Sensing the city; artists, embodiment and urban space #4

This is my final post on the Sensing the City Salon.

My colleague, artist and academic researcher Dani Abulhawa spoke about her recent performance work ‘Feint Lines’ as well as earlier performance work. These pieces focus on issues of play in public urban space and gendered-performance and also include ‘Alices(s)’ and ‘Unknowable’, where she performs improvised play alone in public spaces throughout the UK. Dani also makes work that references her experiences of being a female skate-boarder, which she describes ‘as a persistent backdrop to the range of things I do’. ‘Feint Lines’ in particular sees Dani performing on a skateboard, occupying a whole floor of a car park in Salford (as part of a ‘Lone women in not quite light night’ event 2018).

I find Dani’s work very evocative – when I’ve heard her speak about it, it always resonates strongly and makes a multiplicity of connections in my mind to a range of urban space issues; from the issue of whether women are allowed in public space at all (‘Occupy the night streets’ India), the controlling and prescribing of women’s actions in public space, how men choose to interact with a lone woman in public space (#MeToo movement), or simply whether or not it’s acceptable for women to skateboard (or free-running, parkour etc).

Dani Unknowable 2014

But at this salon, it resonated most around ideas of adults playing in public space, what this consists of, where and how it can take place, and the question of whether its only acceptable when formalised. For me the potential for play in public space intersects strongly with the issues raised by Dani’s work for women.

Given the issues of ‘death of the high street’ dilemmas face by all our town and cities today, where there is much planning and development-based discussion about reinventing the high street/town centres for not only shopping, but also residential and leisure. Could we open out the ‘leisure’ part of this equation and really think about what we mean by leisure. Artists are already working to redefine, re-imagine and develop our collective understanding of urban space differently. I’m keen to help make the practical real-world connections between the planning, development and regeneration sectors and the arts and artists, especially those working around dance and performance and to foster more cross-sector dialogue around all the issues raised in the last four blog posts on sensing the city; embodiment and urban space.

Image credit: Dani Abulhawa

About waymarkingthesketchbook

Sarah Spanton is director of arts organisation Waymarking -
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