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Professor Nicolas Whybrow

NicolasProfessor of Urban Performance Studies

Tel: +44 (0)24 765 24925

Email: N dot Whybrow at warwick dot ac dot uk

Office: G38(a), Millburn House
University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7HS


Nicolas Whybrow is Professor of Urban Performance Studies and has been a member of the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at Warwick since 2004. He was Head of the School of Theatre & Performance and Cultural & Media Policy Studies from January 2015 to July 2017 and a member of University Senate in that period. Recent books are Performing Cities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and Art and the City (IB Tauris, 2011) while the publication of his monograph Contemporary Art Biennials in Europe: the Work of Art in the Complex City is imminent (Bloomsbury, 2020). He was a contributor to Performance Research journal's expanded centenary edition (June 2018) and also to that journal's 'On Drifting' issue in December 2018. Both items were linked to the work of a multi-medial research team that Nicolas leads in a 3-year UK Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project entitled Sensing the City: an Embodied Documentation and Mapping of the Uses and Tempers of Urban Place. See: Sensing the City The project's findings were presented at a public exhibition entitled Sensing the City: an Urban Room at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry in January 2020, curated by Sarah Shalgosky and Fiona Venables of the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre. See: Exhibition photos and catalogue (under Sensing the City tab above). Its designation as an 'urban room', culminating in a one-day symposium at the Gallery entitled "Sensing Coventry: an Urban Salon", represented a conscious attempt to instigate a public debate in the city about the desirability of establishing such a facility during Coventry's year as UK City of Culture in 2021. Nicolas will also edit a co-authored publication entitled Urban Sensographies (forthcoming Routledge, 2020) as the project's final output.

Until recently Nicolas was closely involved as thematic lead with two of the University of Warwick's Global Research Priorities (GRPs), Sustainable Cities (where the theme was social and cultural sustainability) and Connecting Cultures (where he led the urban futures theme). In April 2017 he convened a day-long symposium at Warwick Arts Centre funded by both GRPs and entitled Sky Blues City: Imagining a Sustainable Cultural Future for Coventry which explored new collaborative research opportunites arising from Coventry's nomination to be UK City of Culture in 2021 and the city's 10-year Cultural Strategy. Nicolas also contributed a public key-note to a symposium entitled The Biennial Effect: Biennials and Place-making at the first Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art in October 2017 and is now a member of its advisory board. See: Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art

Research interests

My research interests revolve around site-specific practices and, in particular, performance's intersection with urban contexts. This often takes me into the realms of visual and live art, cultural geography, ethnography and the built environment and I have written widely on contemporary artists and architects, including Ai Weiwei, Damien Hirst, Bob and Roberta Smith, Ayse Erkmen, Elmgreen and Dragset, Alfredo Jaar, Sophie Calle, Francis Alys, Aleksandra Mir, Tomoko Takahashi, Richard Wentworth, Rachel Whiteread, Mark Quinn, Peter Eisenman, Anthony Gormley, Daniel Libeskind, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Tacita Dean, Hans Haacke and Christian Boltanski. I have recently completed a book on the relationship between contemporary art biennials and their urban locations within the context of Europe and am Principal Investigator on a 3-year practice-based AHRC-funded research project entitled Sensing the City (2017-2020), which involves working with the Centre for Dance Research at Coventry University, Film and Television Studies at Warwick and commissioned artists. The project is based on devising a model of urban data capture using the human body as sensor. See: Sensing the City

My book Street Scenes: Brecht, Benjamin and Berlin, for which I received two AHRB research grants, appeared in 2005. A further book entitled Art and the City, which received AHRC research funding, appeared in 2011 and in 2010 I published a curated portfolio of key documents entitled Performance and the Contemporary City: an Interdisciplinary Reader, which was based on the content of a 3rd-year undergraduate module of the same name. In Autumn 2014 my edited volume Performing Cities appeared. This has chapter contributions by a range of scholars and artists exploring innovative approaches to writing the performing city (including Sue-Ellen Case, David Williams, Gay McAuley, Freddie Rokem, Mark Fleishman, Heike Roms and Mike Pearson).

In January 2012 I was invited to give a keynote on public art in the city of Turku in Finland. The event marked the conclusion of Turku's shared role (with Tallinn, Estonia) of European Capital of Culture in 2011. More recently I have been invited to give papers at various major European events concerned with the role of art and performance in urban contexts, including Belgrade (Mikser Festival), Copenhagen (Metropolis Lab) and Cologne (International Congress of Geographers). In November 2014 I was a panel and keynote contributor to Stadt Kunst Linz, a public symposium on art in public space at the Architekturforum Oberösterreich, Linz, Austria. The event was broadcast on regional television and a 15-minute radio interview given (in German) to Radio FRO 105.0, broadcast 14th November 2014. In 2017 I contributed mounted artist's pages entitled “Watermarked: ‘Venice Really Lives Up to Its Postcard Beauty’” to the exhibition Desert Fictions at Magacin/Great War Island, Belgrade, Serbia, 8th-22nd July. The exhibition was curated by Dr Marko Jobst, Department of Architecture and Landscape, University of Greenwich, London and will tour to other European venues.

I have been invited to give papers at several Performance Studies international (PSi) conferences (in Mainz, Singapore, New York City, Toronto, Utrecht and Hamburg), as well as in a variety of disciplinary contexts (including Media Studies, German Literature, Contemporary Dance, Geography, Sociology, Film Studies, Architecture and Visual Art). In May 2010 I gave an introductory public lecture at the screening of Jean Vigo's À Propos de Nice (1930) and Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) as part of the British Film Institute's Essential Experiments season at the National Film Theatre.

In 2009 I was awarded an academic fellowship by Warwick University's HEFCE-funded Reinvention Centre to undertake a research project with students doing my 3rd year Performance and the Contemporary City module in the academic year 2009/10. Entitled Performing Venice: Questions of a Sinking City, the project involved embarking on a field trip to Venice and subsequently creating an 'embodied mapping' of the city. Ever since then the city of Venice, and its International Art Biennale in particular, have becomne a focus of research attention for me with chapters and articles appearing in a range of books and journals. In 2015 I was invited to contribute a paper on Alfredo Jaar's installation Venezia Venezia at a conference in Venice entitled 'Sustainable Futures: Survival of the City'. This took place under the auspices of the Connecting Cultures and International Development GRPs at Warwick's Palazzo Pesaro-Papafava in celebration of the University's 50th anniversary.

Teaching and supervision

Nicolas is on study leave until September 2020 but most recent teaching has centred on Live Art and Performance in the second year, which was a practical and theoretical module on contemporary experimental approaches to making work and, in the third year, on the Performance and the Contemporary City option. The latter investigated performance that intervenes or operates directly within city sites, or which draws inspiration specifically from urban contexts. In addition he supervised practical and theoretical projects on the third-year Independent Research Option, as well as convening and teaching on the first year module Contemporary Performance Practices.

Nicolas currently supervises six PhD students, including practice-based ones, and welcomes applications to study for MA by Research, MPhil and PhD on areas of research interest relating to those outlined above. Nicolas has co-supervised PhDs with the Departments of German Studies and Sociology, Warwick Business School, the Centre for Education Studies, Coventry University Centre for Dance Research as well as collaborative doctorates with the theatre companies Stan's Cafe, Birmingham and C&T, Worcester.

In 2010 Nicolas was a recipient of the £5,000 Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence. In 2015 his module Live Art and Performance was awarded 'pedgaogic intervention' funding of £1,000 by the Institute for Teaching and Learning (IATL) to integrate students actively into the annual Fierce Festival in Birmingham:

Administrative roles

Principal Investigator on the 3-year AHRC-funded Sensing the City research project leading a team of ten members.

2015-17: Head of School, Senior Tutor, Careers and Alumni Officer, University Senate member, University Academic Quality and Standards Committee member, University Disciplinary Committee member, Faculty of Sciences Board member, Faculty of Arts Board member, Faculty of Arts Research Committee member, Cross-Faculty Global Sustainable Development and Liberal Arts Stakeholder Committee, Faculty of Arts New Building Design Development Group member, Warwick Creative Exchange


BA, MA, PhD (University of Leeds)

Office hours

I am on study leave until September 2020


I am on study leave until September 2020

Sensing the City

Performing cities front over Nicolas Whybrow

Art and the City front cover

Book cover: Performance and the Contemporary City

Book cover: Performance Research on Foot 

Boo cover: Street Scenes: Brecht, Benjamin and Berlincabre