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The booth Holley presents viewers in the gallery space seems at first glance like any other—a simple plastic and aluminum structure that one would bend down and lean into in order to fill out a ballot semi-privately.However, if you stand back from the booth or approach it from the right side, you notice that when the user bends down to use the booth, their head becomes level with the muzzle of a handgun affixed to the outside of the booth and pointed directly into its interior.
In “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” Walter Benjamin insists that we most often engage architecture in a state of distraction.
In observing that our perception of architecture largely takes place through acts of “casual noticing rather than attentive observation,” Benjamin does not intend to produce yet another indictment of our oversaturated perceptual faculties—a move we might expect today given the cyclical attention-panic accompanying the broad adoption of each new gadget, app, or digital network.
Citizenship is fundamentally a spatial relationship, naming in its broadest conception one’s ability to participate in the civic life of their locale.
And yet, as literary critic Lauren Berlant insists, citizenship is best understood not as one form of sovereignty but as a collection (or perhaps a collision) of many different relational forms, pointing to the “constellation of rights, laws, obligations, interests, fantasies, and expectations that shape the modern scene of citizenship.” Combining Benjamin’s and Berlant’s insights, it could be said that architecture shapes the habits of both citizenship.
The process of voting begins for most by traveling to an assigned polling station, where one proceeds to cordon herself off from the civic space she has just entered and reckon with a ballot containing names of people the voter has generally never met.
The booth separates the voter from the general public as she seeks a more abstract form of intimacy with the group.
The voting booth, understood as a site where some might form regular habits of use relative to others, belongs to the physical infrastructure of citizenship.
Materially, voting booths are relatively simple structures designed for practical use rather than absorbed contemplation.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, most states had moved toward a ballot system ensconcing private voting.
As literary critic Elaine Hadley notes of the similar shift taking place in nineteenth-century Britain, private voting “mass produce[d] a new abstract space of privacy, or rather, mass-produce[d] two abstract spaces of privacy—the booth itself and the evanescent liberal citizen, constituted by his cognitive abstraction, who was momentarily capable of embodying his citizenship through an abstracted interest in the national or imperial good.” modifies the voting booth to emphasize voting as an embodied act.