Performing Urban Archives


  • Wednesday 10th June 2015, 10-6.30pm
  • Arts Two, Film & Drama Studio
  • To register for the keynotefollow this link
  • To register for the performance lecture, urban expedition and panel discussionfollow this link
  • N.B. If you would like to attend the full-day programme, you will need to register for BOTH events. Lunch is only included if you register for the workshops and panel discussion.
  • Organised by Cecilie Sachs Olsen

A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira’s past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls. (Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities)

Performing Urban Archives is a one-day interdisciplinary event combining theory and practice through high-profile keynotes, performance lectures, panel discussions and urban expeditions. The event brings together a range of invited scholars, artists and practitioners such as the world-renowned artist Richard Wentworth, the professor and writer Michael Sheringham, artist and performance scholar Johanna Linsley and the international artist collective zURBS. The focus is on exploring new methodological approaches to the urban by discussing how seeing the city-as-archive, as a method for urban research, may open up for alternative urban imaginaries that investigate what urban space is and means.

As Michael Sheringham points out, seeing the city as an archive means to approach it as layer upon layer of compacted material detail that is in endless transformation. One can here talk about manifestations of ‘contemporary past’ (Pearson 2010) in the form of marks and traces in our urban surroundings: graffiti, footprints, handrails rubbed naked of paint, stains, dropped groceries, vomited kebab etc. – attesting both to our presence as well as our absence. These traces are perpetually erased in the current urban realm due to a desire for perfect materiality sustained by new, perpetually replaced and glossy commodities. As a result, we cannot associate ourselves with the collective practice of preceding users showing confidence in the traces they leave behind, e.g. the complicity in infringement when sticking a piece of chewing gum onto a spot littered with other pieces of gum, the gradually forming of a path providing a shortcut over a lawn, or the double door where the one handle that is polished from use indicates that this is the side that will open. Hence, the current obsession with the new, removing all memory of other uses and thus the experience of these objects, challenges the potential of urban materiality to function as a medium for sharing and establishing relationships that brings one closer to the crowd. As Pearson argues there is thus a need for a field of enquiry that involves a renewed sensitivity to the material fabric of the present and attention to those details distinct and differentiated that signal our presence. In this context the event poses the following questions:

How does the notion “the city as archive” relate to the politics and practices of urban space?

How can approaching the city as an archive open up for new urban imaginaries?

What can this approach tell us about the relationship between people and the cities they inhabit?

How can approaching the city as an archive challenge fixed meanings of the tangible and physical aspects of urban space?

How can objects and artifacts articulate certain urban practices and experiences?

In what ways may art play a role in opening up for seeing the city as an archive?


10.00 – 11.30/ Keynote: City as Archive

Michael Sheringham (Oxford), Professor in French literature and author of Everyday Life among other publications, in dialogue with Richard Wentworth, world-renowned British sculptor working with the notion of objects and their use as part of our day-to-day experiences. Chair: David Pinder

12.00 – 12.45 / Lecture performance: ‘The Present Becomes Us’

The Future is a place, it turns out. Its relationship to the present is not, in fact, temporal, but geographical. Yet, the Future has no materiality of its own. So it extracts human potential from the present, and translates present potential into substance and, eventually, consciousness. By: Johanna Linsley with Emma Bennett (QMUL).

12.45 – 13.45 / Lunch

13.45 – 16.00  / Urban exploration: ‘Archiving the City’

An urban exploration by zURBS, sending speakers and audience on a form of treasure hunt around the Mile End campus, to look for future memories contained in the present. The memories will be archived and put in ‘the Mile End time capsule’.

16.30 – 18.00 / Panel discussion: Performing urban archives

Panel discussion between the cultural geographer Harriet Hawkins (Royal Holloway), architectural theorist Joseph Kohlmaier (London Met), performance scholar Katie Beswick (QMUL) and Johanna Linsley (Roehampton). Each speaker will give 10 min inputs, followed by a panel discussion on performing urban archives. Chair Jen Harvie

michael_sherringham_025Michael Sheringham is Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford. He has written extensively on everyday life, memory and the archive, for example in his book Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present (2006), and on the city in Parisian Fields (ed.), Reaktion Books, 1996 and his chapter on the city as archive in Restless Cities (ed. Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart, Verso 2010). Sheringham was granted a Leverhulme Research Award in 2009 for his work on the ‘archival imaginary’. Photo credit:

richard-wentworth-yiannis-katsaris_slideshowRichard Wentworth has played a leading role in British sculpture since the 1970s. His artistic practice revolves around objects and their use as part of our day-to-day urban experiences. His particular interest in the unusual or counter-intuitive behaviour of things, crystallizes in his photographic semi-diaristic archives in which the urban landscape is framed through the arrangements of objects that he encounters in his day-to-day journeying around the city. Photo credit:

BeswickKatie Beswick is lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance studies at Queen Mary University. Her research revolves around the representation of council estates in performance practices, with a focus on space, place and socially engaged theatre. In this regard Beswick has looked at the remnants of sociality in social housing estates and the idea of the social housing estate as a ruin. Outside academia Beswick has worked as a writer, performer, facilitator of applied theatre and as a housing officer.

HarvieJen Harvie is Professor of Contemporary Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary University of London. She is author of Fair Play – Art, Performance and Neoliberalism (2013), Theatre & the City (2009) and Staging the UK (2005), co-author of The Routledge Companion to Theatre and Performance (2006; revised edition forthcoming 2014) and co-editor of special issues of Contemporary Theatre Review on “The Cultural Politics of London 2012” (2013) and “Globalisation and Theatre“ (2006), Making Contemporary Theatre: International Rehearsal Processes (2010) and the Palgrave Macmillan series Theatre &. Her research examines the cultural politics of contemporary theatre, performance and art in their material contexts of production, including structures of funding and urban sites.

HarrietHawkinsHarriet Hawkin’s research focuses on the geographies of art works and art worlds. Collaboration underpins her research practice and alongside written research she has produced artist’s books, participatory art projects and exhibitions with individual artists and range of international arts organizations including Iniva (UK), Furtherfield (UK) Tate (UK), Arts Catalyst (UK),and Swiss Artists in Labs (Switzerland). She has built on these projects as part of the founding editorial collective for the journal GeoHumanities. Harriet is the author of For Creative Geographies (Routledge 2013) and Creativity (Routledge 2015) and co-editor of Geographical Aesthetics (Ashgate 2015). She is a Senior Lecturer in Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.

KohlmaierJoseph Kohlmaier’s work crosses over different disciplines and bring together practices such as writing, design, teaching, performance, editorial and curatorial work, and composition. He is a senior lecturer in the history and theory of architecture at The Cass, London Metropolitan University where he also teaches a cross-faculty dissertation studio on performance and the creative process. He runs a postgraduate contextual studies module on sound, architecture and the city; and is head of the MA by Project: Course in poetics. He is founder and Creative Director of Musarc, one of the UK’s most progressive and unusual choral ensembles; and one of the founding directors of graphic design practice Polimekanos.

LinsleyJohanna Linsley is an artist, researcher and producer with an interdisciplinary approach focusing on performance. She is part of the London-based live art producing team I’m With You, which investigates queerness, domesticity, private life and public space. She is also a founding partner of UnionDocs, a centre for experimental documentary in Brooklyn, New York. She received a PhD in performance studies from Queen Mary, University of London, and also studied at Smith College. Johanna’s work is iterative and research-based. It often centres around projects with multiple versions or outcomes. Themes that run through this work include documentation and archives, labels and classification, domesticity, and sexuality. An interest in the speculative and fantastical underlies this work.

Pinder-300x199David Pinder is an urban and cultural geographer at Queen Mary University of London, School of Geography. His research areas include utopianism and cities, especially in relation to the situationists and twentieth-century avant-gardes. He has also written widely on art, spatial practices and the politics of urban space. He is the author of Visions of the City: Utopianism, Power and Politics in Twentieth-Century Urbanism (2005), and a guest editor of a theme issue of the journal Cultural Geographies on ‘Arts of urban exploration’ (2005). He was recently a Velux Visiting Professor at Roskilde University, and has previously held visiting positions at Princeton University, and at City University of New York Graduate School.

zURBSzURBS is an urban research collective working with a wide range of urban citizens through a social-artistic approach that aims to pose alternatives to how we live together in our cities (=the social), through creative and imaginative processes (=the artistic). Thus, zURBS organizes projects, workshops, interventions and lectures, in collaboration with a wide range of national and international organizations. The idea of constructing so-called ‘alternative city archives’, in which the role of the archivist is given to the residents of the city, has played an important part in zURBS work.

Geography logo

queen-mary-university-of-london-student-union-logoCity Centre logo


This event is kindly supported by The City Centre in the School of Geography and the Campus Community Fund.