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Professor Nicolas Whybrow

NicolasEmeritus Professor 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 Emeritus Professor of Urban Performance Studies, joining the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at Warwick in February 2004 and retiring early owing to ill health in October 2020. 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. 2020 witnessed the publication of his monograph Contemporary Art Biennials in Europe: the Work of Art in the Complex City (Bloomsbury 2020), while his edited book Urban Sensographies (Routledge) came out early in 2021. 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 led 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 2021-22. The case for an urban room, viewed through the lens of the effects of Covid-19, was made in the form of an invited response to Built Environment journal's special issue on 'Arts and the City', appearing as an online blog: The edited book Urban Sensographies is the Sensing the City project's final output.

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 opportunities between the universities of Coventry and Warwick, 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 revolved around site-specific practices and, in particular, performance's intersection with the complexity of urban contexts. This often took 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 recently completed a book on the relationship between contemporary art biennials and their urban locations within the context of Europe and was Principal Investigator on a 3-year practice-based AHRC-funded research project entitled Sensing the City (2017-2020), which involved working with the Centre for Dance Research at Coventry University, Film and Television Studies at Warwick and commissioned artists. The project was based on devising a model of urban data capture using the human body as sensor. See: Sensing the City

In 2005, having recently arrived at Warwick, my book Street Scenes: Brecht, Benjamin and Berlin appeared, for which I had received two AHRB research grants. A later book, entitled Art and the City, which received AHRC research funding, appeared in 2011, while in 2010 I had published a curated portfolio of key texts relating to urban performance studies entitled Performance and the Contemporary City: an Interdisciplinary Reader. This was based on the content of a 3rd-year undergraduate module of the same name. In Autumn 2014 my edited volume Performing Cities was published. 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. Since then 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, then of the Department of Architecture and Landscape, University of Greenwich, London.

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 become 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's teaching centred in recent years 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 supervised many PhD and MA by Research students in his time at Warwick and was also Director of Graduate Studies from 2009-14. Several doctorates were co-supervised with other departments, including German Studies, Sociology, Warwick Business School (WBS) and Education Studies. He was also involved in co-supervising PhDs with Coventry University Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE), as well as overseeing collaborative doctoral arrangements with the theatre companies Stan's Cafe, Birmingham and C&T, Worcester. Above all he specialised in supervising practice as research (PaR) PhDs, doing much to establish this relatively recent methodological form in the Department. He was also asked to examine many PaR PhDs externally (including at the universities of Cape Town, Glasgow, Aberystwyth and Royal Holloway) and was external examiner on Exeter University's taught MA in Theatre Practice (2014-17).

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

2017-20: 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.

UG/PGT external examiner at the universities of Staffordshire, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, Lancaster and Exeter.


BA (Hons), MA, PhD (University of Leeds)

Urban Sensographiies


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 Berlin