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Scenographic City

This international event discusses examples of urban scenography and considers scenographic strategies as part of urban research and futures.

The event is organized by Dr Joslin McKinney, Associate
Professor in Scenography and Programme Leader for the MA in Performance Design at the University of Leeds, UK.

January 14th 

9h00-12h00 EST

Register here


Contemporary scenography, no longer confined to theatre stages, is now being used to interrogate and transform urban space. The 'place-orientating methods of scenography shape other social and art practices' (Hann 2019: 5) and it 'provides a critical tool to reflect, confront and realign worldviews' (Hannah and Harslof, 2008:19). Scenography can be 'a device for critically reflecting...intervening, defamiliarizing and re-orienting experiences of hegemonic spatial politics on an urban scale (Janssen 2019:208). Now, following prolonged periods of lockdown, the need to understand the diversity of urban experience and the ways in which people feel themselves to belong in the city seem more urgent than ever. Might the affective, creative and imaginative dimensions of our lives that scenography deals with provide new ways of thinking about the 'spatial politics of urban change' (Janssen 2019:208)?


This international seminar will consider examples of recent practice and ask:

• what characterises a scenographic approach to the urban and to placemaking?

• what can distinctively scenographic perspectives on urban experience reveal?

• how do scenographic techniques facilitate change and transformation of the urban?



Marina Hadjilouca (Cyprus + UK) Scenographic tactics in contested public spaces

Dorita Hannah (Aotearoa/New Zealand) Navigating urban scenographies of the ‘real’

Shauna Janssen (Turtle Island/ Canada) Urban Scenographics: Towards Partial Perspectives, Situated Practices, and Unsettling Existing Perceptions of Place 

Joslin McKinney (UK) Understanding urban space as scenography

Respondent: Rachel Hann (UK)


Abstracts and Biographies


Dr Rachel Hann is Senior Lecturer in Performance and Design at Northumbria University, Newcastle. Her research is focused on the material cultures of scenography, costume and architecture. She is author of Beyond Scenography (Routledge 2019), which was shortlisted for the Prague Quadrennial 2019 Publication Prize. In 2013, Rachel co-founded the research network Critical Costume and in 2014 co-edited a special issue of Scene (Intellect) on costume.

Marina Hadjilouca - Scenographic tactics in contested public spaces 

In this presentation Marina Hadjilouca will present an open-source toolkit for scenographic interventions. This toolkit aims to explore site-specificity and social change through small triggering acts of multiplicities in the contested urban site. The toolkit can be used as a tangible instrument by performance designers, artists and architects who engage with urban sites in a critical way. Drawing from a series of interventions and workshops that took place in Cyprus and the UK, Marina discusses the political potential of performance design when taken into the contested urban milieu, outside the theatrical confines. Through these examples, she argues that performance design when informed by processes of social art practice and conceptual frameworks built on cultural geography, can be used as a methodological tool towards social transformation. Dr Marina Hadjilouca is a performance designer and an academic, currently based at Rose Bruford College. As a researcher Marina focuses on the use of performance design as a methodology for politicised practices. Marina's research interests lie in the synergies between social art practice and performance design. She has presented her research in conferences and symposiums in Europe and the UK and has published papers in conference proceedings. Marina is one of the organisers of the Socially Engaged Design (SED) Conference in Cyprus. As a practitioner, Marina creates scenographic interventions in contested public spaces and designs sets and costumes for theatrical performances.


Dorita Hannah - Navigating urban scenographies of the ‘real’ 

For many reasons – including the ongoing pandemic – theatre has left the ‘dead air’ of its designated buildings, seeking ‘the real’ in all its manifestations, which radically shifts modes of spectatorship, performance and therefore scenography. The city itself, historically rooted in scenographic practice, is an increasingly performative environment: entwining the virtual and the material, while disciplining civic bodies with security fencing, stanchion barriers, fluoro-orange traffic cones and proliferating signage; all designed to regulate our individual and collective movement. This tends to limit our engagement with the urban environment, curtailing spontaneous self-expression while disregarding the city’s multiple histories, cultural mythologies, and socio-political realities. However, the highly mediatized global stage we occupy reveals a hyper-theatricalization of everyday life, blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction. Presenting a range of key urban performance projects, including her own collaborative dance-architecture events, Dorita Hannah considers how challenging well-established binaries – between mythos and materiality, safety and danger, theatre and city – can inform how urban environments are developed and experienced, especially the Pasifika | Moana Nui City of Oceania. Dr Dorita Hannah is a designer and independent academic whose practice and research – operating across the architectural, performing, culinary and visual arts – focus on performance space and spatial performativity. Her international projects range from theatre architecture (space-in-action) to public events (action-in-space), addressing the dynamics, politics and intermediality of the public realm. Hannah has published on Performance Design and Event-Space, while designing, curating and directing exhibitions, installations, performances, feasts, symposia and workshops. Her creative work has gained awards and citations and has been regularly selected for exhibition in World Stage Design and the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design & Space.


Dr Shauna Janssen - Urban Scenographics: Towards Partial Perspectives, Situated Practices, and Unsettling Existing Perceptions of Place 

In this presentation Shauna Janssen foregrounds scenographic practice as method for urban research, community-engagement, and critical place making, with a strong redressive critique of ‘urban revitalization’. Drawing from her curatorial work and the site-specific ARCADE project, she explores the critical capacity that scenographic practices have to disperse, reframe and situate theatre architectures across multiple scales and experiences of the material, spatial, sociohistorical, political and cultural resonances and affects that are felt by, through and with urban change.Dr Shauna Janssen lives and works in Tiohtià:ke/ Montréal, Turtle Island/ Canada. She is an Assistant Professor of Performance Creation at Concordia University, where she holds a University Research Chair in Performative Urbanism. She directs PULSE, an interdisciplinary research-creation lab which focuses on site responsive, urban, spatial and material practices that redress and engage with themes of spatial justice and the politics of urban change. Her curatorial projects and performance design practice engages with interdisciplinary, feminist and scenographic methods to engage with questions of the right to the city. She has published numerous essays and monographs on site-specific art, public space, performance pedagogy, and performative practices including with the International Journal of Performance & Theatre Design, FIELD: a Journal of Socially-Engaged Art Criticism, and PARtake: the Journal of Performance as Research.


Dr Joslin McKinney - Understanding urban space as scenography 

The effects of urban spaces on individuals can have profound effects on a sense of identity and belonging yet they often go unnoticed and unexplored. In this presentation Joslin McKinney investigates how we might attune ourselves to the spatial and sensory qualities of the city and the effects that they might be having on us. It draws on workshops in which participants pay special attention to the scenographic qualities of urban space and it considers how attunement to the scenographic offers new perspectives on ‘the complex materialities of the urban’ (McCormack and Latham 2004). It is proposed that creative, participatory methods developed in scenography could contribute to investigations into subjective urban experience and that scenographic attunement might be valuable as part of efforts to resist dominant narratives of neo-liberal urban space and construct alternative subjectivities. Dr Joslin McKinney is Associate Professor in Scenography and Programme Leader for the MA in Performance Design at the University of Leeds, UK. She is the lead author of the Cambridge Introduction to Scenography (CUP 2009) and co-editor of Scenography Expanded: an Introduction to Contemporary Performance Design (Bloomsbury 2017). She has published articles and chapters on scenographic research methods, scenographic spectacle and embodied spectatorship, phenomenology, kinaesthetic empathy and material agency. She is co-editor of the Performance + Design book series for Bloomsbury that reflects the recent growth of scenographic practices and the expansion from theatre/stage design to a wider notion of scenography as a spatial practice. Her current research is concerned with using scenography to understand the experience of urban space.

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