Tate Britain Conference

Urban Encounters: Urban Materialities

Peter Fraser  'Untitled' 2013, A City in the Mind'

Join us for a one-day symposium exploring current research and practice around contemporary urban spaces and cultures through the lens of urban photography.

Focusing on the theme of Urban Materialities, this year’s Urban Encounters symposium highlights practices across a range of disciplines that engage with notions of ‘thing-ness’.

Talks will include how trauma effects the physical construction of a city and the significance of gardening in a heightened geopolitical context. From architecture to archaeology, visual arts to geography, a range of interdisciplinary speakers highlight distinctive yet overlapping concerns, critical analysis and theory of materialities within the urban context. Focuses include geographies of security and surveillance, bodies, surfaces, everyday objects, or larger architectural forms.

A series of panels engage with these concepts through the themes of Sensibilities, Objecthood, and Disappearances. Speakers are Peter Fraser, Adrian Lahoud, Corinne Silva, Paola Yacoub, Tatiana Macedo, Paul Goodwin, Cristoph Lueder, Nick Ferguson, Dan Hays, Isaac Marrero-Guillamón, Paul Halliday, Rachel Jones and Caroline Knowles.  

This symposium is organised in collaboration with Goldsmiths College Centre for Urban and Community Research and Kingston University’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, and is part of the annual Urban Photo Fest.


10.30 Introduction: Nora Razian and Paul Halliday
10.35 Peter Fraser: A City in the Mind

A number of years ago, I reread Italo Calvino’s extraordinary novel Invisible Cities in which Marco Polo returns from his travels in Kublai Khan’s Empire in the late 13th century. Marco often uses objects to try to describe the Cities, which for the Khan are Cities in the imagination, in fabulously poetic and philosophic terms. In 2006 I began photographing in London, first with film, and then digitally, as if it was a City I had never physically visited, but had in my imagination.

Panel 1: Sensibilities

11.05 Adrian Lahoud: The Post-traumatic City

It might be said that the traumatic event is only ever recognizable by the effects or symptoms that it produces. In the post-traumatic city, the aim can never be to recover the site of Freud’s lost event. To this end, this presentation will explore two urban projects. The first, located in Tripoli, Lebanon was commissioned 19 years before the onset of civil conflict. The second, located in Beirut was built after those hostilities ceased. Between them, it is possible to discern the symptoms of two radically different attitudes to the city.

11.30 Corinne Silva: Gardening the Suburbs: the Politics of Planting in Palestine/Israel

Gardening the Suburbs 2011–ongoing is a large-scale, irregular photographic wall installation made up of details of the Israeli suburban gardens that stretch across Palestine/Israel. Like mapping, gardening is a political act, a place-making activity. Silva examines how a State-driven Zionist and neoliberal drive to colonise can be traced through the process of gardening. She uses photographs as image-objects to reflect on the ways in which Israel attempts to connect with the earth, to spread and settle, to make roots and grass over the historical narrative of the land of Palestine.

11.55 Tatiana Macedo: Seems So Long Ago, Nancy

The gallery or visitor assistant in a museum or art gallery is a fundamental piece of the institution’s mise-en-scéne. Seems So Long Ago Nancy is the title of an experimental documentary that resulted from a visual, sensorial and ethnographic research at Tate Britain and Tate Modern that focused on the people who perform Visitor Assistance roles in these galleries and their subjective experience of place and time. The resulting film does not comply with the rules of traditional visual anthropology but instead re-works the personal and close experience of the place and the relationships established through the course of the fieldwork and filming stages. By refusing the use of text, the collected visual and audio materials are meticulously edited in order to create a new experience of circular observation - to observe those who observe and to experience intervals of ‘real time’ counterbalanced with moments of attention and escapism. The camera fluctuates between the subjects and the architectural post-modern and neoclassical spaces they occupy, small gestures choreographed in an elliptical narrative, in and outside the walls of the personal, architectural and social fabrics.

12.20 Q&A with audience chaired by Caroline Knowles
13.00 Lunch

Panel 2: On Objecthood

14.00 Welcome back: Nora Razian
14.05 Christoph Lueder: Upside down and sideways up – Corporeality in Translations between Ground and Image Plane

The presentation will link the architectural and corporeal practices of Le Corbusier and other architects to that of the choreographer Trisha Brown, the composer Earle Brown, and contemporary filmmakers, for all of whom cardinal transposition, triggering translations between objecthood and environment, assumes a pivotal role.

14.30 Dan Hays: Touch Screen (screen as landscape)

We have become accustomed to living with – and inside of – the digital media screen. Its increasingly high definition, contrast ratio and immersive scale – in the cinema, living room or art gallery – tends to blind the viewer to its mediating presence. Yet where are the contemporary points of artistic reflection on – or resistance to – the screen’s increasing ubiquity and transparency? Through a selection of his own paintings and works by other artists, Dan Hays explores a range of approaches to making the matrix of the screen manifest – its encoded workings rendered tangible, its depthless surfaces landscaped.

14.55 Nick Ferguson: Self-centred Objects. Suburbia, Intervention and Photographic Representation

This paper presents a set of clandestine urban interventions, Self-centred Objects, and examines the role of the photograph in establishing their potential as artworks. Collectively the objects seek to combine the individualism associated with neo-liberal values with activity in shared suburban space. It is asked: first, how does photographic documentation modify commonsensical notions of the artwork’s time and place? Secondly, whether the arrival of the works in the spaces of exhibition and critical engagement suggests that selfish things can, after all, be socially productive?

15.20 Q&A with audience Chaired by Paul Halliday
15.50 Break

Panel 3: Disappearances

16.05 Welcome back: Nora Razian
16.10 Paola Yacoub: Under this trail there are corpses

This statement is official; the existence of mass graves from the civil war in cemeteries has been certified by the Official Commission of Investigation into the Fate of the Abducted and Disappeared Persons from January 2001 to July 2002. One could say it in the Saint Dimitri cemetery in Beirut, among others. A photograph of this pathway can act on its own. It opens up to the connections between the various agents that made this pit exist and that are still blocking its excavation. Is it by chance that the first excavation was allowed in Anjar near the Syrian border? A photograph of the trail presented in an artistic reading involves the modes of the decision to present it in this framework. These modes will be clarified throughout.

16.35 Isaac Marrero-Guillamón: Contesting the tyranny of redevelopment: critical art and the London Olympics

The Olympic-led redevelopment of the Lower Lea Valley – famously encapsulated in its official motto, 'Demolish Dig Design' – can be conceptualized as a colossal operation of effacement. The physical removal of industries, homes and waste was accompanied by celebratory narratives of cleansing and remediation. This presentation discusses some of the ways in which artistic artifacts articulated a counter-narrative of the transformation of this part of East London. The focus will be on analyzing how these objects enacted spaces of dissensus in the Olympic context.

17.00 Rachel Jones: Landscape of Disappearances

The photographic series Landscape of Disappearances addresses the connection between light and the perceived materiality of the urban environment. Light is examined through reflection and montage to reveal nuances of texture, colour and form within the urban landscape. The abstraction that occurs within these images references the time-space compression within the global city (due to the speed of mass transportation systems, digital information technology and other devices), which causes the material landscape to 'disappear' by effectively erasing physical space; boundaries between immaterial states of being and the physicality of the urban landscape become blurred.

17.25 Q&A Chaired by Paul Goodwin
18.00 End
18.00 Drinks reception in the Clore Foyer


Peter Fraser

Born in Cardiff in 1953, Fraser graduated in Photography from Manchester Polytechnic in 1976. He has exhibited Internationally since 1982. His numerous publications include Two Blue Buckets 1988, Ice and Water 1993, Material 2002, Peter Fraser (Nazraeli Press) 2006, Lost for Words 2010, A City in the Mind 2012, and Peter Fraser Tate Monograph 2013 coinciding with selected retrospective exhibition at Tate St Ives, Jan to May 2013.

Adrian Lahoud

Adrian Lahoud is Leader of the MArch Urban Design and Reader at Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Adrian has also taught at the Architectural Association, London and Angewandte Vienna. His current research focuses on questions of scale. He guest edited a special issue of Architectural Design titled 'Post-traumatic Urbanism' exploring the relationship between crisis, conflict and the city. His curatorial practice with the collective ‘N’ has been exhibited internationally, most recently in the Gwanju Design Biennale and the Prague Quadrennial. In 2012 he was named as guest curator of the Think Space cycle of architectural competitions.

Corinne Silva

London-based artist Corinne Silva explores the inter-relationship between human mobility, the physical environment and lens-based media. By focusing on the physical and symbolic malleability of frontier landscapes, and the informal land-use practices that these spaces give rise to, her practice imagines alternative histories and potential futures that counter the dreamscapes of neo-liberal capitalism.

Recent exhibitions include FotoSommer Stuttgart 2013, Brighton Photo Biennial 2012, National Media Museum/Ways of Looking Festival 2011, Manifesta 8 2010; and Badlands, Noorderlicht Photofestival 2010. Most recently she was resident artist at the A.M. Qattan Foundation, Ramallah (2012 & 2013).

Tatiana Macedo

Tatiana Macedo (born 1981, Lisbon, Portugal) lives and works in Lisbon and London. She studied at Central St. Martins College of Art, the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, New University of Lisbon and The London College of Communication. She was artist in residence at the CAM – Modern Art Centre, Lisbon (2007). In 2012 Macedo completed her first experimental documentary film Seems So Long Ago, Nancy, entirely shot at Tate Modern and Tate Britain, London (2011). Macedo was awarded an Experimental Film Grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (2012), an Inov-Arte Grant (2010), a Young Creators Grant from the National Centre of Culture (2008/09) and a Travel Grant by the Orient Foundation (2008). Her work is in international private collections.

Christoph Leuder

Christoph Lueder researches on diagrams as devices of analysis, explanation, negotiation and imagination as well as tools and frameworks for architectural and urban design processes. He is a graduate of the University of Stuttgart in architecture and urbanism, where he has also taught. He practiced with Behnisch & Partners, before setting up his own office in Zürich, along with urban research at the ETH Zürich. He currently researches and teaches at Kingston University London.

Nick Ferguson

Nick Ferguson is a London-based artist working collaboratively and independently to address the conditions of the built environment and the transformative potential of artistic sensibility. Projects typically respond to specific locations over a period of time and centre on peripheral or suburban sites where artworks are inserted directly into locations. They take the forms of event, designed object or small-scale architecture. Nick Ferguson lectures in Art History in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at Kingston University and is a PhD candidate in the Department of Fine Art at Goldsmiths College. His thesis, Barely Seeing: Art, Place and The Politics of Indifference, is due for completion in 2014.

Paola Yacoub

Paola Yacoub (born in Beirut) conducted her first experiments on our relations to automatas in architecture and photography. In collaboration with Michel Lasserre, she noted the aspect variations of Lebanese territories in war and post war situations. This investigation has been extended to a « system of action ». Recent exhibitions include Paola Yacoub, kiss the black stones , Haus der Kulturen der Welt 2012, Paola Yacoub, Drawing with the things themselves the Beirut Art Center 2011, Do we agree? Le Bal, Paris 2011 and What do I do? Photographer’s Gallery, London, 2010.

Isaac Marrero-Guillamón

Isaac Marrero-Guillamón is lecturer in anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. His main areas of interest are urban regeneration, documentary practices and experimental ethnography. He is the editor, with Hilary Powell, of The Art of Dissent: Adventures in London´s Olympic State (Marshgate Press, 2012).

Paul Goodwin

Paul Goodwin is an independent curator, urbanist, writer and lecturer based in London. From 2008 until 2012 Paul was Curator of Cross Cultural Programmes and then Curator of Contemporary Art at Tate Britain. He was Consultant Curator for the international survey exhibition Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic at Tate Liverpool 2010 and co-convener of the symposium and events programme, Liverpool and the Black Atlantic. His recent curatorial projects include the exhibitions Thin Black Line(s), at Tate Britain, London 2011; Go Tell It On The Mountain: Towards A New Monumentalism 2011 and Ways of Seeing 2012 for the 3-D Foundation Sculpture Park in Verbier, Switzerland. Paul was a co-curator of Migrations: Journeys Into British Art at Tate Britain 2012. He is an associate lecturer for the MA Curating, Chelsea College of Art and Design and an elected Honorary Member of the Franco-British Inter-governmental Council.

Tate Britain

The Clore Auditorium

London SW1P 4RG
Plan your visit

Date & Time

5 October 2013 at 11.30–19.00