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What does it mean to say that urbanism is performative?  What critical framework can the ‘performative’ bring to urbanism and the spatial politics and narratives of urban change? This Concordia University Research Chair in Performative Urbanism is focused on critical urban practices and artistic responses that are redressing and engaging with themes of spatial justice and the politics of urban change; including widespread urban inequalities around gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability in the built environment. At PULSE we focus on expanded scenography as a lens for understanding wider performance-making practices and performance design ecologies as vital to co-creation of public space, as well as the performance of urbanity and urban meaning.  

This research program is led by Dr Shauna Janssen, Concordia University Research Chair (CURC) in Performative Urbanism, and Associate Professor, Department of Theatre.  The CURC builds on recent scholarship and contemporary practices of  performance design to explore the critical application of scenography to urban spaces. Our approach to researching the politics and epistemologies of performative urbanism takes the city and urban space, the human and ‘more than human,’ as vital collaborators in the creation, enactment, and performance of urbanity and urban meaning.  

A performative approach to urbanism considers creative responses to emergent, overlooked or marginalized expressions and practices of urbanity--the ways that less visible and less powerful urban agents are at play within cities-- and the critical and creative role they have to play in the design, planning, and cultural production of urbanism. Our work at PULSE and approaches to working at the intersections of performative practices and the built environment is also deeply informed by interdisciplinary scholar Jane Rendell and her ongoing work and writing on critical spatial practices.

As an interdisciplinary research and creation platform, PULSE engages with the study of multiple connections between theoretical concepts and practices of urbanism (and design), and the history of scenography, as manifested in the rapidly changing discourse on contemporary performance design practices, performance design pedagogy, and the field’s critical application to urbanism and the social life of cities. In the early 2000s, the emerging field of Performance Design was ushered in by a discourse and experimental collaborations between theatre historians, performance theorists, interdisciplinary artist-researchers, architects and stage designers/ scenographers - first formulated through new academic programs in New Zealand and Denmark and articulated through a published anthology (Hannah and Harsløf 2008). At this time, performance design became a relatively new way of thinking about design for performance that transcends purpose built theatre spaces and architecture. While the emergence of performance design has become a field of study for examining an aesthetic shift in contemporary scenographic practices beyond the stage - which challenge some long-held principles of design for theatre and performance - there is still work to be done on the urban nature of scenography and its critical application to the city. The design or enactment of performative urbanism acknowledges this recent ‘scenographic turn’ (Brejzek 2015) in the performing arts – described as both “scenography expanded” (Aronson 2015; McKinney and Palmer 2017) and as a critical framework and expansion of practice into urban design and planning. One of the research objectives of  this program is to address the move towards urban scenographies that exhibit critical realism and engagements with the spatial politics of cities.

PULSE research and creation activities are funded by a Concordia University Research Chair. The PULSE research-creation team acknowledges that we are located on the unceded Indigenous lands of Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal which is historically known as a gathering place of creativity, community, storytelling and culture for First Nations and Indigenous communities including but not limited to the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Huron/Wendat, Abenaki, and Anishinaabeg (Algonquin). PULSE acknowledges and honours The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation’s relationship and status as First Peoples on the lands and waters of the Island of Montreal and surrounding areas. We respect the past, present and future of Indigenous peoples in Montreal and we stand in solidarity with the Indigenous members of our community. 

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