Vernacular Aesthetics at Blackwall Beach

I will be having a conversation about (Global) vernacular aesthetics with artist duo Lloyd Coporation at an event hosted by the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at Blackwall Beach. Please do come along if you’re free and able. I’m looking forward to opening out the conversation about the problems of critical art making, informal economics, disinterested photography, ad-hoc aesthetics, super-diversity, Deliveroo and speculation about the precarious global city.


vernacular aesthetics flyer final-page-001

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Affect & Social Media – Conference & Art Show 25th May

Here it is… the full programme. Affect and Social Media 3.0: Experience, Entanglement, Engagement (including the Sensorium Art Show) *Registration Now Open Date and time: Thurs May 25th 2017, 10am – 8.30pm Location: The University of East London, Dockland’s campus (via Cyprus Station on the DLR) Keynotes: Jessica Ringrose (UCL) and Emma Renold (Cardiff) In […]

via Affect and Social Media 3.0 full programme for 25th May 2017 — VIRALITY

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London Conference in Critical Thought 2017 – call for papers

I’m delighted to be co-convening a stream at the London Conference in Critical Thought to be held at London South Bank University on the 30th June and the 1st July. The strand is entitled the Vernacular Aesthetics of the Global City (no less) and I’ll be working with artist duo Lloyd Corporation.

The conference is geared towards early career researchers as well as postgraduate researchers and the conference “is an inter-institutional, non-hierarchal, and accessible event that makes a particular effort to embrace emergent thought and the participation of emerging academics, fostering new avenues for critically-oriented scholarship and collaboration.”

There will be some really interesting sounding streams at the conference, please do look at the call for papers if you are interested. The cfp for our strand is as follows (deadline 31st March):

This stream proposes to generate a critical debate around questions of ‘vernacular aesthetics’ in academic research on the global city and particularly invites contributions from those working on new propositions for interdisciplinary, inventive or artistic approaches to its study.
Recent research on the global city has sought to understand the contemporary state of rapid urbanisation, migration and development by focusing attention towards the ‘ordinary’ commercial street (Hall, 2015; Zukin, Kasinitz & Chen, 2016). A key part of this work has included visual investigations of the vernacular aesthetics of urban streets in ‘super-diverse’ cities like London, in an attempt to represent the informal economies and practices routinely ignored, deemed undesirable and/or dispensable to private and bureaucratic agendas of urban (re)development. Projects such as LSE’s ‘Ordinary Streets’ (2011-13) have produced ethnographic explorations of streets elaborating the need for: the production of new vocabularies of value; mapping of ‘creative’ practices of socio-economic adaption to urban space; reframing urban informality as social and civic platforms for economic and cultural life as opposed to ‘under-developed’ spaces of poverty.
For artist duo Lloyd Corporation and UEL researcher and artist Sophie Barr, the ‘ordinary street’ has been a key site of research and artistic production. This has led to a recently initiated dialogue sharing questions, curiosities, inspirations and anxieties in the explorations of vernacular aesthetics. By hosting a stream we aspire towards bringing other voices into a discussion that seeks to both build upon but also deepen and challenge questions of vernacular aesthetics in the study of spaces and cultures of ‘street’.
We ask what new kinds of sociological, ethnographic and artistic modes of practice are required to develop multi-sensory understandings of such phenomena if we are to produce rich new vocabularies of value and representation? Presently there seems to be an overreliance on the documentary image as the visual extent of ethnographic exploration and so we ask what does this miss? How might we capture the non-representational, the affective, the transient, temporal and mobile, the hidden, unseen, imaginary or background dimensions of the street? Further, we might ask whether the ‘street’ presents an adequate vantage point from which to observe the complex spatial and temporal  connections of hyper-globalised urban spaces, particularly in light of the ever pervasive effects of digital cultures and infrastructures?
What problematic power relationships arise in the research of vernacular aesthetics? Can we eliminate the risk of ‘othering’ informal cultures or exoticising notions of migrant adaptation and improvisation? How might we challenge or reflect on the class, gender and racial privileges that underpin the ‘study’
informal, precarious, cultures? And finally, given the increasing conflicts and volatility over the redevelopment of public space and processes of gentrification, how does this research agenda become active, politically mobilised and collaborative with the diverse communities it seeks to represent?
We are open to all manner of submissions including papers, performances, artworks and we welcome a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary backgrounds.

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Anti-Fashion at Prada


Tim Blanks on Business of Fashion yesterday:

“Miuccia was looking at a world where celebrity and money conspire to make ordinary people feel inadequate, and she wanted to mollify such feelings. It’s not people who are at fault, it’s the system. Exactly how you use fashion to express such thoughts was the challenge she set herself, and she chose to do it by elevating the ordinary, finding the hero in the everyday. “The opposite of important,” she called it.” Full article here.

This is not my conception of ‘ordinary fashion’! I would suggest any men desirous of “simple human normalcy” for A/W 2017 takes a trip to Gap and saves a few quid.


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The Brand Nobody Knows video – finally!

I finally presented the fruit of my summer’s research at the beginning of September at the 8th  Art of Management and Organisation Conference. Here it is:

The video is made up of dozens of still photographs taken over six months in north London’s Wood Green High Road. These stills are interspersed with moving footage of a glamorously dressed ‘migrant’ pulling a suitcase and sound-tracked with moving traffic, pockets of inaudible conversation, market traders’ calls and out of synch foot steps. These are the sounds of a busy urban environment. There are a number of interruptions into this land and soundscape comprising video footage of a still-life comprising a cheap mannequin bust, a jewel-encrusted denim baseball cap and a variety of colourful minerals.

The still images are loosely clustered into sections and themes; the first section presents shuttered shops, closing down sales and to let signs, the next shows the interiors and exteriors of (often temporary) independent stores that quickly occupy vacated retail spaces. A further theme presents, what I describe elsewhere, as the ‘vernacular aesthetics of the global city’ and demonstrates Wood Green as a place of superdiversity and one with a struggling economy. Here we see signs in Arabic, Greek, Polish and English – sometimes they are handwritten like the notices in the newsagent’s window, sometimes they are made on a PC and printed out on a domestic printer. We see adverts for low-cost, pay-as-you-go international communications and international money transfer; we see emblems of a struggling economy in signs for pawnbrokers and betting shops. Sometimes we see the Victorian fabric of the buildings in which these businesses are housed reminding us that these spaces have been occupied many times over. Next we are presented with interestingly laid-out shop windows and non-professional visual merchandising. These window displays communicate to the shopper a semiotics of ‘value’ at the same time as they resist the corporate aesthetics of large fashion chains. The displays rely upon the skills and creativity of those invested in the business directly communicating with their customer, rather than those of the ‘expert’ merchandiser shipped in to dress a window to strict brand guidelines. We see the names of these shops, ‘Aqua Affordable Luxury’, ‘Rumours’, ‘Swishy’, ‘Bardo’ and ‘WOW’ but don’t recognise the brands. They may not be there for very long and some have already gone since the video was made.

One might imagine that it is the experience of the migrant walker that we are party to in this video. And perhaps these images of businesses, cheap commodities, fragments of architecture and glimpses of people recreate something of the affect of the global city and the perplexity it engenders for newcomers and natives alike. Unlike the masculine flâneur of modernity with his privileged gaze the migrant walker is representative of a de-centred subjectivity. This is a zone of many gazes, and it doesn’t matter what or who one is here, but it is daytime and a busy commercial street where a woman may freely wander. The suitcase is the emblem of both her dislocation and her subjectivity. She is a person who frequently changes home, location, country, language, job, as well as outfit. In Haringey one is almost always in earshot of the sound of a suitcase dragging along the pavement or bumped up or down stairs.

The walking provides a kind of narrative (or rhythm at least) to the video, but it is interrupted a number of times by the still-life scenes as mentioned above. We move from stills to video, outside to inside, natural audio to silence and distortion. A blurry, difficult to read scene slowly comes into focus and we can see rhinestones on a baseball cap spelling out the word fashion. It is an ugly item, cheaply made in China and emblematic of the world of fast fashion. The fake jewels on the cap are a reference to real gemstones, items that could be formed hundreds of millions of years ago much like the colourful ‘real’ minerals they appear alongside. These minerals sometimes appear for a millisecond or quickly zoom across the screen during the street scenes. This odd juxtaposition draws attention to the illusionary space of the photograph/screen and is intended to collide the different time scales represented in the video: the frozen moment in time of the photograph; the ‘real time’ nature of the video excerpts, the pace of the world of contemporary globalised fashion and commerce; and deep geological time. It is also a reference to Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors with its anamorphic depiction of a skull drawing attention (as I see it) both to the pointlessness of the gathering of earthly things, and a different representational dimension.

The final ‘cluster’ of still images are ‘street style’ shots of Wood Green shoppers. These shoppers are emblematic of the diversity of Wood Green, white, black, muslim, young, old, British, European, African, Asian…local. Working with people and making portraits is a departure for me, and not sure if it’s a successful one. Their direct gazes change the video’s meaning and intention and draw attention to the relationship between photographer and photographed. This negates the anonymity and confusion one might experience in a global city to one where people and places are knowable. A future edit I think.

Navigating the relationship between practice and research was not always easy in this project. To publish a paper I would need different data, interviews, facts and so on. It might have been easier to have visualised my research by making a documentary or illustrated essay. But I’m an artist and the purpose of this piece was to investigate an aesthetic, but how to do this without setting up a problematic power relationship? How to eliminate the risk of ‘othering’ the retailers and shoppers of Wood Green? My decision to perform the role of migrant walker in the video was a way to site the work as a subjective auto-ethnographic study rather than an objective, distanced observation. I have lived in and around Wood Green for nearly twenty years and this video could also be seen as a way of dealing with and understanding rapid (and sometimes unwanted) change and my own relationship to this perplexing place.

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Utopia Closing Down

I’m not sure I need to say anything about this! Taken in Southend in September.


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The ‘Perfect’ High Street

I just found this film called ‘The Perfect High Street’ in Monocle “a magazine briefing on global affairs, business, culture, design and much more”. This vision for the global high street is unlike anything most would recognise, or have use for. This vision is overwhelmingly white and hipster catering only to a wealthy middle-class. The British street I recognised here was Primrose Hill, an area of extreme wealth. If this is a vision for the future of high streets recognised by those driving regeneration, those of us invested in super-diverse areas such as Wood Green should be worried.

Compare with this film ‘Ordinary Streets’ about Rye Lane in Peckham made by LSE Cities. This is a much more balanced and thoughtful piece that recognises and values the intersections of cultures and classes and the creative adaptations already being made to ordinary streets from those that are invested in them. In the words of the narrator of the film “diversity is crucial to urban vitality”.


List of works cited:

LSE Cities (2015) Ordinary Cities. Available at (Accessed 19 July 2016)

Monocle (2015) The Perfect High Street. Available at (Accessed 19 July 2016)



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