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Creative City Limits

I’ve just recently finished editing my first audio piece. The recordings are from a bus tour of East London in the summer of 2011, organized by Andrew Harris and guided by artist Laura Oldfield Ford and architectural writer Douglas Murphy. If you listen closely you can also hear the voices of some of my intellectual role models, Peter Marcuse and the wunderkind Owen Hatherley. The itinerary focused on the history of redevelopment in various boroughs of the East End, particularly relating to critiques of current Olympic regeneration schemes. Interspersed with the guided tour are recordings of the various sites visited. Organized by Creative City Limits and the UCL Urban Laboratory, with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Thanks to Maria Agiomyrgiannaki for the help recording.

On a related note, I wasn’t familiar with Laura’s zine and book, Savage Messiah before the tour, but I really want to check it out. It seems to be a great mix of criticism, punk ethic and some really great illustrations.

Here’s the piece, it’s best with headphones.

Manchester: Excavating “The Original Modern”

I recently published a short piece in Issue 15 of the excellent Manchester fanzine, The Shrieking Violet. It’s about Manchester’s branding of itself as “The Original Modern,” and where we might find the real “original modern” within the built environment of the city.

Here’s a little excerpt:

Just as “Cottonopolis” was the first industrial city, and accordingly, for a moment, world’s most futuristic city, it was also one of the first ‘postindustrial’ cities. Since the 1970s, this city of red brick has become the master of municipal entrepreneurialism based on a sanitized industrial history—a new heritage industry emerged, repackaging the city in the sepia tones of nostalgia. Branding itself as “The Original Modern”, city boosters Marketing Manchester project an outward image as a risk-taking city that shirks convention and always has. After decades of embarrassment and disavowal of its industrial dowry, the city’s well-branded “urban renaissance” has been predicated on a reinvention that both conceals and reveals its cultural heritage, in an amalgam of selective memory and outright amnesia.

There’s some great stuff in this issue, and you can access the whole thing here.

Marketing Manchester has reappeared in the spotlight recently through the “I ♥ MCR” campaign, with its ubiquitous posters covering the city centre, particularly in the Northern Quarter. In the wake of the riots, these signs give the impression of some sort of heartwarming grassroots expression of civic pride. However, this programme was spearheaded by the agency, which is in charge of “developing the Manchester brand” and is funded by a number of public and business actors within the city region. I suggest the excellent analysis of this phenomenon from Richard Goulding of the Manchester Mule.

Article in Liminalities: The Journal of Performance Studies

“Jute”, the audiovisual project I worked on with Bradley L. Garrett and Jonathan Prior, has been published with an accompanying essay in the current issue of Liminalities. This is the first piece in an ongoing special section of the journal, The City, edited by Daniel Makagon. I’d suggest that any academics who are exploring cities with digital media check out their Call for Papers and Projects. It is one of the few peer-reviewed journals that accepts audio and video work, and is also completely open-access, much to the credit of the editors.

I have posted the video and some descriptions earlier so I won’t be redundant. If you would like to read the essay, “Jute: Excavating Material and Symbolic Surfaces”, you can find it here. It would be great to get any sort of feedback on the essay and/or the project itself.

Urban Transcripts: Rome, the accidental city

I’m excited to be involved with the planning of the second annual Urban Transcripts, a series of events focusing on “(re)discovering the exceptional oddities and alternative visions that make every city so different to every other.” It will be held in Rome in late December and consist of an exhibition, conference and workshop. Last year I proposed a participatory photography project for the first Urban Transcripts in Athens, but ended up not being able to attend. Yiorgos Papamanousakis approached me earlier this year to help curate project proposals and run a workshop. The structure is quite promising; the workshops will be led by two tutors, one of whom is familiar with the built environment and social context of Rome, and a guest who will focusing on experimental methodologies of interpreting and documenting “the accidental city.”

The Call for Projects is now up on the website, and more information about the workshops and other events will be added later. This is a collectively-run DIY project, so most of the events in Rome will be in free, while the workshops will only cost enough to pay for the expenses of the visiting tutors. Minimal fees are involved for submissions and participation, as everything is being done on a shoestring budget. If you’re interested in proposing a project or submitting work for the exhibition, it would be great to hear from you.

You can follow the progression of the project on Urban Transcripts’ Newsblog or Facebook page.

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Animation courtesy of Yiorgos Papamanousakis

The City as Continuous Edifice, Monument and Fortress

I just came across this video that Adam Ryder made in 2009.  It’s an excellent remix of nine science fiction films, fulfilling (and generating) tropes of dystopian urban futures. Also, excellent title.

In his words, “Overcrowded, overbuilt, and dystopic, these films offer us an extrapolation of today’s urban development problems if allowed to progress unchecked for hundreds of years.”


Here’s a little photographic slideshow with audio field recordings that Jonathan Prior and I put together from our wander around Leith, just outside of Edinburgh, Scotland.  The funfair was in a spillover car park for the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre shopping center in the partially-regenerated port area.  We were exploring the area last month when I visiting Jon and Ericka Duffy.  FUN FUN FUN.

The audio is best enjoyed with headphones, and you can make it full screen by clicking the icon in the Vimeo window.

Funfair from Jonathan Prior on Vimeo.


On March 29 and 30 I attended an excellent event at University College London called Stadtkolloquium, organized by Sandra Jasper, a PhD student at UCL’s Urban Laboratory.  The event was attended by over thirty postgraduate researchers and early-career academics from various fields within urban studies, and from a number of European institutions.  The University of Manchester was represented by myself, fellow PhD geographer Jana Wendler, and Leandro Minuchin, a lecturer at the Manchester Architectural Research Centre.

At the event, I presented a paper called “Infrastructure and Indeterminacy: The Production of Residual Space.”  This was a draft of an eventual book chapter that I am presenting at a The Anti-Landscape at the University of Southern Denmark. Basically, what I am trying to do is look at ways that socio-technical systems are theorized in the social sciences and connect these conceptualizations with the way that urban infrastructural spaces are imagined within the fields of urbanism (architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, planning).  Central to this is the imaginary of “left-over spaces”, “urban voids” and “no man’s lands”, using Manchester’s Victorian railway viaducts as an exemplar.  Honestly, this paper has been in the works for way too long, and I probably haven’t been very pragmatic in trying to undertake it during the short length of a PhD. This was all the more reason to sound some ideas and get some feedback.

I truly appreciated the opportunity to present this paper to a group of geographers, architectural historians and designers.  It’s rare to be in a room full of people who are so engaging, and whose work approaches urban space from a variety of perspectives and at different scales.  Everyone presented their research, collectively developed a critical dialogue about ontology, epistemology and method, and found commonalities among our research interests.  To my surprise, there were many overlaps with my areas of interest– a number of researchers presented work on infrastructural landscapes, cultural memory (and amnesia), visuality, modernity and postmodernity, and experimental research practice.

The whole event got me thinking about the different ways that researchers, especially when discussing theory and philosophy, mobilize certain metaphors.  Some were questioning the implications of thinking of their research as an “archive”, others were describing redundant infrastructure as “phantom limbs”, which draws from the historical reference to the city as alternatively a body and a machine (or, as others described it, a cyborg).

On the second day, we had a “method lab” (I don’t know why I was the only one that laughed at that).  After a somewhat contentious conversation about Actor-Network Theory, Matthew Gandy and Leandro Minuchin presented on historical research methods, and Andrew Harris presented on the role of audio-visual documentation in his research of the “vertical geographies” of Mumbai.  With his focus on the leftover spaces of infrastructure and his use of photography, audio and mapping, I realized that our work had a huge amount of commonalities.  Last was a presentation by Michal Murawski, a PhD anthropologist at Cambridge, which I found especially interesting and subversive.  Through an approach he described as “ethnographic conceptualism”, he uses agit-prop to approach the relationship between a particularly dominating building, The Palace of Culture and Science, and the city of Warsaw.  If you can read Polish, his blog looks interesting.

Thanks a lot to everyone who helped put this on, it was excellent.  I had more stimulating conversations about urban research than any other event I have attended so far as a PhD student.

Creative Practice Primer

The Experimental Research Network has just published a web-based Creative Practice Primer, which is the result (and archive) of a week-long workshop at Dundee Contemporary Arts in November of 2010.  This was the event where I worked on the Jute project with Jonathan Prior and Bradley Garrett, which I have posted previously.  The contents of the Primer are tips, reflections, and a showcase of collaborative research projects using audio, visual, and site-specific creative methods.  Aside from contributing to a reflective essay on the Jute project, I also write a guide outlining various techniques for taking photographs in low-light situations.

N.B.- There’s also a nice reflective piece by Bradley on the collaborative process of making Jute on the Creative Practice Primer site.


Tattered Fragments of the Map

In 2009, I co-curated an exhibition and series of events in at g727 Gallery in Los Angeles called Photocartographies with Adam Katz. which featured the work of artists David Maisel, Frank Gohlke, David Horvitz, Nikolas Schiller, Angie Waller, Oraib Toukan, Anthony Auerbach, Cris Benton, Gregory Michael Hernandez, Katherine E. Bash, Adam Ryder, Noah Beil, and Bill Brown.

Along with the exhibition, Adam and I self-published a book of interviews and essays called Tattered Fragments of the Map. While we are selling the book through the project’s website and the Center for  Land Use Interpretation’s online store, we have decided to post the full-text PDF for download.  If you are able to purchase it, please do, but in the spirit of financial austerity and copyleft, we would like to make it publicly available.

(From Introduction)

Photocartographies is a curatorial project that has materialized as an exhibition, a series of public programs and this book, Tattered Fragments of the Map. Although some artists involved in the exhibition have also contributed written work, this publication is certainly not a catalogue of the show. Instead, we hope that various ideas which surfaced during our investigation and preparation could be presented here in a sort of schizophrenic, scattershot survey of mapping and its associated theoretical implications. These articles represent a series of tangents and departures, gestures toward the premise that a map is not a representation so much as a system of propositions.

Download the full-text PDF here


Adam Katz and Brian Rosa, Introductions
Interview with Denis Wood
Anthony Auerbach, The World is a Cut-up
Bill Brown, Oklahoma Motel & Biosphere 2
Simone Hancox, The Map is Performed in the Territory
Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, The Rise of The User Generated City
Bill Fox, The Angels of Mulholland Drive
Herbert Gottfried, North Acton, Route 27 Community Gardens & Comfort Suites Under Construction, Bedford
Gerardo Greene Gondi, Image Texture
Alex Haber, Mapping the Void in Perec’s Species of Spaces
Cris Benton, A Brief History of Kite Aerial Photography
Anusha Venkataraman, Situating the Grassroots: Collectivity and Imagination

The Edge of Light: Wendover

Twenty five photographs from my collaboration with Adam Ryder are now featured at Places Journal. These were created while we were artists-in-residence at the Center for Land Interpretation in the summer of 2010. This is my second piece for Places, having also written a review essay of Frank Gohlke’s Thoughts on Landscape for them about a year ago. Here’s a little bit of our introductory text of “The Edge of Light: Wendover,” check out the full feature here!

“The unique topography of the region, which lies at the foot of the Toana mountain range and the Leppy Hills, offers the opportunity for unexpectedly dynamic vistas. Trudging up to the promontories that loom over town, we had oblique views of the city, of the perfectly straight and flat stretch of Interstate 80 through the salt flats and of the monolithic communication arrays. From this vantage on a clear day, we found ourselves at one of the few points where the earth’s curvature can be seen on the horizon with the naked eye. At night, while the Utah side was nearly lightless, the casinos and hotels and parking lots on the Nevada side glowed bright as day, projecting a harsh screen of light on newly built tract housing, piles of concrete rubble from building demolitions and the mountains beyond.”