AUTUMN PROGRAMME

AUTUMN 2014

Tuesdays 14:00-16:00

11 Bedford Square, Bloomsbury

 

14 Oct.   Welcome and Newsround

 

28 Oct.   Caterina Martinelli

At the Roots of an Hegemony: An Alternative Perspective for International Human Geography

 

11 Nov.   Hannah Awcock and Bethan Bide

 Unreal City: Finding London Through the Archive

 

25 Nov.   Ella Harris and Mel Nowicki

Precarious Geographies

 

9 Dec.    Sofie Narbed

Geographies of Dancing Bodies

From Landscape Surgery to the RGS-IBG Conference: An academic journey…

In a Landscape Surgery session earlier this summer, I presented an outline of the current and future research plans for my PhD project, ideas that I have since developed and extended into two paper presentations at the RGS-IBG annual conference last week. Below is a summary of the presentation I gave Landscape Surgery, and an outline of my future research plan for the coming year.

My research seeks to assess the impact of coalition housing policy in inner London, with a focus on two case studies in particular; the criminalisation of squatting in a residential building in England and Wales (Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act), which came into being in September 2012, and the removal of the spare room subsidy, more infamously known as the ‘bedroom tax’, which sees social tenants in receipt of housing benefit lose a percentage of their rent eligible for housing benefit if they are deemed to have one or more spare bedroom (a 14% reduction for one spare bedroom, and a 25% reduction for two or more).

Two central questions form the basis of my research;

1. How have the two policies impacted upon squatters and social tenants financially, emotionally, and in relation to their ability to secure and maintain a sense of home?

2. How have the two policies differed in terms of media rhetoric, public response and resistance, and what are the reasons behind these differences?

I have been developing my first research question primarily in relation to the concept of ‘domicide’. Originating in Canadian geographers Porteous and Smith’s 2001 book Domicide: The global destruction of home, domicide refers to the intentional destruction of home for political and/or corporate gains. Throughout the book, Porteous and Smith refer to wide-ranging examples of the ways in which the homespace can be destroyed; from extreme examples of war and ethnic resettlement, to the more mundane ‘everyday’ practices of domicide such as dam construction in the British Columbia river basin leading to the submergence of thousands of homes and communities. Porteous and Smith’s work highlighted the overwhelming regularity of domicide across time, space, and scale; however their focus considered only the physical elements of domicide, the destruction of or displacement from the dwelling as a material structure. Throughout this year, I have been considering domicide not only as a physical phenomenon, but also as a social and symbolic one; home can be destroyed not only through demolishing a house or displacing its residents, but also through reducing the home-making capacity of particular figures via a multitude of means.

This is where Section 144 and the bedroom tax come in. Although the policies may indeed bring about physical removal from the home, particularly in the case of Section 144, their domicidal capacity goes beyond the material alone. With the case of Section 144 for example, the introduction of the law has rendered squatters, already a controversial figure in the British public psyche, as criminal deviants; thus outcasting them further from normalised societal structures and severely compromising their ability to form and maintain alternative home-making practices. With the bedroom tax, too, domicide is abundant, with the policy increasing the precarity of the home; a disconnection of home as a site of autonomy and personal control, and a stark reminder from the coalition government that social tenants are subject to the whims of governance determining what kinds of home they are deserving of.

As mentioned in my Landscape Surgery presentation, and extended during my presentation for the ‘Geographies of Forced Eviction’ session at the RGS-IBG, I have now begun to consider the ways in which these enactments of domicide are part of wider technologies of governance, enabled by normalised constructions of what home is ‘supposed’ to be. I have again been considering this in relation to UK housing policy, thinking through the ways in which, particularly since the end of the 1970s, discourses of home became centred around a homeownership-as-aspirational rhetoric; most clearly and consciously enacted through one of the Thatcher government’s flagship policies, the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, in which council tenants were encouraged to purchase their council homes for a fraction of their market value. This policy in particular critically altered the course of the UK’s housing history, shifting notions of the ethical home from a site of welfare provision, to a symbol of individual ownership and investment; to be a homeowner became lauded as beneficial for both the individual and the state. In direct opposition to this, those who are marked as unable or unwilling to engage with such rhetoric came to be portrayed as abject miscreants, figures of individual failure and deviant behaviour; a continuing figuration that I argue has enabled the construction of domicidal policies such as Section 144 and the bedroom tax to occur.

Through my second key research question, I hope to develop further ideas around governance and figuration in UK housing policy. With a more specific focus on media rhetoric and its depiction of squatters and social tenants, I’m looking to understand how and why these figures have been constructed, how these constructions have changed and are changing, and what the differences between rhetoric relating to Section 144 and the bedroom tax are. This section of my research was still at its most basic stage during my Landscape Surgery presentation, and therefore my discussion of it was pretty basic and brief, other than to mention that I intend to use Critical Discourse Analysis as a tool for developing ideas around these representations. Since the Landscape Surgery session, I’ve started to develop these ideas further, and at the RGS-IBG conference last week in the ‘Alternative housing in London’ session gave a presentation on the history of the ‘deviant squatter’ and media discourse, its role in securing the criminalisation of squatting, and the ways in which squatter communities are using similar media outputs in an attempt to re-define and re-position the figure of the squatter, from deviant criminal to alternative, community-orientated homemakers in London. I focused in particular on two recent commercial squats in Hackney and Brixton that emphasised their position as ‘community centres’ rather than homes, constructing themselves as an asset to the local community, rather than a scourge. I’m hoping to develop these ideas and delve further into Critical Discourse Analysis as a methodological tool in the coming year.

Looking back over the past few months, from my Landscape Surgery presentation to my RGS papers, I can see clearly how my research is developing. Thanks in no small part to me beginning my interviews with squatters and social tenants, I feel like I’m starting to move from talking about ideas to actually acting on them! It’s a daunting but exciting time. I’ve been helped and encouraged by the Landscape Surgery first year presentation sessions, and got through my first RGS-IBG conference without having a meltdown. Let the second year commence…

By Mel Nowicki

Wobbly Ground: Climate, chaos and creativity

I’m Miriam, and I’m an artist -turned geographer; along the way getting terrified and fascinated by climate change. This blog post is a summary of a presentation I gave summarising the research I have done in the first year of my PhD at RHUL…

I’m interested in the way that art can prompt and suggest ideas about the way that we interact with our natural world – especially in terms of the climate. The very idea of climate change is a really difficult one to relate to – in fact “you almost couldn’t design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology”1, it’s big, it’s longterm, it’s horrifically negative and it’s a global problem; and joyfully, western populations are, for the most part, apathetic. People feel distant from the issue, there’s a focus on negativity and guilt and there’s an awful lot of media generated uncertainty and confusion. There are lots of studies – mostly from social psychology – which look at the barriers to people engaging with climate change, but I’m intrigued to find out the ways that people do in fact engage with the climate, in order to build on these.

I look at art and climate change, not as using art as an illustration of scientific facts, but as knowledge about climate change, and the lived experience of climate that can inform how we can instigate and cope with changes to come. I have been thinking about my own art practice in regard to the philosophy of Elizabeth Grosz, in order to understand the work that these imaginative forays into the idea of climate change do…. 

 “Albedo”

 Albedo

I’ll try to keep this snappy: Albedo, for those non-physical science types, refers to the reflectivity of a thing – usually a planet. So, a white or silver thing will have high albedo, as it is very reflective, and a black thing will have low albedo as it absorbs energy and radiation. In terms of climate change, the more areas of snow and ice there are, the more energy from the sun is reflected straight back out to space; rather than warming our atmosphere. As areas of sea and ice shrink, and give way to dark areas of open water or coniferous forest, these dark areas absorb more energy and the world warms.

My work, albedo, is an attempt to ‘cool’ the planet by making small wax casts of my fingertips, and placing them outside the gallery. In this work, there is a connection between familiar fleshy fingers, and the massive, and often incomprehensible forces that govern not only our climate, but the very universe itself. Elizabeth Grosz describes art as a means to ‘slow down chaos’, and I’m interested in the ways that these artworks can offer a space for pondering the connection that we – as bodily creatures – have with the world that we inhabit, that so often gets forgotten about in the business of day to day life…

“Drawing of a Piece of Chalk, Drawn with the Piece of Chalk, Until all that is Left of the Piece of Chalk, is the Drawing of the Piece of Chalk”

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I hope the title of this work is relatively self explanatory. This is one of a series of drawings of pieces of chalk that I collected on walks in the south downs in Sussex. The idea for the drawings arose out of many, long conversations with the wonderful Dr. Peter G. Knight, glaciologist extraordinaire at Keele University (www.petergknight.com) – so I can’t take all the credit! Again, I take inspiration from Grosz’s writing, when she says that art can offer a means of connection across scales – and a way for us to relate to things that are ‘beyond relations’. This work is a way to explore the histories of the materials; for the chalk is composed of long dead sea creatures that swam in the warm tropical seas that covered Southern England in the late Cretaceous period. They have been subjected to geological processes of time and pressure, but also of climate change. This work observes and transforms the materials once more – again, with the help of my fleshy formed fingers – turns the piece of chalk into not an accurate representation of itself, but a prompt to enable us to think about the histories, stories and memories of changing climates that are contained within the material itself. 

“Preserved Snowballs”

 Stack

A few years ago, one January, I was at Liverpool Street underground station when a boy of about 9 or 10 came down onto the platform carrying a snowball. The station was hot and the snowball was beginning to drip. He looked at his snowball, looked a the display which told him the next eastbound train was 3 minutes away, looked back at his snowball and ran off, up the stairs.

Snowballs-1

This moment really stuck with me, and in response I learned how to ‘preserve’ snow on glass with superglue, and created these hanging ‘preserved snowballs’. I feel that this is something that we have all wanted to do at some point in our lives (I mean, who hasn’t seriously considered slyly popping a small snowball in the freezer?). But it also alludes to a sense of loss and melting ice on a global scale. But for me, there are 2 things going on in this work: one is the idea that we wish to preserve the world just as it is – but the world is changing faster than we can ‘preserve’ it, and indeed it is always changing, so perhaps, preservation is no longer an option for us. Instead, we need to come to terms with the scale of the loss all around us, and learn to cope with the changes to come. The second aspect of this work, which relates to the first is the idea of stories; stories help humans through difficult times, and it is in cultural reservoirs and memories of tales and stories which, perhaps will be exactly what we will need as the impacts of climate change really do start to to bite. 

Future research

This post has focussed (perhaps rather narcissistically I feel) on my own artwork. But my PhD research is about encouraging others to create their own stories, and images of climate change as a way to investigate what is important to ordinary people who (importantly) are not already engaged with the idea of climate change. At the moment, this involves a group of women on an estate in Hackney, many knitting needles, copious amounts of tea and a lovely young man called Richard at the London Wildlife Trust… Watch this space, and I’ll post something about this soon! 

  1. http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2014/socialbrain/climate-change-experts-beginners/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rsaprojects+%28RSA+blogs%29

By Miriam Burke

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Subverting the aesthetics of decay

The aesthetics of decay have been well versed of late, not only within academic literature, but also mainstream media and online via blogs and other social media. We have seen an aquarium in an abandoned shopping mall in Bangkokentire disused airports in Cyprus and an whole abandoned island used in Hollywood blockbusters. Industrial, residential, infrastructural, rural; there have been a plethora of forms of dereliction that have been recorded. The huge swath of media (sometimes labelled ‘ruin porn’) has led to the fetishization of dereliction with some suggesting that such overt ruination imagery has had damaging effects on particular places that are oft the focus of such narratives, notably Detroit.

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Nature reclaiming her land

Click on the photos to view the larger image

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Shropshire and Cheshire countryside, and came across what on first viewing looked like an abandoned, disused factory, perhaps once used for chemical production of some kind (I had trouble recalling my GCSE chemistry lessons). Upon closer inspection, the site did indeed have a ‘ruined’ factory. The redbrick façades were punctuated by shattered windows that allowed the old pipework, and inner-workings of the factory to be exposed. Nature had clearly began to reclaim this building, as shrubbery and invader species were rife on the walls, the roofs and throughout the old passageways between the buildings. The high industrial, temporary fencing that are synonymous with ‘danger, keep out, abandoned building’ sites was stationed around the decaying buildings, and had it not been for the family waiting impatiently in the car while I indulged in ruination geekery, I would have attempted to get beyond the fencing to explore further. Other typical ruination aesthetics were in view, with the exposed metal work rusting in the damp North West climate. Continue reading

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Towards a Taxonomy of Pop-Up: Part Two

With the help of funding from the SCG PhD Student Support Fund, I spent the past 6 months conducting a preliminary investigation into pop-up culture in London in order to identify case studies for my PhD research. This two part blog post gives an account of my findings and subsequent decisions

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Cinemas, Supper Clubs and Shipping Container Spaces

In what follows I’ll give abridged and anonymised accounts from my field notes of some of the pop-ups I visited in order to demonstrate the rationale behind the selection of my three case study types. As I hope will be clear, each type is intended to draw out certain defining elements of pop-up, but those elements can also be considered in relation to the other types, and to pop-up more broadly.

Supper Clubs: Public/Private dichotomies and the role of the internet  

Having found the supper club online, read some reviews on their website and had a look at the menu, I booked tickets to attend an event a couple of weeks later. On the night, I arrived on a residential, smart looking street in North London feeling slightly terrified. There was no sign of any event happening from outside so I went up and knocked on the door. I was greeted by a woman in her early thirties, and taken through to a living room full of confused looking strangers, all nervously clutching flutes of cava. After making fairly forced conversation we were taken into the main family room, shown pictures of the host and her brother’s graduation ceremonies, and introduced to their mother, who would be cooking our dinner. She said they were family recipes, and showed us a portrait of her mother, who had taught her to cook. The other guests said they’d found the event online too, most had come as part of groups, but some had come alone. By the end of the evening there was a good conversation going, punctuated by slightly strange interjections from the host’s father. The brother, apparently, was upstairs in his bedroom, as he doesn’t like to be involved in the supper clubs.  

In their pure form, supper clubs happen in somebody’s house, raising questions about how the public and the private are refigured via this commercialisation of a domestic space (supper clubs usually cost around £30 to attend.) In this account, the eagerness of the host to show the family photos to the guests, and the fact that one member of the family was hiding upstairs both offer insights into the nature of this encounter between public and private. On the one hand, representations of the familial/personal are foregrounded as a selling point of the experience, but on the other, the deliberate absence of one family member demonstrates how the supper club could be an intrusion into the domestic realm. The supper club also brings into focus questions around the colliding temporalities of work and leisure in contemporary London, given that, like many pop-ups, the hosts normally run them in addition to their day jobs, as profitable hobbies.  

Also of interest is the role of the internet in organising supper clubs, and indeed in organising most temporary places. Given that supper clubs happen in somebody’s home, the only way of knowing that the property is being transformed into a public place for the evening is via listed notifications (you can’t tell, as I found out, from the outside of the building) which almost always happens online. Supper clubs therefore bring into focus the intermediary role of the internet in the production and consumption of pop-up places. The internet is used to keep track of the transformation of city spaces into pop-up events, given that the pop-up landscape is too unsettled for cartographic representations, and requires something more akin to Paul Virilio’s ‘trajectography’. That is to say, pop-up requires ways of continuously finding out what’s happening, not a fixed way of knowing what is.  

 

Pop-up Cinema: Temporality and Urban Imaginaries 

I left, along with my friend, in day light, feeling pretty daft in the costume I’d been instructed to wear. But once we got closer to the site of the screening we started to see other people obviously going to the same place, and by the time we arrived we were part of an excited gang. We had to hand in our mobile phones before going into the building, which looked like it might have been an old fire station. The whole place had been decked out to look like a city, and my friend and I were sent to different districts and given different errands to do. Along my way I met various people, and sometimes couldn’t tell if they were actors or spectators like me. Most people never dropped character, and whenever asked I gave the name that I’d been allocated when I booked the tickets online. The set was pretty convincing and I quickly felt like I really was in an unknown city. Every now and then a short scene would be acted out, sometimes by characters I’d already interacted with. Eventually I found my friend out in the court yard and together we tried to piece together the story emerging from our encounters. The story was soon clarified when we were all called into a big hall to watch the film; we recognised the scenes we’d seen acted out and the characters we’d met and made sense of our experiences against the film’s narrative. During the film there were still some bits of acting taking place in the room, to compliment what was happening on screen. At the end there was a band and we danced with some other people, until we decided to pick up our phones, stumble out into the ‘real’ world, and get the last tube home.

Cinema has long been thought in relation to the city. Much attention has been paid both within Geography and Film Studies to how urban forms and temporalities have, across eras, been imagined via and shaped through film. Equally, places of cinematic spectatorship have been considered for their functions as spaces where alternative and politicized publics can be formed. Pop-up cinema can be seen as the latest chapter in this history. Pop-up screenings, as detailed above, have a lot in common with early models of spectatorship, where the film screening is just one part of an experience which includes music, performance, eating and drinking. Studying pop-up cinema as part of this history of urban spectatorship will allow insight into the ways in which pop-up cinema screenings re-imagine and construct the urban, and open avenues of exploration into the sociality and publicness of pop-up. Given the longstanding place of film in understandings of temporality, pop-up cinema will also be a good starting point for considering the nature of temporality within pop-up culture. Furthermore, as the account above shows, pop-up cinemas are carefully designed to create a site in which the fiction of a film is expanded into real space, and a study of their aesthetic form and its effects will provide an insight into elements of play, performance and immersion which are identifiable across pop-up culture.

 

Shipping Container Spaces: Place, Placelessness and the Economy of Pop-Up

One day I spent a few hours hanging around a ‘pop-up mall’ made of shipping containers. The containers had been painted and modified to create units which were being used for multiple shops, restaurants, cafes and bars to operate out of. There was also a further container a little way off from the main site where a sponsored busking event was taking place. Amateur but pretty decent songwriters and DJs were performing to a small, very hipster-ish, crowd and others looked on from the terrace of a bar operating out of one of the containers on the upper level of the structure. One of the corridors inside the container structure had been decorated with poems about east London, mostly celebrating the diversity of the area. The modular design of the containers gave a regularity to the shops and restaurants, but inside they had all been customized in different ways.

My final case study cluster, which will look at shipping container spaces, is an effective way to study the economy of pop-up. Shipping containers have historically been emblematic of globalisation and standardized production, but here, as my account shows, they are repurposed as customized objects with a new symbolic currency. Like most pop-ups, container spaces foreground the process of their construction, and take an aesthetic form which is performatively temporary and ad-hoc. The way in which shipping containers are repurposed for ‘make-shift’ structures, gives an insight into the shifts in logics of production and consumption which pop-up is part of, a shift towards the handmade, the one-off and the crafted. However, as well as economic shifts, container spaces also facilitate continuations of economic patterns. Like containers used for shipping, these containers are still tied up in maintaining trade and other circulations of capital in the city.

Shipping containers also provide an insight into tensions between place and placelessness in pop-up. Pop-up developments are often discussed by planners as creating a sense of place in areas, as is evidenced by the poems displayed on the walls in this account. But this sense of place is in tension with the destabilization of place for others, which pop-ups are arguably complicit in via gentrification. It’s also arguable that pop-up makes place a product, a selling point in itself which can be exported to many different spaces, and this too suggests that pop-ups might be thought in relation to ideas of non-place and placelessness. 

 

Summary of Rationale

As I hope these accounts make clear, my three clusters of case studies have been selected on the basis that they provide particular insight into the main distributions and imaginaries of the pop-up landscape. So, while my research will be in no way a complete or conclusive study of pop-up, it will contribute to emerging understandings of pop-up’s spatiotemporal logic, and its functions within the contemporary city.

by Ella Harris

Towards a Taxonomy of Pop-Up: Part One

With the help of funding from the SCG PhD Student Support Fund, I spent the past 6 months conducting a preliminary investigation into pop-up culture in London in order to identify case studies for my PhD research. This two part blog post gives an account of my findings and subsequent decisions.

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Impressions of London’s Pop-up Scene

Time Out’s ‘pop-up event generator’ gives a good indication of the current ubiquity of pop-up places and of how they are publicly perceived. Clicking on the generator throws out a parody of potential pop-ups: “An enchanted garden….at a secret location”, “A close-up magic show…in the midst of an empty housing estate”, “A greasy spoon with a ‘molecular gastronomy’ twist….in a disused brewery”.

The generator plays on pop-up’s pervasiveness, and picks up on some defining qualities of its imaginary: an absurdist incongruity of location and event, a fixation on transience and secrecy, and a fascination with the spectacular or surreal.  

In terms of the tasks this imaginary is put to, pop-up has been heralded by some as an opportunity for small enterprises to get off the ground and a way to rejuvenate post-recession high streets. The endorsement of temporary occupancy of commercial premises by the UK government, who have taken practical measures to facilitate short-term leases, has been instrumental in the growing popularity of pop-up as an urban form over the past decade. However, pop-up is regarded more critically by others, who explore its role in the gentrification of areas of London, often arguing that pop-up is merely a distraction from economic crisis, and/or a precursor to regeneration strategies which often result in the displacement of poorer populations.

Preliminary Investigations

The intention of my PhD is to study the ways in which time-space is imagined and performed by the producers of the pop-up landscape. However, given the breadth and prevalence of pop-up events, an ethnography of the entirety of pop-up culture in London would be near impossible, and I’ve needed to determine a selection of case studies and a methodological framework which will allow me to explore the logic of pop-up via concrete and manageable empirics.

Thanks to funding from the SCG PhD Student Support Fund, I was able to conduct a preliminary investigation into London’s pop-up scene to inform my case study selection. Between January and July I visited 27 pop-up places in order to get a sense of the kinds of pop-up which exist and think about which ones would be the best basis for my fieldwork.

 Brief Summary of Findings

The lists below give a sense of what I discovered about the pop-up landscape of London during my preliminary research.

 “Types”

The main forms of pop-up spatiality can be loosely categorised within the following list of ‘types’ (although distinctions between types aren’t always clear cut, and many pop-ups fit into more than one category.)

  • Pop-up Cinemas
  • Pop-up Theatres (Including pop-up opera)
  • Pop-up Restaurants
  • Immersive/themed pop-up dining and drinking events
  • Supper Clubs
  • Event Spaces – which can be split into two groups:
    • Existing venues designated for temporary use by multiple temporary tenants
    • Shipping container structures designed as multi-function pop-up consumption and event spaces
  • Pop-up Bars
  • Pop-up Shops
  • Educational pop-ups 
  • Residencies (a pop-up food or drink event taking temporary or cyclical ‘residence’ within an existing establishment, usually a pub or bar)
  • Public Space pop-ups (Including a pop-up forest and pop-up ping pong)

Temporality

Pop-ups can also be divided into two camps according to their temporal organisation: Pop-ups which occur as one-off events (be it for a night, a week or several months), and pop-ups which occur cyclically or seasonally.  

Geographical distribution within London

With regards to area – although there tend to be higher densities of pop-ups in ‘trendy’ areas of the city, for example around Hackney, there is actually a fairly wide spread of pop-ups in London, and during the six month period I was aware of pop-ups occurring in areas as disparate as Catford, Turnham Green and Tottenham. 

Common themes

As well as thinking about the kinds of categories pop-ups fit into, I also kept track of recurring themes notable across the pop-up landscape, with regards to their spatial, temporal and aesthetic form. I found the following commonalities:

  • The use of ‘alternative’ or unusual spaces including: private spaces (for example homes), ‘very urban’ spaces (for example car parks, roundabouts, warehouses) and vacant spaces (for example disused offices or retail premises)
  • The use of other premises after hours (for example a hairdresser used for evening film screenings or cafes used for pop-up dinners in the evenings)
  • An emphasis on craft, process and the handmade, in terms of the products sold but also in terms of the design of the spaces, via the use of make-shift materials, or via (lack of) interior design (i.e. exposed concrete and wiring.)
  • A tendency to theme pop-up events, often around fictional worlds from books or films, around nations and national events or sometimes around historical periods or famous people.
  • A focus on ‘immersive’ experiences (often via the use of themes as detailed above)
  • An emphasis on interactivity and sociability, including an encouragement to interact with strangers
  • A playful approach to the site’s former use and/or to place and locality – often achieved via the incorporation of a site’s former use into the naming or design of a pop-up (although not a pop-up, a bar using a similar naming convention in Deptford has been criticised for insensitivity, raising questions of relevance for pop-up too)
  • An emphasis on temporality (specifically on ephemerality and spontaneity) within marketing and publicity

Organisational structures  

I found that pop-ups are organisationally dependent on the internet. There are certain key websites which list pop-ups (for example ‘london pop-ups’, ‘edible experiences’ and ‘grub club’) and pop-ups tend to have a strong social media presence, using twitter and instagram for publicity (there was even a ‘pay by Instagram’ pop-up).

Pop-ups are also embedded in various economic, legal, governmental and charitable structures. There are multiple organisations who match poppers-uppers with spaces for them to pop-up into and pop-ups are often encouraged as part of national or local government supported regeneration schemes, or as part of business improvement districts. The ‘meanwhile lease template’ is designed to facilitate temporary uses of vacant buildings, and recent changes surrounding business rates and planning permission are intended to make pop-ups quicker and easier to organise.

Plan of Action

I wanted to narrow down my empirical focus in a way which enabled me to produce in depth knowledge of certain types of pop-up, while still allowing me to explore the commonalities and organisational structures of the pop-up landscape listed above. For this reason I decided to focus on the types of pop-up which I thought gave the clearest insight into the qualities of pop-up as a culture. The three types I selected are:

  1. Pop-up cinemas
  2. Supper clubs
  3. Shipping container spaces.

Within this framework, I plan to conduct three levels of research.

  1. An in depth ethnography of two case studies from each ‘type’ selected
  2. A briefer study of around six other case studies from each type, using interviews and short periods of ethnography.
  3. A series of short visits and participant observations at up to 40 pop-up places from, or of direct relevance to, the three types, as well as interviews with key players in pop-up’s organisation.

These levels will allow me to produce detailed knowledge about particular pop-up places, but without losing the sense of pop-up culture’s plurality, diversity and prominence within the city.

The next section of this blog will explain the rationale behind each of the types of pop-ups I’ve decided to focus on, demonstrating how they draw out the common themes and structures identified.

By Ella Harris

 

Everyday Augmentations of Place

LS Duggan

Digital technologies are becoming increasingly intertwined with everyday life at all scales. As a result they are having significant and often multiple impacts on the everyday geographies of many people. It could be said that in today’s world, many of our daily practices involve, if not rely upon, the use of internet-enabled digital technologies.

Increasingly this tethering of digital technology and practice is mediated through the mobile devices that we carry in our pockets or bags. When in use, these devices (primarily the popular smartphones and tablets available) make little distinction between what we once considered the ‘online’ and the ‘offline’ world. In effect, they are being used to mediate the material and the virtual in everyday practice.

Fundamental to my research is examining how these coming-togethers of the material and the virtual have affected a sense of place. I am particularly interested in how this digitally-mediated nexus affects a sensuous experience of place, which I suggest is inextricable to the assemblage(s) that constitutes place. My primary aim is therefore to explore how digital technologies augment everyday sensory experiences of place.

Technology has always been used in one way or another to augment our experiences, and therefore our sense of the world. I would however argue that digital technologies offer something novel in the way that they come to augment everyday life. I suggest that unlike previous technologies, those emerging today facilitate immediate access to a dense layering of dynamic information, to be retrieved from any location with cellular or WiFi connectivity. Noting the ‘real-world’ impact that access to this information can have, my research will examine what affect(s) this may have on a sense of place.

To be more specific, my research focuses on how the use of popular geo-spatial and geoweb technologies (which are embedded within most mobile devices available today) have come to augment everyday practices of navigation, way finding and exploration. Perhaps the most well known of these is mobile mapping applications, and as such questions addressing how mobile mapping applications have come to affect a sensory experience of place will feature heavily throughout this research. What does it mean, for instance, to experience the world through the lens of GoogleMaps, BingMaps, OpenStreetMap etcetera, and what bearing does that have on a users sense of place? Questions such as these will be used to address another of my research’s aims; that is to examine the impact that geo-spatial technologies may have on the sensory geographies of everyday spatial practice, and how these affect everyday place-making.

In carrying out this research I will to use a ground up, long form ethnographic methodology. Participants will be drawn from a broad range of cultures, the aim being not to provide any generalisations of society but instead to produce snapshots of how life is being lived in the so-called ‘digital age’. By exploring how geo-spatial technologies are affecting the intricacies of everyday practice in this manner, my research aims to provide an alternative to the ‘big data’ driven studies currently dominating this field of research.

By Mike Duggan (PhD Candidate)

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Curating Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

 oil on canvas  226.5 x 275 cmCourtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Daniel Boyd, We Call them Pirates Out Here, 2006
oil on canvas, 226.5 x 275 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley Gallery

Oil on canvas 192.2 x 265.4 cm

E Phillips Fox, Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, 1902. Oil on canvas
192.2 x 265.4 cm

Mark Dion Phantoms of the Clark Expedition, 2012 Installation Explorers Club New York Courtesy of the artist

Mark Dion, Phantoms of the Clark Expedition, 2012
Installation
Explorers Club New York
Courtesy of the artist

Revisit Memory 1908 - 9 (installation detail) embroidery on linen 2013

Hu Yun, Revisit Memory 1908 – 9, 2013
(installation detail)
embroidery on linen
Courtesy of the artist and Aike-Delarco Gallery

 

Recent years have seen a surge in artists’ projects engaging with environmental questions and addressing these through novel forms for research, documentation, presentation, and public dialogues. As a consequence artists have sought new artistic strategies, constituencies, and institutional frameworks in which creative experimentation can take place. Frequently these projects are instigated by and enabled through a contemporary art curator.

I am particularly interested in artists who engage with ecological systems and constructions of nature through working in the modes of ‘field work’ and ‘expedition’. These modes, so I propose, are particularly useful for the study of the relationships between humans and nature, particularly environmental change, and within post-colonial contexts.

Within these artistic practices deploying the expeditionary mode I focus on performative projects – benefitting here from joint supervision within the Geography Department and by the Department of Drama and Theatre Studies ̶ that re-enact historic and contemporary scientific practices in the natural sciences in order to make visible the processes and consequences of human actions. Through re-enactments, be they performative or through history painting both, artist and viewer, can imagine and re-imagine a past historical world, that encompasses natural and human history, and reflect on the present.

Underpinning my research are notions of time and human actions, as currently taken up in the wildly varying debates around the geological ‘Anthropocene’, a term intended to highlight the significance of human agency within the Earth’s natural system (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000).

Currently I am exploring the geological imagination through works by American artist Mark Dion and the ecological imagination by collaborating with photographer Chrystel Lebas by studying the archives of British botanist and ecologist Sir Edward James Salisbury (1886 –1978), which are held at the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens. I also work with Australian artist Daniel Boyd and study his imaginings of the cultures of the Pacific via archival collections and history paintings as well as his cosmological imagination.

Through these and other artists’ works, such as Chinese artist Hu Yun, I will open up transcultural spaces. I will show how artists make visible the contributions of scientific expeditions to the natural sciences and imperialism, and how ideologies, gender, and social class differences are manifested in the constructions of peoples, nature, and history. Furthermore I will explore how artists create new analytical, imaginary and mental spaces by introducing disruptions, humour, the poetic, and the absurd into the scientific and ethnographic moments of fieldwork and expedition.

From the perspectives of geography, performance studies, visual culture, post-colonial studies, and the history of science I will gain understandings of artists’ re-enactments that offer not only critical reflections and discourse, but show how they are conducive to creating a theatre of history. In the words of historian Greg Dening “…the realism of history, not of the past, will always be somewhat magical.”

Bergit Arends, PhD Candidate

 

See also:

Observing Environmental Change: Chrystel Lebas and the Sir Edward James Salisbury Collection

Daniel Boyd Tracing the Past at the Natural History Museum London

First Fleet: Daniel Boyd at the Natural History Museum London

 

Key words: Anthropocene, curating, contemporary art, environment, expeditions, exhibition, field work, history, science

Souvenir Geographies — My first year PhD presentation in Landscape Surgery

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

Shirt of London Made in Turkey, (photo by author, taken in Cool Britannia, summer 2014)

The first-year PhD presentation day is a tradition of Landscape Surgery. I attended it last year as an audience member when I was a MA student, and was honoured to be a speaker in it this year. For the LS presentation, I created a slideshow to help demonstrate my PhD (available here), which can also give you a taste of my PhD.

This project looks at a widely-loved object: the souvenir. Many people keep souvenirs as reminders of a person, place, or event. A souvenir is inherently geographical based on its nature. A souvenir’s mobility is its most outstanding geographical characteristic: souvenirs move from the place of tourism to the place of home; from ‘extraordinary’ place to the world of the ‘ordinary’. Although souvenirs take on many forms, functions and representations, they are often formally associated with a specific geographical place.

Studies related to souvenirs in SCG are rare. Morgan & Pritchard (2005) studied souvenir and self-identity; Hashimoto & Telfer (2007) talked about authentic geographical souvenirs in Canada; Ramsay (2009) had an impressive field work of souvenir production sites in Swaziland; while Peters (2011) studied banal souvenirs’ home placement. Souvenirs studies have potential for exploration.

My PhD project ‘Souvenir Geographies: Authenticity and Place Making’ focus on souvenirs on two way: one is to explore how souvenirs’ authenticity and meaning change along with places; secondly it looks at how souvenirs shape places in the terms of place making. This process is revealed by following souvenirs in a linear route: from the making sites, tourist sites, transport sites (AKA non-places: airports, train stations; Augé, 1994) and then to the tourists’ homes. In this quadruple layer process, souvenir’s spatiotemporal peculiarity makes it a great object to follow, and to analysis from a geographical perspective. Putting my Cultural Geographer’s hat on, I analysis souvenirs based on their spatial movements.

In the terms of methodology, ‘following the thing’ and visual ethnography are the most basic and key methods used through out the whole project. Apart from these, semi_structured interviews, using postcards as a method, participant observation, keeping fieldwork diary: text, image and video, and blogging as a method (project blog) are also used in this project. When it comes to field work, two fields are considered for this project. The first one is UK, and the other is China. In each case, equal factories, tourist sites, transporting sites and homes will be visited and same number of postcards will be handed out.

Souvenirs studying is an innovative and novel topic area in Cultural Geography, which promises to contribute to discussions in a range of geographical topics: material culture, place and, in particular, tourism studies.

Zhuyun (Amy) Zang, PhD Candidate

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Exploring Time-Space in the Temporary City

 

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(pop-up film screening, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens)

My PhD looks at three kinds of “pop-up” spatiality in London in order to explore new distributions and imaginations of time-space in the contemporary city.

Pop-ups are temporary places, usually created in vacant buildings or temporary purpose built or re-purposed structures. They have become a huge phenomenon in recent years, arguably growing, in part, out of rising vacancy rates in urban areas after the recession. Pop-up is now ubiquitous as a term and as well as the routine sight of pop-up bars, cinemas and shops there are pop-up think tanks, pop-up yoga classes and ‘pop-up weddings’!? Pop-up is so prevalent that there is, apparently, even going to be a pop-up restaurant on the site of the last supper.

Pop-up’s can be situated within a long history of temporary geographies, which they draw on and respond to, including street food markets, “happenings”, raves, prohibition bars and early cinema screenings. Against this history, I think that what delineates pop-up as a new phenomenon is the way in which pop-up places emphatically perform their temporariness via their aesthetic form and state their affiliation with pop-up culture through their use of pop-up’s lexicon.  For this reason I see pop-up as being as much an imaginative as a material geography and, accordingly, frame my work as a study of the ways in which time and space are conceived and performed within pop-up culture.

Within the vast landscape of pop-up places I focus on three kinds of pop-up spatiality: shipping container spaces, supper clubs and pop-up cinemas. These three types have each been selected to draw out different aspects of pop-up’s spatio-temporal logic, including its economic structures, its approach to the notion of place, its implications for public/private dichotomies, its relationship to the internet, its forms of sociability, and its rendition of temporality and the urban. These features of pop-up’s spatio-temporal logic in turn indicate, I think, changes in the imagination of the city more broadly.

My research also considers the politics of pop-up within the contexts of recession and austerity. I see pop-up as embedded in two inter-related regimes of temporariness. These are, on the one hand, an enchantment with transience, now-ness and newness apparent in practices such as ‘flash-mobs’, ‘hot-desking’ and ‘start-ups’, as well as in the experience economy, and on the other, an increasing precarity of place linked to austerity urbanism and processes of gentrification. I consider the role of pop-up in normalising, glamorising and instigating temporariness at a time of widespread precarity in London.

As well as ethnography, auto-ethnography and discourse analysis of pop-up’s online presence, my methodological approach to studying pop-up will include the use of film to create an interactive documentary website about the pop-up city. This site will compliment my written PhD and engage with the aesthetic form of individual pop-up places, as well as with the aesthetic form taken by the pop-up landscape as a whole; explored through notions of nonlinearity, immersion and co-presence.

Ella Harris

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