(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.