Why I’m Striking (it’s long but please read to the end)

I’m on strike. I don’t like it. I like going to work, I like my job as a lecturer and I miss it. I feel that to do my job is a privilege. I get to think (sometimes), be creative and critical, I work with amazing students from all over the world and I learn something new from them every day – I know it’s a cliché but it’s true. My team is great – our direction of travel is pretty much aligned, we are working towards the same goals and we are supportive and fun. Sometimes the job is challenging and stressful, but what job isn’t? So why am I on strike?

UCU called a strike and action short of a strike for 14 days over February and March this year over pay, workload, equality and casualisation. My institution’s union voted in favour of action. However, many who voted in favour of the strike are not on strike, and many colleagues are not in the union. I understand, it’s been an extraordinarily difficult decision for me to strike, despite voting for it. There is the disruption to the students, who pay through the nose for their education. I worry about damaging personal relationships built over the years with students who need support and reassurance, not just an unanswered email or an oblique out of office response. I worry about my colleagues who are holding the fort and doing extra so as to minimise disruption. I worry about my reputation, will I be seen as a trouble-maker, lazy? Will I damage my relationships with my colleagues not on strike? Will I miss out on opportunities or sabotage my own projects that I’m working on? I feel my pay and conditions are quite good compared to most other workers in the country. Will a pay rise come out of student fees? Finally, I’ve been worrying that it’s the wrong fight. Aren’t divisions in our sector a gift to Dominic Cummings and co. who no doubt think an Arts University like ours is a waste of billions of pounds (see Wintour, 2013). I probably worried about all these things more than the issues over which I voted to strike. I have never felt so uncertain about a decision. But I did strike.

I talked to colleagues before the strike a lot. I joined the picket line to continue to talk to colleagues to try to understand the strike better. On day 5 I nearly caved and went to work. I got up, got dressed, dropped my daughter at school and then went to the picket line instead to talk about my doubts and worries, to try to feel I was doing the right thing. I read and listened to what colleagues at other institutions were saying and doing. I spent a lot of time thinking.

Clearly, the point of a union is to do things together, it is only collective power that brings about meaningful change. If I don’t actively support the strike I may as well stop paying my subs and leave the union. But the hypocrisy would be too much. How could I face young people in the classroom and encourage them to take part in collective action, make change, make lives better, become critical practitioners, be involved in politics, be anti-racist, feminist, fight for all kinds of equality, critique neo-liberalism when I won’t strike because I’m worried about my reputation?

I’m on a 0.8 contract and I have worked out that (depending on how the university will dock our pay) I will lose either £142.84 or £101.75 gross pay per day that I strike. It is not lightly that any of us strike when we will certainly lose into the thousands of pounds. I do not have savings to fall back on, but I am married to a salaried person – so we can carry it. But this is not true for many colleagues who are fractional, single, carers and of course precariously employed hourly-paid lecturers (or any combination of those). I know a lot about precarious employment – I was employed as an hourly-paid lecturer for seven years (that’s the longest I’ve been in any job) and as the years wore on they had a profound effect on my well-being and mental health.

I likened my job at one institution to an abusive relationship, where they had all the power and I had to keep smiling just to get another day’s pay. One year I had my work cut back knocking thousands of pounds off my annual salary, literally hours before I was due to start the work. In 2012 I got pregnant and I worked right up to my due date – I didn’t have the luxury of planning for my maternity leave, as I didn’t get any. I wasn’t eligible, something to do with a particular day falling in the summer break when I wasn’t working. I went back to work at my earliest opportunity after nine months, mainly for fear that someone else would get my hours and I’d never get another opportunity to develop my academic career. I had only two or three days to find a childminder – the first one had to do. All the other new mothers that I met spent months selecting theirs and planning their return to work. The first few years of my child’s life were spent worrying about work, worrying about money and feeling like my career was just a hobby. At one institution I worked for a whole term with no pay, no id card, no access to the computer system or library. I often had to wait five minutes for a security guard to let me in and out of the building so I could go to the toilet.

During all this there were good and great colleagues telling me I was good and great and I know they did their best to find opportunities for me. They did what they could, but the machinery of the institution was too powerful. Every day I felt like an imposter and a second-class citizen. I had no right to professional development, no invitations to meetings, no training, I was excluded from important communications. I had no say – my contribution was deemed lesser than my permanently employed colleagues, and I felt lesser. Meanwhile, I worked hard with students, developing and writing new material, supporting them, thinking about them, giving them the best experience I could on behalf of those institutions.

It was a massive struggle to reconcile my feelings of inadequacy that developed as a consequence of these years of employment with my sense of self as a good, worthwhile and conscientious employee. That only happened when I got a permanent position two years ago at the University of the Arts London. Out of all the places I worked as an HPL UAL have been the best communicators, provided the best conditions and always paid on time. They also were the only institution who actually employed me on a permanent contract. After I got my job I was so happy, I got fit, lost weight, my mental health improved massively. Suddenly I had the bandwidth to deal with other aspects of my life instead of worrying about work all the time. All that time I thought it was my fault, it was actually theirs! I got invited to meetings! Who gets excited about meetings? Me! I still feel happy to be involved and included, part of something. However, I know others have not been so lucky at UAL and across the sector.

But I did feel so lucky to finally be employed that I forgot how terribly dysfunctional everything was as an HPL. And because of that everything seems fine now. I’ll happily work on the day I’m not contracted or at the weekend, because I’m finally employed. I’ll happily spend my annual leave planning that big unit – because at least I get to plan that big unit! Whoops! I seem to have dug myself into a massive neoliberal gutter. All that time taking punches made me immune to the everyday,  less instantly painful issues in our sector. So perhaps I can blame my years as an HPL for my compliance and unwillingness to rock the boat?

This is why I am striking. In the hope that the strike helps end this unfair employment practice.  I am striking for colleagues across the sector who want a place at the table but are employed as second-class citizens. I am striking for all you hourly-paid lecturers who have this struggle, who have to keep smiling and keep trying to be good and useful when you feel awful. To all those women, mothers and people of colour who statistically are more likely to be precariously employed, I am striking for you.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In memory of Lynsey Dart

I first met Lynsey Dart in November 2016 after a Peaches gig at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green. It was the day of Donald Trump’s election and my friend Iris and I decided to drown our sorrows afterwards in a lively bar full of cool and interesting young people. This is where we got chatting to Lynsey and her friend, a colleague from her music degree. We talked about all sorts of things, including electronic music, my conceptual, feminist, agro-pop band Hot Guts (which she agreed to join), the Peaches gig and all manner of other things. We drank quite a few beers and downed a few shots too – it was one of those nights when the hangover was worth it (there aren’t many of those in your forties). I became Facebook friends with Lynsey after that and we exchanged a few words here and there. I was really interested in her as a young electronic music practitioner and her experience of being a creative undergraduate. When Lynsey posted that she has got a first for her degree last summer I wasn’t surprised. Lynsey seemed to be a person that was serious about what she did, but clearly knew how to enjoy herself too!

Just before Christmas 2017 Lynsey and I met up at the Royal Festival Hall to carry on our conversations. We swapped musicians we were interested in, bonded over Bjork, talked about whether she should do a PhD or not (why not?). I discussed my (temporarily lapsed) doctoral research. She was clearly a very motivated, interested, funny, brave and clever woman with big ideas for her future and a burgeoning interest in disability activism. We agreed that we would work on something collaborative in the future and that I would act as a kind of mentor for her. She asked me to come to a meeting with Marianne Waite, founder of Think Designable at the end of this month. I really enjoyed meeting Lynsey, I’ve never really met anyone in that sort of capacity before, and I think it was all testament to her spirit of getting on with things and getting the most out of every opportunity presented to her. My friendship with Lynsey was very short, nevertheless I was really looking forward to spending time with her and working on something together in 2018 and beyond. I think she had a lot to teach me.

I was devastated to hear that Lynsey died in her sleep last week. I don’t need to know how or why – that is for her close friends and family to know. I do know that it is a terrible tragedy and she will be greatly missed by an enormous number of people. I am incredibly sad to know that I will not have a little slice of Lynsey in my future.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

East London Artists | UEL Doctorate in Fine Art Showcase | June 2017

I made a new work entitled Repair Centre (2017) for my Doctoral showcase last month. Unfortunately the ‘arrangement’ I finally ended up exhibiting was far less successful than every single prior incarnation of the work. But these are the breaks! Like other work before it this work references many of the informal visual cultures one encounters in the less affluent zone 3 areas of London: shops with home-made signs temporarily fastened with visible tape and blu-tac; rolls of patterned vinyl; faded hairstyle posters and flyers that offer to solve all your problems. These references are juxtaposed with photographic images of another sort of global, the geological. Regular readers will know of my interest in combining the temporary with the seemingly enduring. In geological time-scales the ground beneath our feet is temporary too. If only I’d had the courage to leave the work on the floor.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.




Posted in Anthropocene, art work, Exhibitions, Geology, Global Vernacular Aesthetics, High Streets, London, Photography, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Sensorium Art Show – Affect and Social Media #3

These posters were my contribution to the Sensorium Art Show, curated by Mikey Georgeson and Dean Todd as part of the Affect and Social Media #3 conference at UEL. They were posted around the campus and perhaps one or two slipped by as inspirational posters aimed at students.

Astute viewers will see logos from gone bust businesses and enterprises emblematic of failure alongside familiar requests of the inspirational quote meme to better oneself and feel happy in the face of hardship. Hopefully the imagery speaks for itself!


You are entirely up to you, 2017 (A0 digitally printed poster)



Stay Positive, 2017, (A0 digitally printed poster)



Beauty Begins, 2017, (A0 digitally printed poster)



Believe, 2017 (A0 digitally printed poster)



Be Somebody, 2017 (A0 digitally printed poster)


Here are the posters in situ at the end of year Doctoral Showcase. Unfortunately (but also happily) the Sensorium exhibition was too full of punters to get any good images!



Posted in art work, Conferences, Exhibitions, Global Vernacular Aesthetics, High Streets, Photography | Leave a comment

Vernacular Aesthetics continued…

It’s been an interesting few months for opening up the discourse around the Vernacular Aesthetics of the Global City and indeed my registration document for my Doctorate is now due, and most likely called ‘Global Vernacular Aesthetics’. A nice contradictory title!

In April I was privileged to present a paper and my short film The Brand Nobody Knows (discussed in much detail in other parts of this blog) at the Association of Art Historians Conference 2017 at Loughborough University. The stream was convened by Dr. Robert Harland and called The Object of Urban Visual Culture. It was really fruitful looking at my concepts of urban global vernacular visual culture via urban planner Kevin Lynch’s notion of the ‘city image’ and ‘imageability’ (1960). I argued that the kinds of global vernacular aesthetics I investigate in my work are frequently thought of as visual pollution, and lack the kind of ‘legibility’ and ‘clarity’ that Lynch holds dear for individuals to make a sense of place. Whilst Lynch accepts that one cannot fully account for how each citizen ‘images’ a city (and he also notes the limits of his sample in his research) his notion of imageability cannot fully take into account the complexities of global cities in the twenty-first century. I argued that in a superdiverse global city such as London, some 60 years after Lynch’s text was published, notions of imageability must be radically updated. Lynch did not, and perhaps could not have, predicted how mass migration and mobile networked technology has produced what we might think of as  distributed subjectivity. One cannot think of oneself singularly, in only one place at a time, but scattered across and attached to a variety of time zones, nations, countries, languages, social relations and digital spaces.

The imageable city and the powerful brand are at odds with one another. Vernacular aesthetics (as long as they are not squashed by ‘regeneration’) are useful in resisting the power of the brand. Ultimately I argued that the way ‘successful’ brands generate images on behalf of consumers has some relationship to imageability, however I am certain that if Lynch was working today he would develop his notion that “The observer himself should play an active role in perceiving the world and have a creative part in developing his image. He should have the power to change that image to fit changing needs.” (1960, p.6).

My paper is still somewhat unpolished, but I will post when complete but in the meantime here is a link to the presentation.

There was plenty of interesting discussion in the stream, not least about what ‘brand value’ could mean in the context of global vernacular aesthetics.

Works Cited:

Lynch, K. (1960) The image of the city. Cambridge, Mass, London, England: MIT Press


Posted in art work, Conferences, Global Vernacular Aesthetics, High Streets, Uncategorized, Video, Wood Green | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Anthropocene, art work, Geology, High Streets, London, Photography, Uncategorized, Video, Wood Green | 1 Comment