From public to republic, a letter to the public at Icebox Project Space

Guest contributor Mina Zarfsaz describes the power of “Letter to the Public,” an interactive installation currently on view at Icebox Project Space through January 26th.

"Letter to the Public" at Icebox Project Space. Photo courtesy of Icebox Project Space.
“Letter to the Public” at Icebox Project Space. Photo courtesy of Icebox Project Space.

What is a “public?” As I write this question, I immediately think about the word “private,” but I know that a binary doesn’t define a public for me personally. It seems too reductive and restrictive.

What has taken place in recent years is a grand opening of personal spaces through art, social media and the internet — evolving and sensitive definitions to the continual and abrupt variations of today’s society. Public comes to me as a space that is charged, yet it is somewhat free because, in our era, activism has been demonstrated more in the everyday than before. We have been simulating and recording dialogues of change with the coexistence of ideals and forms.

Public is perceiving that requires an involvement. Public requires a space and a body at the same time. The term itself means ‘of or concerning the people as a whole,’ or ‘something that is done, perceived, or existing in open view’ or simply ‘ordinary people in general; the community.’

The exhibition “Letter to the Public” at the Icebox Project Space creates an important space for people to openly share their ideals in a form that allows them to be their own public first. Upon entering the wide open space at Icebox, you are forced to step onto a ramp that is approximately 50 feet long and 5 feet high. At the end of the ramp, there are a few microphones set up that orient you towards a wall where your own words are projected right in front of you. Visitors are asked to approach the installation one at a time. What this whole setup is doing is making people face their own ideals. By standing there, being that close to the screen, you are looking and listening to your own thoughts being shaped. This very private, yet very public encounter, brings out the inner power in each statement — however arbitrary. This space is charged, yet it is playful and freeing.

Besides the very personal encounter, “Letter to the Public” offers the most varied of publics the opportunity to navigate visions, and develop personal reflections on the social and spatial conditions of our present day; children reflect on their daily activities to poets who give a more touching shape to language; youngsters with strong visions for the future take a political stance of their own and so on. Here, people represent themselves, and exercise the power of their participation publicly, openly and willingly.

Installations like this, will continue to contribute to the formation of powerful contemporary public spaces for active engagement.

Letter to the Public” is open to the Public —pun intended— January 10-26, 2019 with a Poetry reading by Speakwright 6-8 pm on the closing day. The Icebox Project Space is located in the Crane Arts building, 1400 N American St. Philadelphia, PA; gallery hours: Thursday-Saturday 11-6.

Mina Zarfsaz is an artist and a professor at the Film and Media Arts department of Temple University.