Twenty years ago, in 1988, Public was launched by the Public Access Collective, a Toronto-based group comprising artists, writers, curators, and graduate students equally engaged in theory and politics. In conjunction with the publication of the journal, the collective began to curate exhibitions that utilized urban screens as a means to consider the potential of public art for both engendering insightful, collective experiences and for inciting debates and raising awareness in a city that was quickly privatizing every inch of shared space. Together, Public and its founding collective aimed to bring together theoretical and critical work with artistic practice and collaborations, a project embodied by the inaugural issue, which was devoted to pursuing the questions that emerged out of the urban screen exhibition, Some Uncertain Signs.
Since that time, Public has continued its mandate to investigate ideas, theories, and practices of art and culture within the urban context—publishing, in the process, many of the leading voices in the field, including Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Arthur Kroker, Avital Ronell, Giorgio Agamben, and Rosalyn Deutsche. And yet, over the course of twenty years, the landscape underlying the problematic of the public has changed dramatically: the internet has emerged as an important space for consolidating and collaborating under the sign of the commons; spatial topographies have been transformed through new architectures of information and media; temporary autonomous zones have been employed as liminal performative spaces; non-places such as airports offer important sites of critical investigation for artists and activists; counter-publics and scenes have been created through events both spontaneous and community-based; and boundaries (national, urban, and personal) have been rendered at once more porous and more policed.