Panel 1
Professor Caroline Knowles: Plutocrats, Capital, Consumption and City-Making in London

Various forms of capital and its manifestations of excess have always shaped Cities. But unprecedented expansions of wealth on a global scale combined with the concentration of wealth into ever fewer hands now has serious ramifications in moulding cities and the lives that can be lived in them.  Moving from the abstraction of cities as machines shaped by capital, this paper takes a close look at the social and material architecture and everyday realities of plutocratic life in London. Based on interviews with millionaires, billionaires, their hangers on and their serving classes, this paper pierces some of the city’s most guarded and privileged opaque spaces and lives.

David Kendall: Disappearing in the Night

‘Disappearing into Night’ explores how infrastructural transformation, light energy generation and consumption in Qatar, form acoustic and ocular atmospheres and landscapes. In Gulf cities rapid urban development transforms the built environment. Contemporary building design inspires structural processes yet retains cultural character and heritage articulated through city planning and architecture. At night in Doha artificial light and buildings fuse together to form fresh visual landscapes. In these settings electrical light sculpts new architectural backdrops, reorganises boundaries and visually erodes soon-to-be forgotten neighbourhoods, erased by structural change. Moreover, if an entire city is imagined as an archive, the buildings in the city are not only sites of infrastructural order, but become politically and socially active through destruction and reconstruction. These ever-shifting edge conditions create fertile ground from which the urban imaginary can arise from the Anthropocene.

In the city electrical substructures and social technology generates ‘everlasting light’ emanating from circulating digital images and conversations formed on the ground via sonic signals transmitted by Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Therefore, the quality and frequency of ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ light comes in different hues and intensities that shape ocular composition and sensory experience in the cityscape.

As a result, my perceptual experiments with photography and sound investigate how the electromagnetic spectrum seen by human eyes and image sensors merges with radiant flux, the unseen light-energy emitted and received by ICT in Doha’s residential areas. The act of listening becomes a mode of seeing, and is important in sensing social and environmental difference and architectural change in Doha. The intangible folds between ‘light’ and ‘dark’ are explored and shadows are utilised to produce installations of acoustic images and photographic soundscapes. These dialectic images help define collective architectures and contemporary ocular identity, and reveal spatial politics and boundaries through the critical infrastructure that connects sound and image to human migration and habitation along the Arabian Peninsula.

Gill Golding: Welcome to The Fake

Using a walking research methodology, this visual project draws on the regeneration of King’s Cross as a case study in which to explore the relationship between the urban landscape and the street. From unused railway lands to ‘London’s Hottest New Neighbourhood’, King’s Cross Central is one of London’s largest redevelopments, described as ‘a whole new piece of London with a brand-new postcode’. Using place branding that incorporates selective wording with computer generated images depicting young, stylish people enjoying a sophisticated lifestyle, King’s Cross Central is presented as a space to invest, consume and enjoy memorable experiences. The new aesthetic appearance reveals an insight into the intentions and priorities of those who make decisions about the built environment that reflect cultural values and ideological interests. This presentation will raise questions about the commodification of our cities and consider the impact of neoliberal structural transformations on our urban spaces. 

Panel 2
Dr. Stephen Pritchard: The Story Harvesters: Artwashing, Social Capital Artists and the Instrumentalisation of Art

Art is increasingly used to smooth and gloss over social cleansing and gentrification, functioning as ‘social licence’, a public relations tool, and a means of pacifying local communities.  This practice is known by activists as ‘artwashing’.  Artwashing lacks an academic definition but is perhaps best defined as ‘a process that uses artistic practices unwittingly (or not) in the service of private capital’ in which art is intentionally employed as a tool designed to ‘to make a place more “amenable” for private capital and the aesthetics that it currently desires’ (Mould, 2017).

It is commonly accepted that regeneration and gentrification are driven by a process known as ‘accumulation by dispossession’ (Harvey, 2008).  Artists and arts institutions are instrumentalised by state and corporate interests alike to become pawns in the social cleansing process – the ‘gentrifying foot soldiers of capitalism’ (Pritchard, 2016).  From public art to artists’ studios, carefully sited new galleries and museums to carefully depoliticised spectacles, art has proved the perfect foil for the vengeful ideology of neoliberalism – a smokescreen for dispossession and displacement.  Yet artists are also employed to perform a different role, that of engendering trust and ‘building’ or ‘growing’ social capital.  Artists engaged in community contexts are perfectly suited to harnessing social capital because, unlike corporate consultants, they are frequently able to earn the trust of local people and community groups, and trust is perhaps the single most important element of social capital.  This ‘community artwashing’ is particularly exploitative and deceitful; socially engaged artists becoming ‘social capital artists’.

Dr. Alison Rooke: Disentangling the web of arts expediency

A number of theorists have argued that the critical potential of art and the figure of the artist have been neutralised and co-opted as culture becomes an expedient resource in the management of publics on a global scale (Yúdice 2004, Holmes 2004). This paper focuses on the spatial dimensions of socially engaged and participatory art as it is employed as an expedient and malleable resource in cities. Today public, third and private sector bodies increasingly recognise the potential of participatory and socially engaged art as a means to ‘restore the social bond’ (Ranciere 2006; 57) or ‘tighten the space of social relations’ (Bourriaud 2002:15). However, these processes are filled with tension and contradiction. Artists and creative sector workers are working with local residents on a global scale in contexts of spatial and social inequalities. These sites, which are often the consequence and continuation of spatial injustice, provide a fertile ground for the mobile social engaged artist hungry to work with ‘real people’ in real situations. They offer opportunities for the socially conscious artist to commiserate and collaborate with the downtrodden, often through what Kwon describes as ‘progressive oppositional cultural practice’ (Kwon in Doherty 2004 p32). They can be understood, as ‘aesthetic evangelists’ (Kester’s 2004) acting as hybrid agents who combine the work of curators, educators, activists, and collaborators.  This paper will explore the multiple expectations and investments that come together in these artistic spatial interventions arguing that they are symptomatic of an uneasy fit between a tradition of arts participation, which has evolved out of radical practice, as part of a project of social justice and societal change and the instrumental uses of arts and cultural participation to address the inequalities of neoliberal urbanism.


Panel 3
Dr. Susan Hansen: Capturing ephemeral forms of urban life with longitudinal photo-documentation

I use repeat photography – or longitudinal photo-documentation – to study street art and graffiti as visual dialogue. Capturing these ephemeral forms of visual communication as they appear and disappear over time gives us a unique insight into the existence of graffiti and street art within a field of social interaction, as a form of democratic conversation on urban walls. This form of data collection in turn allows street art and graffiti to be examined as visual dialogue. Photographs were taken daily from the same position, with a constant frame. All marks made on the wall, including stencils and other forms of street art, graffiti tags and pieces, written commentary and notes, and partial and wholesale erasures, were documented. Edited together and viewed as a continuously moving image, we can apprehend the life of the site over time.


Rainbow Collective: Cracks in the System

Over the last couple of years, the Rainbow Collective has been supporting communities in London who have been having struggles with regards to housing. We have created campaign videos for housing campaigns at Ledbury Estate, Aylesbury Estate, Broadwater Farm, Save Tidemill as well as many others. We have organised numerous events around housing.

Ledbury Estate documentary ‘Cracks In The System’ tells the story of serious fire and gas safety issues affecting four tower blocks on a Peckham housing estate in Southwark and the aftermath that the residents faced. The film demonstrates how the community quickly came together to support one another, harnessing the power of social media to organise and to hold the local authority to account.

Since 2006 Hannan Majid and Richard York have produced, shot and directed documentaries in South Africa, Bangladesh, Iraq and the UK and have won awards in Dubai, France, USA and the Czech Republic.