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Sensing the City

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This collaborative exhibition represented one of the final outputs of a 3-year AHRC-funded research project (running 2017-2020) whose full title is Sensing the City: an Embodied Documentation and Mapping of the Changing Uses and Tempers of Urban Place (a practice-based case-study of Coventry). The project’s principal investigator is Professor Nicolas Whybrow and its main researchers include practice-based academics in performance, film and digital technologies from the University of Warwick, in dance from Coventry University's Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE), to include the company enter&inhabit, and a commissioned artist-researcher in immersive performance and site-specific installation with the professional London-based company sirenscrossing. Undertaking a series of site-specific studies of urban rhythms, atmospheres, textures, practices and patterns of behaviour in the West Midlands city of Coventry (UK), the Sensing the City project made use of the sensate, performing human body as a data-gathering sensor in the first instance, applying techniques of writing or notation and technologies of sound/oral recording, photography, performance and film in the second instance to respond to, document and process such fieldwork activity. The third and final phase of the research programme was to visualise and present documented text, sound and image material as both an exhibition and a co-authored book entitled Urban Sensographies (forthcoming Routledge 2021).

The collaborative exhibition held by project members at the Herbert Gallery, Coventry (13th-18th Jan 2020) was curated by two professional exhibition curators, Sarah Shalgosky and Fiona Venables of the Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre. 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 institute 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, whose organising team, Coventry City of Culture Trust, sponsored the exhibition and symposium (both key events in the practical dissemination of research). Thus, the exhibition cast itself additionally as a forum for discussion among citizens/visitors and this proved to be a significant factor during the week-long event with attendance remarkably high (compared to the Herbert Gallery average) and varied in its make-up from primary school groups to landscape architects to map designers. For general photographic documentation of the exhibition, see:

The urban room initiative has been taken up by Coventry City of Culture Trust now with a view to introducing one for the duration of 2021 and, as a prototypical model, Sensing the City is pleased to have played a significant part in bringing this about, ensuring that it will exist as part of a national UK network:

The exhibition catalogue’s introduction details the aims of the exhibition as a whole as public event and as research. It therefore has had a crucial part to play in the dissemination of the project’s research alongside the ephemeral event of the exhibition itself. Above all the catalogue highlights the way the project work has focused on the neglected experience of people in the city centre, raising several pertinent questions for the public and setting out to address – and, indeed answer – those in its content.