Archives for posts with tag: Urban

From Mini-Symposium #2, Leeds 8.10.14 at Yorkshire Dance

Brief notes taken during Dani’s presentation:

  • Knowledge as understood through doing.
  • Skateboarding – asking why is this ‘not meant for me’?
  • Skateboarding as play
  • Playfulness in urban space
  • Connection of gender and built environment
  • Work = performative and productive
  • Alternative representations of ‘woman’
  • Association of play with childhood – as adults we still play
  • Play that doesn’t look skilled – not spectacle / not to be consumed
  • Asking how do I present myself as gendered?
  • Use of grey dress – ‘ghosting’ of an archetype
  • Replicating the turning of the wheel
  • How strictly controlled public spaces are – how easy it is to be radical there

Written by Dani Abulhawa

I’ve been thinking about these terms a lot recently. They relate to my research on gendered play in the public built environment. For the past six years I’ve been engaged in a practice-as-research project that involves me going into town and making playful use of street objects, paving, railings and other things. I have performed this work in places where there are no people around and where there are lots of people. I have performed in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Chester, Rugby, London, Bristol and Sheffield.

For this practice I wear a dress, which has developed over time, but is best described as something in a style that is reminiscent of fictional girl/woman characters. It is a sort of fairytale dress with puff sleeves and a full skirt. The fabric of this costume is grey cotton, referencing the generic outfit of city workers, and having connotations with uniformity, blending in, and the seriousness of a work environment.

I play ‘like a child’, but I avoid this identification because the activity is really a reclaiming of the act of play for an adult, and a woman. We human beings are players. Simple, improvised, spontaneous play is not merely something that children should do.

For me, the city is a social forum, a place that has been built by people and in which people’s lives play out. Practices of this urban place are like flows of social information; what people wear, how they move, and how they behave speaks to you. It is a flow of telling what is expected, what you can do and what you can’t. And the flow of information coming from the city is increasingly commercial. Our movements in the city are focused around the smooth transacting of money or the productive movement of workers to and from places of work.

My performances are an interruption. They aim to disrupt the flow of dominant social information. I am an interruption as a woman who plays, and I am being unproductive and non-commercial in this space. I don’t invite participation, but sometimes people join in with me, talk to me, and shout things at me. They interrupt or modify my flow in their own ways.

I always liked the idea of interruption because it doesn’t imply any kind of fixing of a problem (like intervention does) and the necessary privilege and authority that goes along with that. It simply points to another possibility or perspective, representing a different voice in the milieu of social soliloquies.

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Image credit: Dani Abulhawa





Allora & Calzadilla (2007) Interview in ART21 Allora & Calzadilla | Art21 | Preview from Season 4 of “Art in the Twenty-First Century” (2007) [Online video]. Available at: (Accessed 28th July 2014).

  • This short video introduces a piece of work titled Chalks, which was made by Allora & Calzadilla in Peru. Chalks involved the company placing gigantic pieces of chalk in a central square in Lima that houses several government buildings. The square is one regularly used for the voicing of political issues by members of the public. This video looks at how the chalks deposited by A&C were used by people within this place, and how the ‘sculpture’ (A&C’s term, though I would argue it’s as much performance) was eventually removed by police.


Cirio, P. (n.d.) Street Ghosts [poster interventions] documented at Cirio, P. (2012) Street Ghosts [online]. Available from: (Accessed 4th September 2013).

  • Cirio’s Street Ghosts project involves him finding places on google maps where the images of people have been captured, printing out life-size images of them and then pasting these images onto buildings and objects in the actual streets that they appear on google maps. The work explores the problems around surveillance culture and companies that own personal information in the form of public images.

Freeman, J. (2010) Blood, Sweat and Theory. Farringdon: Libri Publishing.

  • This book is about practice-as-research, but it is interesting because it includes several case studies, many of which are examples of socially-engaged performance. See particularly chapters: 1 – on the work of Allan Owens and Hala Al-Yamani; 3 – on the work of Curious; and 11 – on the work of Lee Miller and Bob Whalley; amongst others.

Hofbauer, U. and Derschmidt, F. (2010) ‘Horror Vacui’ in Whybrow, N. (ed.) Performance and the Contemporary City: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Hofbauer and Derschmidt discuss their ‘Permanent Breakfast’ events, in which they invite members of the public to sit with them in public places and breakfast. The work functions as a way to meet strangers and to talk about things. In this article Hofbauer and Derschmidt talk about ‘pseudo’ public urban space and how anonymity affects people’s ability to connect and be ‘public’. They also have a website that compliments this article:
  • Permanent Breakfast (2013). Rules of the Game. [online]. Available from: (Accessed 31st July 2013).

LIGNA (n.d.)(c) The Cry of the Mall [online]. Available from: (Accessed 4th September 2013).

  • LIGNA are a group of three artists working together on different projects. They have a weekly radio show, which involves members of the public calling up and playing their favourite songs through their phone receivers. But, this article from their website talks about a project called The Cry of the Mall, and in it I like the way they discuss how the mall conditions social life.

Image credit: Allora and Calzadilla

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Written by Sarah Spanton

Leo Burtin’s Homemade: le Bistroquet  briefly described in a previous post took the form of a market stall, yet was not about an exchange of cash for tasty bistro cooking, but an exchange of one of your recipes for this tasty bistro cooking.


For me, this project was about setting up an alternative mode of economic exchange – that subverts the foregrounding of the cash exchange as the only valuable exchange between people.

This work acknowledges that there other things that are of worth in life, in this case your cooking knowledge, and your desire to share your favourite recipe with others. People actively engaged in writing their favourite recipes down on cards in exchange for the food on offer. The recipes are to be collated into a cookery book in the near future.



However, I didn’t manage to successfully make an exchange on the day, and effectively owe Leo a recipe, as I did eat some very nice pizza. Once I realised I had to provide a recipe, I felt under pressure. I actually like cooking, but tend to make things up as a I go along a lot of the time, so writing a recipe down felt like a challenge. Yet, I’d partaken of the food offered, and felt guilty when I sloped off to take part in the rest of Hazard.

So to publicly make reparations for this, here’s my recipe for rhubarb and blackberry crumble.

150g Wholewheat flour

50g Oats

50g Margarine/butter

100g Sugar

400g Cooked rhubarb (sweat around 4 sticks, in a covered dish in the oven for 20 mins or so, with 25g of sugar)

250g Un-cooked blackberries (cooked on a low heat with a 50g sugar)

Heat the oven to 180c

Grease an oven proof dish (the one I use is 8cm tall, 18cm across)

Cook blackberries, rinse through and add 50g of the sugar, heat in a pan with a lid, for 5 mins.

Add cooked rhubarb and blackberries to greased dish, mix gently.

Rub the wholewheat flour together with the margarine in a bowl, until you have fine crumbs. Add in the oats, and 25g sugar and carefully pour over the fruit in the bowl.

Cook in the oven for 20 minutes, until the top is brown, and the fruit bubbling a little.

Image credits: 1 Hazard, 2, 3 Sarah Spanton

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Written by Sarah Spanton

I’ve experienced Institute for Crazy Dancing’s Lifeboat twice now, once in Cross Flatts Park, Beeston, Leeds in April this year, and the second time in St Ann’s Square, Manchester at Hazard in July.

The lifeboat itself is a carefully crafted wooden boat-like structure, with a blue canvas awning, from which hang 4 hammocks. One or two of the Lifeboat crew push the boat around for 5 minutes or so, whilst the hammocks gently swing from side to side. People queue up to take part all day long. They declare the experience to be relaxing and contemplative.


One reason Lifeboat matters is that it allows people who dare to ride in it to experience the possibility of being in a world that is otherwise. It shows us that if we can make this little world inside, we probably are making the bigger world as well. It opens space for imagining that it can and should be different. It is possible to be kind and gentle and to take time to get your bearings, in the company of others who are doing the same, and thus feeling your position in the world from a continuously changing point of view.

From Sarah Amsler’s discussion paper on Lifeboat in Beeston


Lifeboat seems to be about taking time out, not wasting time: allowing the course of the day to be interrupted by spending time reflecting differently. Here in St Ann’s Square the experience offered a new perspective on a crowded, busy shopping street. It disrupted the square as a commercial space – someone asked ‘Is it free?’ It also offers something highly unusual: a space to reflect individually yet communally in public.

Image credits: 1. Sarah Spanton / ICD, 2. Hazard / ICD

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Written By Gisele Bone

Top Joe set up his equipment in front of me, about a yard to 1.5m away, wearing his fluorescent yellow jacket.  When he was fiddling about with his tape player I had clocked the old-style camera was facing me rather than away.  He sat down to my left, looked and at me and said, ‘3-look-at-the-camera-2-1’, and I turned and gave a lips-together smile.  I wasn’t comfortable enough for a ‘I’m-happy-smiling’ smile.  He began by apologising for taking my photo and hoped that it hadn’t made me angry.  I wondered if an unhappy subject had punched him: Top Joe gave me the idea that I had a right to be angry.

As part of Documentation, Top Joe asked me where I was from and what I did.  Soon after, he explained that he wasn’t really called ‘Top Joe’ but he was being played by a man whose name was Chris and his practice was pretty new to him.  He didn’t want to deceive me and thought that he needed to let me know as he’d received a cooked chicken from a couple he’d photographed in Liverpool (where he’d been trialling this piece) and felt anguished because he was not being straight with them.  I thought about this.  I felt duped and confused, like I didn’t know who I was talking to.  I repeated what he’d just said (except the bit about the chicken) to try and clarify what he meant.  It became clear that this revelation was of no consequence but the fact that he’d thought it important enough to bring it to my attention made me feel he was tricking me.  We talked about putting on an act and how it’s normal to put on different faces for different situations.  He seemed appreciative of this meta-chat.  Then he described how Documentation was all about sharing a brief moment with a stranger.  The artist continued to ask me questions and I, bizarrely, gave him information about my life that I only speak about to close friends.  My guard had dropped: perhaps it was all part of one of our acts.


Image credit: Hazard / Top Joe

Written by Sarah Spanton

My observations of watching Top Joe’s work are from another perspective. He undertook subtle, calm interactions with people: inviting them to have their photo taken with him, and quietly chatting to them. My reading of the work was that this was about a meeting of strangers, and at its core modelled how strangers might find ways to relate to each other. The camera, photography and tape-deck music were a vehicle to allow this to happen.

I enjoyed what I saw of the work, especially the contact I witnessed between Top Joe and another photographer, who just happened to be in Manchester to take photos on his own SLR camera (see Hazard Soundscape post, for an audio recording of some of this interaction). They chatted amiably about their cameras, sharing the camaraderie of analogue photography. And inverting the artwork, the man with the SLR camera asked if he could take Top Joe’s photo and then did so.

I’ve been interested in ideas around communication and how strangers relate to each other for some while, and have written blog posts on this elsewhere (#1 & #2).



Image credits: Sarah Spanton / Top Joe

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Written by Dani Abulhawa

Many people are aware of the popularity of the flashmob, which emerged in recent years as a fun collective take-over of public space, usually involving a choreographed routine in which a group of people suddenly break-out of the routine order of public space and perform their dance or movement, surprising and delighting ordinary occupiers of the space. This cultural form has since been co-opted by big business, as a fun form of guerilla marketing. Stephen Donnelly’s Drift Mob borrows from this phenomenon and nods to the Situationist practice of the dérive, which discouraged a rational, consumerist navigation of the city in favour of wandering and drifting, much like Baudelaire’s ‘Flâneur’.


Throughout the day at Hazard, Donnelly led groups of people to create his drift mobs. The group was put into an order so that each person involved was given the opportunity to lead the rest of the group. The rules were that the group could choose to either follow the leader or simply watch and support the rest of the group in performing an action. When a leader wanted to pass on the reins to someone else, they would squeeze the next person’s shoulder as a signal that they should take over.


The performance introduced a level of one-upmanship, as we tried to think of ways to take the group through ever more creative actions, or to tire people out. But, there was always the option not to partake. In reality, the group offered a certain freedom and security, spurring everyone to perform actions they would never think of performing at another time. It felt very rebellious, playful and exciting. For me, the most wonderful moments were when we came up with actions that related closely to the site – playing air guitar along to the musician next to the war memorial, making a temporary hand-print painting with fountain water, and climbing underneath and over stone benches.


The people-watchers sat at Starbucks, or on benches in St. Ann’s Square treated us as a comedic spectacle, whilst the managers of Office and Barclay’s Bank, whose shops we briefly occupied, treated us as unwanteds. The drift mob is a wonderfully ridiculous and unpredictable organism, which has the potential to make beautiful connections within the site, to expand the narrow range of movement and action expected in public spaces, and to disrupt commercial space with a drift of play.

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Image credits: 1./2. Hazard/Stephen Donnelly, 3. Sarah Spanton/Stephen Donnelly, 4. Gisele Bone/Stephen Donnelly

Written by Dani Abulhawa and Sarah Spanton

Tracy Lumpkin’s Perspective worked directly with the space of St  Ann’s Square as though it were a gallery through the presentation of artworks on easels in the central area. Lumpkin’s work was highly autobiographical, laying bear her own traumatic life events in a highly public space. The work received a lot of attention, being quite central and accessible, and people seemed to be moved by the presentation of this material.

We were interested in how in many ways, the themes of Lumpkin’s work linked with Nicola Canavan’s MILK, in its presentation of something (a woman’s traumatic life events, including the death of a child) that are conventionally cloaked or guarded from public display or open discussion.


Written by Gisele Bone

Man: I’m such a Philistine.

Woman: (reading the quote on the plinth) I totally relate to that. (Pause) Yes, I really relate to that. (Walks off)

Man: (reading the quote out loud) ‘There are no facts, only interpretations.’ (Pause) Nietzsche.

I heard this snippet at one of the plinths after I had already looked round and felt desperation at the story being told and questioned whether it was fabricated.  I considered whether the latter mattered.

Situated near the northern end of St Ann’s Square, Tracy Lumpkin’s Perspective was visited by a steady flow of people wandering over to see what the work was about.  Several easels and plinths used to display sculptural and two-dimensional pieces were a recognizable symbol of art-related activity to non-arts specialists passing by, providing a quick means of relating to what was going on.

Looking at the work, I declined the invitation to listen to the 3-minute audio recording that accompanied it.  I was too hungry to process more information and was content to think about what I had already experienced.  I barely remember any of the displayed works so much as I remember the cluster of plinths and easels in a horse shoe layout and how at odds this had seemed to my expectations of Hazard.


Image credits: 1. Tracy Lumpkin/Hazard, 2. Sarah Spanton


Written by Dani Abulhawa and Sarah Spanton

During Hazard, Ann’s Square felt strangely like a gallery space, a physically contained rectangle with seating and sculptural features laid out within the space. The festival was contained within this rectangle, with a few of the pieces bursting out of this frame and into side streets. Some walks roamed the space, some were static. But regardless of their mobility you could understand many of the works presented during the festival as both interrupting their urban street setting and being assimilated by it.

In Stephen Sheehan’s Challenging a Brick, his 3 minute action of screaming at a brick created an aural interruption of Market Street, but this space is one in which displays of spectacle are part of the fabric and people are used to watching eccentric street performances.



Carboot Disco Bingo by Bingo Megg and Disco Jazz invited passers-by to participate in games of bingo using disco dance moves. Hannah Rohn and Signhild Wærsted’s Do Touch the Artwork gave over a small section of the square’s pavement to a mass of beans. People could step into the area in bare feet and experience the pleasurable sensation of the beans underfoot. Both works interrupted a typical Saturday afternoon of shopping activity, by presenting an opportunity for all to take part in experiential play, however this was often capitalized upon by passing families seeking free entertainment.


Dental Portraiture (Know By Mouth) by Harald Smykla, saw the artist sculpting participating sitters’ faces in apples, with his teeth: as the day progressed these dried out and browned like mini shrunken heads. Leo Burtin’s Homemade: Le Bistroquet offered free food in exchange for a recipe, to be published as a collection in the near future. In terms of assimilation these works borrowed their formats from typical stalls and artists stands that appear in city centre square’s such as this: the artists drew people into their works before confounding their expectations.



Image credits: 1. /2. Stephen Sheehan / Hazard, 3. Sarah Spanton / Hanna Rohn + Signhild Wærsted, 4./5. Harald Smykla / Hazard


Written by Gisele Bone

At Hazard, I approached Martin Hamblen’s work  ‘Level head’, from the side, shimmying up, not wanting to disturb this apparent performance of endurance.  I asked if it was alright to take a photo and enquired as to his well-being.  He said it wasn’t his neck that hurt so much as his knees.  As we carried on talking he removed the 6ft spirit level balancing on his head and rested on it, like a gardener with a hoe.  We hadn’t spoken previously but had seen each other at different events and as we talked I realised that this wasn’t so much a show of endurance, like Two Steps Forward, One Step Back had appeared.  Situated in front of St Ann’s Church, dressed in a suit but without a tie and wearing brown leather lace-up shoes, Hamblen must have been sweating like a pig.

Hamblen asked several questions, surprising me as this was the second time I had been the interviewed when I had expected it to be the other way round.  Watching passers by while we were talking, and observing the audience from a distance, I saw how, like with many of the works at Hazard, people looked on, rubber-necked, commented to those they were with and continued walking.  Some people did stop and interact with the pieces, but the majority look on with mild to severe confusion.

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Image credit: Gisele Bone / Martin Hamblen