As the end to a most trying year draws near, hopes for a fairer and more equitable future are weighted against the injustices of the present that attempt to erode the very foundations of our democracy. Even in the wake of the U.S. election’s positive outcome, conservative politicians and right-wing extremists, cloaked in the guise of patriotism, continue to exploit symbols of freedom, including the American flag, to bolster a dangerous authoritarian nationalism and commit atrocities against American citizens, immigrants, indigenous peoples, and Earth.
Walking in the Eastern Woodlands of the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, one discovers an open clearing in which lies a large concrete basin surrounded by a skeletal wooden structure all weathered by the forces of nature and time. The central pond-shaped form, cracked and empty save for a few fallen leaves, was once a swimming pool on a 20-acre estate uncovered by Laumeier staff when it acquired the land in the early 1980s. The trellised structure, a labyrinth of elevated walkways and gazebos, is an installation by artist Mary Miss who constructed the work in 1982-85.
What is a public? According to theorist Michael Warner, “a public is understood to be an ongoing space of encounter for discourse,” a self-defined social space of dialogic interactions and interplays. For Warner, a counterpublic is similarly discursive but assumes a “conflictual relation to the dominant public,” by creating its own audiences and idioms through alternative forms of address. (1) The idea of the “discursive public” forms the basis for Counterpublic, a new art triennial that reclaims the spatial environment of St. Louis as a body of distinct yet overlapping publics, each with their own cultural identity.