Sensing the city; artists, embodiment and urban space #1

I recently attended an event entitled Sensing the City Salon, at Coventry University, part of the research programme which is ‘Documenting and mapping the tempers of urban place (a practice-based case study of the city of Coventry)’, jointly led Warwick and Coventry universities. This event brought together academics, dance and movement artists with an interest in ideas around a place-based, embodied experience of towns and cities. There were five presentations (including one from me) intended as food for thought, to stimulate and inform the ongoing action research being undertaken by a range of dance, theatre and visual arts researchers.

For me, each presentation brought up strong thoughts and ideas, connecting to my ongoing thought process around how artists can make closer links to, and be more valued by, the fields of planning, regeneration and economic development, on their own terms. As well as thinking about how artists can have more agency to engage in the development of urban spaces.

My next four posts will be about the four presentations from artists and academic researchers, Annette Arlander, Victoria Hunter, Dani Abulhawa and Sara Wookey.

Annette Arlander described her work ‘Stockhom Tree Calendar’. A fascinating time-lapse video work, in which Annette, positions herself within a tree (facing away from the camera), monthly, over a year, selecting trees based on the Celtic tree calendar. One direction my thoughts took in relation to this serene work, was to issues raised in recent social media of the new UK phenomena of developers netting trees and hedges to prevent birds nesting, prior to cutting them down and building on land.

In her presentation Annette described how trees are also inhabitants of cities, how they belong to cities. How a tree in a specific place, is are part of understanding of cultural history and identity in that place – and if it’s an old tree, how it can be a locus for local place-based memories across multiple generations. Thinking about what the trees themselves remember, could be an alternative way of understanding our towns and cities.

It was Annette’s comment that we are co-dependent with ‘nature’ and other species including trees (and other plants), that made the strong link for me, to the new way of thinking about green, open and blue spaces in planning and development, that of Green Infrastructure (see my posts in Oct and Nov 17). Especially that trees, plants and the quality of our green urban spaces have multiple values across social, environmental and economic arenas – and that the natural environment has the same status as water, energy and transport infrastructure. Thus clarifying that the netting of trees and hedges to expedite development, especially at this crisis point in terms of climate change is extremely counter-productive in human, social and environmental terms.

Image credit: Annette Arlander

About waymarkingthesketchbook

Sarah Spanton is director of arts organisation Waymarking -
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