Engaging geographies of public art: indwellers, the 'Butt Plug Gnome' and their locale

M.M. Zebracki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


This paper focuses on particularities of indwellers' perceptions of public art and its locale by drawing on the epistemology of ‘situated knowledges’ (Haraway 1991, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Women. New York: Routledge) and the notion of ‘geographies of engagement’ (Zebracki, Van Der Vaart and Van Aalst 2010, Geoforum 41(5): 786–795). We employ the case of Paul McCarthy's internationally acclaimed public artwork Santa Claus in Rotterdam to illustrate the sundry outlooks on its spatialities, aesthetics and moralities, and its functionalities in relation to place. Santa Claus's alleged sexual nature is highly disputed among local politicians and the local population. This dispute is narratively covered by media sources and inscribed by its popular renaming as the ‘Butt Plug Gnome’. We empirically situate documented media views within the way indwellers perceive Santa Claus and its experienced locale in interrelation with themselves. We try to open up differential vistas on public-art narration in relation to people, time and space, whereby we elaborate on the reflexive idea of ‘social relationality’ (Massey and Rose 2003, Personal Views: Public Art Research Project. Milton Keynes: The Open University) by revealing how socio-spatial differences in public-art narration are negotiated. As such, we examine how public art is geographically reconstituted through the publics, namely those for whom public art is essentially intended yet who have been neglected actors of analysis in public-art research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)735-758
JournalSocial & Cultural Geography
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Butt Plug Gnome
  • public art
  • public narrative analysis
  • Rotterdam
  • Santa Claus
  • situated knowledges


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