthetics (1998) where he noted how “The main effects of the computer revolution are visible today among artists who do not use computers,” and how in the 1990s, with the exponential development of interactive technologies, artists explored “the arcane mysteries of sociability and interaction” applying to their projects concepts of openness and collaboration even when these were “offline.”

Since its inclusion in the CCS Bard Library and Archives the nature of the TMT collection has changed: from an open ended, ever growing body to a closed cultural construct with its own system of arrangement, classification, logic, and purpose. The exhibition Tracking the Public treated the TMT as an object of inquiry and analysis, in order to recognize topics and values related to the concept of public that were repeated through out its years of activity. Tracking the Public reacted to the current stage of the TMT inside the archival collection and attempted to bring its contents back to the general public, commenting on the life cycle this type of projects have when transformed from their original objectives.

A magazine or a publication has a declared intention of making something public, and the format of the TMT enhanced this intention by broadening the readership of these field-specific publications. Though inside the CCS Bard Archives this intention is obscured by its archival life, it receives a renewed attention when the archive is researched and pieces from it are selected.

An important aspect of this archive is its breadth of formats, geographic origins and topics: a vastness that becomes evident when exploring the collection. Multiple narratives can be found within the TMT. Tracking the Public showed a small selection related to the conceptual line of the research produced. These narratives may seem unrelated at first sight; but a second look would show how they were actually interrelated and overlapped constantly through: historical events, common ideas and the people that carried those ideas over. The narratives presented were: Art and the Publics, Public Space Interventions, Imprisonment, and Reclaiming the Streets Movements. In order to extend the contents of the TMT beyond the archive, web access was granted for some of the items that were selected for the exhibition and could be reached by accessing

Tracking the Public attempted not only to tell the story behind the TMT and its current state, but it also explored the historical context in which this project was created. It focused on issues that remain as relevant and contested, even 15 years later: The role of art in a world of reduced and privatized public space, the obscurity of the law and invasions of privacy, the annulment of basic rights in the name of safety. These and many more issues are present in the TMT. Reconstructing their history can carve a pathway to make them accessible again, even if they may no longer be traveling.