Gallery & Studio Theatre

On the 3rd October I attended Playing in Urban Places at the Leeds Metropolitan University Gallery and Studio Theatre, a symposium that set out to ‘investigate the creative ways that the city is uncovered […] generating a platform for discussion and debate around the experience of interacting with location.’ The one day event was chaired by Guy Julier, with papers, audio-visual presentations and performances from Quentin Stevens, The Den Project, Matt Delbridge, John Crossley, Varsity of Manoeuvres, John Wild, Marianna & Daniel O’Reilly, Sarah Butler and Victoria Stanton.

The projects presented at the event demonstrated varied approaches to the significance of stable senses of place in the forming of our identities, which in our culture of connectivity and global exchange are key concerns for many urban theorists and practitioners. The active processes of these projects ranged from community engagement commissioned within regeneration schemes, intervention into technological systems, participatory activity in the public realm and defiant acts of marking.

Given the academic context of the event, the notion of playful action within the urban environment alluded to the spheres of site-specific and socially engaged art practice. Broadly mapped through ephemeral sculpture, institutional critique, intervention, public realm curatorial projects, community engagement and altered models of moving through space, these practices developed historically in response to the designs, systems and conditions that define our urban experience. The term ‘site-specific’ now covers a range of divergent processes and intentions, yet these processes are ingrained with subversive and political associations, often seeking to expose the multi-layered contexts in which they operate and question the very definition of urban space. Therefore, the subject of play not only alluded to established forms of urban recreation that take place in designated areas in designated leisure time, but to the subversive potential of playful acts in contesting the conditions by which these designations are made.

Along with contemporary art, the speakers and attendees at the symposium represented a range of disciplinary fields including architecture, interactive media and cultural geography, and exemplified a widespread critical focus on the identity and agency of the individual inhabitant within the shaping of the contemporary city. The event lacked representation from prominent practices that explore altered methods of physical navigation, instigating a re-encounter with place-bound identity through pauses, meandering movements or processes of getting lost. However, the event successfully highlighted the breadth of intersecting disciplines that interrogate the conditions of urban space.

In context and content, Playing In Urban Places suggested the potentials of interdisciplinary collaboration to form an open dialogue between academic discourses, the practices and professions that shape urban space, the structural form of the space itself and the physical, social and imaginary encounters of the urban dweller; operating outside of the bounds of any one practice to influence the design and perception of the city

An extended and fully referenced critical response to the event entitled PlayWrite is available on request, which further discusses the complex relationships between place and identity in urban experience and studies the range of spatial practices in more detail, drawing upon the narratives woven through daily encounters with physical and imaginary space. The text considers the influential writings of Lefebvre and De Certeau along side Jane Rendell, Miwon Kwon, Victor Burgin and a variety of contemporary practitioners. Email [email protected]