Jacek Ludwig Scarso
Kirsten Jeske Thompson


As we navigate the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and face ever more complex challenges to our experience of the public sphere, the phrase ‘safety in numbers’ entails increasingly contradictory connotations. What is the role of large public space gatherings in rebuilding confidence in our use of public space and what creative and logistical strategies may be used to this end? This article represents the first in a series of studies, exploring the work of internationally acclaimed public art production company, Artichoke. A “reverse-engineering” focus is applied here, as we revisit three seminal projects across Artichoke’s fifteen-year body of work: respectively, The Sultan’s Elephant (2006), Lumiere (2009-ongoing) and Processions (2018). While there is no “standard” Artichoke work, these projects share important commonalities in relation to the potential of ephemeral public art events to adapt and disrupt our perception of public spaces. Each project achieved considerable impact, with audience numbers reaching hundreds of thousands and even millions through media dissemination: in doing so, Artichoke’s work has not only pioneered new forms of large-scale spectacular and participatory events, but also played a significant role in shaping policies for public art commissioning and realisation. Drawing on archival data, as much as on a range of anecdotal experiences provided by audience testimonials and interviews with Helen Marriage, Artichoke’s Artistic Director and CEO, the article aims to evaluate learnings and strategies that have allowed this company’s approach to be resilient and innovative in relation to public engagement. The projects explored here were mostly realised long before our cities were shaped by the unprecedented restrictions caused by the pandemic; yet, they nonetheless all had to deal with substantial logistical and creative challenges, deriving from complex safety measures and an ever-changing urban and cultural landscape. Looking back is here intended as a means to think ahead, as we consider key traits in Artichoke’s work: in particular, its continued adaptability, its fluid negotiation between artist-led expertise and participation, and its unique aesthetic in temporarily disrupting our relationship with the ‘soft city’.



How to Cite
Scarso, J. L. and Jeske Thompson, K. (2022) “Safety in Numbers: Reflecting on the work of Artichoke as ‘Adaptor-Disruptor’ in Reclaiming Public Space”, The Journal of Public Space, 7(3), pp. 5–24. doi: 10.32891/jps.v7i3.1488.
Art and Activism
Author Biographies

Jacek Ludwig Scarso, London Metropolitan University

Dr Jacek Ludwig Scarso (PhD) is Reader in Art and Performance at London Metropolitan University, where he leads the Masters in Public Art & Performative Practices and where he is Deputy Director of CREATURE, Research Centre in Creative Arts, Cultures and Engagement. His artistic projects, both independently and with his company Elastic Theatre, have been presented worldwide, including Tate Modern, Museo Macro in Rome and Spark Festival in Hong Kong. He is Senior Curator for Fondazione Marta Czok, coordinating the programming for its new Project Space in Venice. He is Trustee of The Line, London’s first dedicated public art walk. He is also Research Associate for the Public Space Museum in Bologna, Senior Advisor for City Space Architecture and was recently invited for a Research Fellowship at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Kirsten Jeske Thompson, London Metropolitan University

Dr Kirsten Jeske Thompson (PhD) is a practicing chartered architect (RIBA) and post-PhD researcher consulting at London Metropolitan University, as Director of :NHAB:T architects studio. Her research engages Intervention Forensics and Interpretive Placemaking, seeking to understand 'host cities' and connectivity between established cities; the composition of cities as concrete and abstract phenomena; and social mobility through upgrading narratives of livelihoods in areas of 'shack urbanity'. Since 2019, Kirsten has been contributing to The Centre for Urban and Built Ecologies (CUBE) and REF submissions at London Metropolitan University.


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