Queerying Public Art in Digitally Networked Space

Keywords: public art, virtual ethnography, social media analysis, media analysis, Tree, butt plug, Paris, internet


There is an increasing interest among geographers in studying social engagement with public artwork, but there remains a lack of scholarship on how such engagement operates in digitally networked space. This article examines this gap on the basis of a virtual ethnography involving (social) media analysis on encounters with Paul McCarthy’s temporary installation Tree in Place Vendôme, Paris, 2014. This artwork, a 24-metre inflatable resembling a giant butt plug, unleashed a heated debate over social media about the artwork’s (mis)uses of the locality and urban public sphere. From this case study, remembering/forgetting and materiality/digitality emerged as ambiguous values/appropriations of this public artwork. Accordingly, experiences navigated between, foremostly, obscene and/or misplaced (the artwork’s postmodern/‘sexual’ style vs. the site’s classical architecture and Paris’ alleged ‘romantic’ image), ludic, and radical (i.e. anti-normative message towards permanence and heteropatriarchy). Considering such ambiguous and sexuality-related ramifications, I engage with ‘queerying’ as method for examining online mediated public-art engagement. The study demonstrates how receptions and interactions digitally intertwined with the temporary material artwork (where the examined digital material was not an intentional part of the artwork as initiated by the artist). Specifically, the queerying analysis shows how dialectical online and offline public-art engagements with Tree negotiated (i.e. mediated) and augmented (i.e. enhanced) one another and offered alternative ways for conceptualising user agency and spatial connectivity. This study can be of use for critical geographers using online media as both sites and tools for examining the bottom-up digital co-production of public art.

Author Biography

Martin Zebracki, School of Geography, University of Leeds

Martin Zebracki is Lecturer in Critical Human Geography at the University of Leeds. His research sits at the crossroads of public art, social engagement and (sexual) citizenship in contemporary contexts of western cities. His recent work includes the anthology The Everyday Practice of Public Art: Art, Space, and Social Inclusion (ed. with Cameron Cartiere, Routledge, 2016). Academic profile: http://www.zebracki.org.

How to Cite
Zebracki, Martin. 2017. “Queerying Public Art in Digitally Networked Space”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 16 (3), 440-74. http://www.acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/1354.
Themed Section - Critical Geographical Queer Semiotics (Guest Eds. M. Zebracki and T. Milani)