STUDIES IN CONTEMPORARY
THE CITY, ARCHITECTURE AND VIRTUAL PLAY
OPTION LEADER: DR HANNA CANNON
This document is set out by a rhythm of reflections on weekly seminars,
led by Dr Hanna Cannon, which stemmed from the title, ‘The City,
Architecture and Virtual Play”. Dovetailing with this rhythm is
the form of an essay, which converses directly with 3 reflections in
particular. This collection of thinking is indebted to Hanna Cannon
and my fellow peers in her Seminars. The course and its colleagues
have provided much food for thought.
00. The Street Party:
Thinking through a depiction of play in the city
01. Theorising Play
02. The Playful City
03. Theorising Space and Place
04. Approaches to Space and Technology
05. The City, Space and Technology
THE STREET PARTY
THINKING THROUGH A DEPICTION OF
PLAY IN THE CITY
THE STREET PARTY:
THINKING THROUGH A DEPICTION OF PLAY IN THE CITY
As an event, the street party allows a collective and ephemeral act of
subversion to the existing space and order of the city. A notion of
playfulness creeps in through the activity’s inhabitation of a hereto
uninhabitable zone; A zone which is designed for mass circulation,
which opposes any pursuit of lingering or fun. The British street party,
however, summons an image of bunting, patriotic flags, a celebration
of the monarchy or an end to nation’s war. Herein lies the intriguing
situation which the street party presents; Can an act of play enforce the
authority of the day, or does it, in doing so, strip it of its playfulness?
This essay will focus on Lawrence Stephen Lowry’s depiction of the
British street party in his painting from 1945, entitled VE Day. This
piece will enable a conversation with key voices in critical theory, who
explore the themes of play, place, the festival and the carnival. This
conversation will bring to light layers through which we can read
Figure 1: Lowry, Laurence Stephen, VE Day, 1945, Oil on Canvas.
VE day (Victory in Europe) marked the end of World War II, as
Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces claimed victory. 1 The
celebration which followed this news is shown as the subject of Lowry’s
Painting (Figure 1). Lowry’s art has grown in popularity over time;
it is distinct as few artists of his generation concentrated on ordinary
people going about their everyday lives. 2 His paintings sprung from his
life embedded in Manchester, Salford and other towns in the industrial
north of England in the mid-20th Century.
Lowry’s image frames a cityscape where spaces for working, living,
shopping, worshipping, and socialising are all arranged within spitting
distance of one another. In the foreground, we see terraced houses
and streets, which are punctuated by local amenities, such as the pub
(bottom right), or local shop (bottom left). Housing stretches into the
distance but is broken up by a large-scale town hall and public square.
Falling behind these headlines there is indication of church spires and
endless chimneys from factories, and further civic scale buildings. In
this image, on the instance of VE day, the city, as curated by Lowry,
becomes a canvas for playful activity. Here, the thresholds of play and
playful activity transgress the normally acknowledged use of the city
and its streets.
1. “VE, n.”, Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford University Press, Accessed 26th of March,
2018, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/221800?redirectedFrom=VE+Day ().
2. “VE Day, Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976)”, Art UK Online Public Catalogue, Accessed
2nd of April, 2018. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/ve-day-84993
WEEK 3: 30.01.18
In his seminal text Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga presents his
observations on the thresholds of play. Play, he argues, is limited in
its dimensions of time but also space. Before play can commence, its
spatial territory – either physical or imagined – must be set out and
agreed on by all players. 3 Further to this, he posits that the conduct of
play, within this pocket of space and time, is tied together with a set of
Inside the play-ground an absolute and peculiar order reigns. Here
we come across another, very positive feature of play: it creates
order, is order. Into an imperfect world and into the confusion of
life it brings a temporary, a limited perfection. Play demands order
absolute and supreme. The least deviation from it ‘spoils the game’,
robs it of its character and makes it worthless. 4
This creation of rules can be, and often is, seen as a key element of
the play itself; the game evolves as it is played out. For Huizinga, the
keeping of order within the agreed window of play, in space and time,
is intrinsic to its value. When any boundary of the play is overstepped,
or the rules not adhered to, the play loses its worth; when the play’s
boundary is broken, its magic dissolves, and the fun is made un-fun.
This play order, within a framed space and time, is often referred to as
Huizinga’s ‘magic circle’ 5 .
Let us consider the thresholds of this ‘magic circle’ as a soap bubble.
Inside the bubble exists an un-replicable condition in space, time and
order. Like a bubble, the thresholds of play are almost imperceptible.
The boundaries exist as, at any one time, one is either within or out
with a perimeter of play. If, by any internal or external forces, the
bubble’s wall is breached, so then the bubble bursts. Although everyone
3. Johan Huizinga, “Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon”, in Homo Ludens:
A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. (Beacon Press, Boston, 1971), p. 10.
4. Huizinga, “Nature and Significance of Play”, p. 10.
5. “Theorising Play”, Discussion from Seminar, led by Dr. Hanna Cannon (Edinburgh, 30.01.2018).
who was within that capsule of play holds a memory of it, its exactitude
can never be reproduced as, the terms of the space, time and order
will never be the same. Multiple bubbles of play can fuse together, as
games and rules are incorporated. The walls of the bubble can stretch
or contract as the play evolves, however, once a force causes the walls
of the play to burst, it cannot be rebuilt.
As Huizinga stresses, play can be seen to exist within any space; it is
not constrained purely to the physical. In the physical sense though,
at the scale of the city, there are efforts to contain the building of the
‘magic circle’. As space is organised by its use we see the designation
of the ‘play-ground’ and the ‘skate park’. By including play space in the
design of cities, we acknowledge this as a critical element of our social
practice; but, this action alone controls the critical playfulness of the
action and inadvertently impedes the playability of other city spaces.
SEMINAR READINGS: THEORISING PLAY
Huizinga, Johan “Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural
Phenomenon”, in Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in
Culture. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 1971. pp. 1 - 27.
Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture”, in Salen,
Katie, and Eric Zimmerman. Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play
Anthology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2006, pp. 670 - 689.
THE STREET PARTY
THINKING THROUGH A DEPICTION OF
PLAY IN THE CITY
Within the rigour of city planning, streets are not designated as
play place. The primary function of the street is to allow efficient,
unimpeded order and circulation of people and vehicles. Any deviation
from this designation can lead to chaos. We can see this in action, for
example, when a pedestrian decides to cross a road where not indicated
to to do so; their action syncopates, an otherwise uninterrupted, flow
of vehicular traffic. 6
Lowry shows a dance or game of ring-a-go-roses in the foreground of
his image. He depicts a freedom in the dancers’ movements as they spill
off the kerb and into the road itself. Within this clip of the image, you
see that the bubble of play has stretched to involve everyone within
view. The image illustrates the agreement of all players to collectively
disregard the usually enforced designation of the street and road. We
are reminded of the temporariness of this situation through the weight
of the lines representing the pavement. These lines mark out what is
usually observed as the ‘ordinary’ order of the scene. We are reminded
that the street is in a state of temporary suspension, a meanwhile state
of use; This, in turn, is inherent and imperative for the playful nature
of the act.
6. “The city, space and technology”, Discussion from Seminar, led by Dr. Hanna Cannon
THE PLAYFUL CITY
WEEK 5, 13.02.2018
Ian Borden addressed the critical nature of the temporary within our
built environment as a means of arguing for “tactics for a playful city”.
In his essay he states:
We need architectures of an impermanent and temporary nature
that appear for a few weeks, days or even hours, that do whatever it
is that they need to do and then disappear without leaving a trace,
except that they remain in the minds of all those who witnessed
them. Architecture in this sense is like a seasonal flower, beautiful
in its very ephemerality and provisional presence and appreciated
not only for what it provides, but also in the knowledge that it will,
very soon, be gone. 7
Borden suggests that it is the place of the building, not only the
population, to occupy space in the city within a limited frame of
time. Borden’s analogy of the flower illustrates the potential value of
temporary architecture; the brief nature of the intervention makes it
special beyond its use, a kind of limited edition. As if part of a magic
trick, to be truly playful, the intervention must completely disappear,
leaving only the memory of its use and its beauty behind.
Borden’s argument for playful intervention in the city draws parallels
to how Charles Baudelaire read the crowd in Paris of the 19th
century. This is an element discussed by Walter Benjamin in On some
motifs in Baudelaire, who states, “What this sonnet [A une passante]
communicates is simply this: far from experiencing the crowd as an
opposed, antagonistic element, this very crowd brings to the city
dweller the figure that fascinates. The delight of the urban poet is
love – not at first sight, but at last sight.” 8 Benjamin acknowledges
the potential view the crowd as a divisive and hostile force within his
7. Ian Borden, “Tactics for a Playful City”, in Borries, Friedrich von, Steffen P. Walz, and Matthias
Böttger. Space Time Play: Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level, (Springer
Science & Business Media, 2007), p. 334.
8. Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” and “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth
Century”, in Leach, Neil. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. (London: Routledge,
writing; its character, mood and motivation being unfixed. It is within
this context that Baudelaire pick out that which fascinates him as the
‘urban poet’; that one can find and loose love within an instance. This
implies that the temporality of the event increases its intrigue. With no
record of the love found, at last sight, one has only a memory which is
enriched further with the passing of time after the event.
As Benjamin tells us, Baudelaire views his city (Paris), through the
agitated veil of the crowd. 9 A shimmering homogeneous foreground to
the building and the operation of city space. Baudelaire’s fascination is
in the potential for the ‘veil’ to bring into view something, or someone,
which transcends the ordinary, but only for a fleeting moment.
Baudelaire is transfixed by the possibility of the extra-ordinary; that
which compels love or fascination. So here, much like Borden’s city, the
crowd brings forward fleeting experience, which blooms, but is fated
to disappear. Like Baudelaire, Borden is attracted to the temporary,
and the playfulness of the thing never known fully. We could consider
this antithetically; when the element of temporality is lost, do we leave
the world of play and become ground into the everyday?
SEMINAR READINGS: PLAYFUL CITY
Benjamin, Walter. “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” and “Paris, Capital
of the Nineteenth Century”, in Leach, Neil. Rethinking Architecture: A
Reader in Cultural Theory. London: Routledge, 1997, pp. 24 - 40.
Borden, Ian. “Tactics for a Playful City”, in Borries, Friedrich von, Steffen
P. Walz, and Matthias Böttger. Space Time Play: Computer Games,
Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level . Springer Science & Business
Media, 2007, pp. 332 - 334.
9. Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire”, p.27
THE STREET PARTY
THINKING THROUGH A DEPICTION OF
PLAY IN THE CITY
Baudelaire’s love at last sight depicts the potential of the crowd to present
a fragment of excitement, a glimmer of otherness. Lowry’s street party
scene can be seen to show a washing of the whole crowd in a collective
activity; it shows an event distinctly other to the ordinary proceeding of
things and, as we have considered, a playful use of city space. Huizinga
points to play as the notable deviation from the ordinary as he states,
“We find play present everywhere as a well-defined quality of action
which is different from ‘ordinary’ life.’ 10 However, as depicted in this
image, the scale of play has been dramatically expanded. A proliferation
of playful activity over-writes the normal order, within the city, and
now encompasses all corners of the frame.
At this point we can turn to the English language and interrogate
how we describe the event we seen in our critical object, an activity
of collective play. The word ‘Party’, our point departure, has myriad
readings; it describes a part of a whole, as well as a side in a battle,
or the oppositional configuration of government within in UK. Its
use is, in the social sense, not listed until the 13th use in the English
language in the Oxford English Dictionary. 11 Through its readings we
see evidence that the party can be a divisive term in language. The
word itself suggests that the activity of the party is not for everyone –
there is either a guest-list or a metaphysical limit to participation – at
some point a line is drawn.
We see further evidence of this in considering ‘street’ as a prefix to ‘party’.
The physical manifestation of street creates a divisive spatial threshold,
which is, as we have thought through previously, transgressed through
the act of play. We understand that ‘the streets’ serve anyone as a piece
of crucial shared city infrastructure, but ‘a street’ is associated to a
localised sense of ownership.
10. Huizinga, “Nature and Significance of Play”, p. 4.
11. “party, n.”. OED Online. March 2018. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/
Entry/138347?rskey=cQqvYC&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed March 30, 2018).
What then are we seeing in Lowry’s image? The scale of the celebration
depicted goes beyond a localised party; we see that the playful activity is
spilling into all city space on view. This consideration takes us to other
ways in which we understand events of collective playful activity. The
‘festival’, as looked at by Lefebvre, is a suitable conversation to turn to
at this point.
Figure 3: Detail View Lowry, L.S, VE Day.
THEORISING SPACE AND PLACE
WEEK 4, 06.02.18
In his seminal text, The Production of Space, Lefebrve draws a
comparison between the relationship of the festival and the everyday
to the relationship of the monument and the building. 12 Lefebvre
understands these relationships to both be dialectical in nature. We are
led to consider this situation by imagining the effect of the monument’s
absence in the city:
Turmoil is inevitable once a monument loses its prestige, or can only
retain it by means of admitted oppression and repression. When the
subject – a city or a people – suffers dispersal, the ‘building’ and its
functions come into their own; by the same token, ‘housing’ comes to
prevail over ‘residence’ within that city or amidst that people. The
building has its roots in warehouses, barracks, depots and rental
housing. Buildings have functions, forms and structures, but they
do not integrate the formal, functional and structural ‘moments’
of social practice. And inasmuch as sites, forms and functions
are no longer focused and appropriated by monuments, the city’s
contexture or fabric – its streets, its underground levels, its frontiers
– unravel, and generate not concord but violence. Indeed space as a
whole becomes prone to sudden eruptions of violence. 13
Within this extract, buildings can be appreciated for their utility alone;
that they serve a purpose in accommodating the basic functions of
society but not beyond necessity. Lefebvre notes the shift in use of
language from ‘residence’ to ‘housing’; this observation shows a shell
space for living privileged over a place to dwell on a long-term basis. 14
Lefebvre explains that it is this switch in feeling, for the building as a
space for utility, which shows its inability to accommodate ‘moments of
social practice’. Leferbrve’s description of the city is as a fabric, within
which the monument binds all other elements; the buildings, the roads
12. Henri Lefevbre, “The Production of Space (extracts)”, in Leach, Neil. Rethinking Architecture: A
Reader in Cultural Theory. (London: Routledge), 1997, p.141.
13. Lefevbre, “The Production of Space (extracts)”, pp. 140- 141.
14.”residence, n.1”. Oxford English Dictionary Online. March 2018. Oxford University Press.
(accessed March 20, 2018).
and other functional space. Social practice acts as a warp to the built
structure’s weft. The removal of one element causes the unravelling of
the other; when one exists without the other, it leaves behind disorder
and violence. In Lefebvre’s imagining the city, the monument – and
its order – can only be reinstated by cruel force. If it takes coercion
to re-instate the monument, it could be argued that it is enforcing a
By thinking through Lefebvre’s writing on monumentality, we can
begin to test a comparative understanding of the festival; if monument
is to building as festival is to everyday, can we say that monument
to festival as building is to everyday? In this analogy, the festival is
a binding agent for the everyday function of the city. By Leferbvre’s
logic, without the festival, the everyday would descend into violent
outburst. The everyday is a function of utility, but it is the festival
which punctuates, binds and enforces order with tyrannical strength.
SEMINAR READINGS: THEORISING SPACE AND PLACE
Lefevbre, Henri. “The Production of Space (extracts)”, in Leach, Neil.
Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. London: Routledge,
1997, pp. 138 - 146.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Exploring the World of Perception: Space”, in The
World of Perception. London ; New York: Routledge, 2004, pp. 47 - 56.
THE STREET PARTY
THINKING THROUGH A DEPICTION OF
PLAY IN THE CITY
Further in his writing, Lefebvre covers the image of the city as a
fabric. We see him test this analogy and exploring the potential of the
monument to provide ‘texture’ both physical and metaphysical. He sees
texture as, “made up of a usually rather large space covered by networks
or webs; monuments constitute the strong points, nexuses or anchors
of such webs”. 15
Lowry’s depiction of the city places differing visual weight on elements
within the scene. He shows an emphasis on the local level, and the
residential street, by placing this in the foreground of his view. Beyond
this, emphasis is placed on the civic structure, which faces onto an
open square; it is unclear whether this building is a depiction of town
hall or factory. Beyond this still, the church spire is lifted in front of the
hazy backdrop. A repetition of this spatial distribution ad infinitum.
From Lowry’s representation, we can infer a hierarchy in the spatial
and social order he would like us to understand. The elements of civic,
industrial and spiritual space can, in this arrangement, be seen to create
a spatial texture.
The centre of our attention is this essay, is the place and nature of play
in this context; so where, in Lefebvre’s analogy of the city, can we see
a place for play? In Lowry’s composition, as a reflection of an event he
witnessed, the city can be seen to serve as a canvas for playful activity.
The texture of the city, created by the interweaving of monument and
building, provides a tangible base for a splash colour. If we should
consider how Lowry’s painting can be read as a festival – a collective
break from the everyday – it can still be seen as part of the fabric of the
city. It is less a colour applied to the surface than a colour woven into
the fabric itself.
15. Lefevbre, “The Production of Space (extracts)”, p. 140.
Let us return to Huizinga and play, in its fundamentals. Huizinga
contributes this thought, as his first condition for the nature of play,
all play is a voluntary activity. Play to order is no longer play:
it could at best be but a forcible intimidation of it. By this quality
of freedom alone, play marks itself off from the course of natural
process. It is something added thereto and spread out over it like a
flowering, an ornament, a garment. 16
The non-coercible element of play, as Huizinga observes it, seems
to stand in direct conflict with our interpretation of Lefebvre’s
comment on the festival and its integrity to the order of the everyday.
With Huizinga’s logic, as soon as the festival is forced it ceases to be
a playful activity. We can enjoy Huizinga’s suggestion of play which
blooms like a flower or is worn like a garment. This reminds us also,
of the language, of Ian Borden and Walter Benjamin; these metaphors
highlight, again, play’s temporary nature. Where the analogy of colour
to canvas starts to fall down is it suggests a permanent change of state.
We can find further holes in the extension of this as flowers can be
wild or can be cultivated; the application of colour to canvas suggests
an author of the activity which, Huizinga points out, reduces play a
‘forcible intimidation’ of itself.
At this point we can turn the conversation to Mikhail Bakhtin; his
thinking on the carnival, and the layer of the official and non-official,
can further deepen our enquiry. Bakhtin’s indirectly points at the
nature of the carnival, or carnivalesque, through his thesis on François
Rabelais’ writing. Despite his subject, Rabelais, writing in the 16th
century about world of the medieval, it is suggested that Bakhtin is to
be “read as a hidden polemic against the regime’s [Soviet Russia under
Stalin] cultural politics”. 17
16. Huizinga, “Nature and Significance of Play”, p. 10.
17. Simon Denith, Bakhtinian thought: An introductory reader, (London, New York: Routledge,
Through Bakhtin’s exploration of Rabelais, we can begin to view the
carnival as an antiauthoritarian act of collective play:
Carnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth
and from the established order; it marked the suspension of all
hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions… All were
considered equal during the carnival … The utopian ideal of the
realistic merged in the carnival experience, unique of its kind. 18
If we look back to Huizinga’s conditions of play – a bubble of space and
time in which new order can exist – we see the parallels to Bakhtin’s
observations of the carnival; a space in time, within which the accepted
social systems and hierarchies, are cast aside. Carnival becomes a
platform within which the playing field of life is flattened. Its inherent
playfulness further exaggerated in its temporality, in which it is simple
a “suspension” of normal rules as opposed to a re-writing of them.
The critical aspect of Bakhtin’s inquiry appears as the appearance of the
carnival as a controlled explosion of normal order, within a proscribed
window of time. This situation is referred to as ‘carnival disorder’ and
has been argued to work as a licensed safety-valve for social disruption,
allowing the preservation of authority. 19 In his introduction to
Bakhtin’s writing, Simon Denith draws a parallel between Bakhtin’s
ideas to the thinking of Lunacharvsky, who wrote about laughter as a
controlled devise of relieving social tension. 20 This situation is apparent
when we consider the designation of festivals and holidays within the
annual calendar. In the UK today, we collectively acknowledge the
‘bank holiday’ as a break to the ordinary order of things; the ruling
order is this could be acknowledged as the bank and the market.
18. Mikhail Bakhtin, “Rebelais and His World, 1965 (extracts translated H Iswolsky, Indiana
University Press, 1984)” in Pam Morris, The Bakhtin Reader: Selected writings of Bakhtin, Medveedev,
Voloshinov, (Newyork: Bloomsbury, 1997), p. 199.
19. Pam Morris, The Bakhtin Reader: Selected writings of Bakhtin, Medveedev, Voloshinov, (New York:
Bloomsbury, 1997), p. 22.
20. Denith, Bakhtinian Thought: An introductory Reader, p. 71.
Carnival, in particular, has a strong connection to the Christian
calendar, as it occupies the days which occurred in the run up to lent.
So, despite carnival creating an opportunity to ‘celebrate a temporary
liberation from the prevailing truth’, the fact it is controlled to a frame
of time, undermines its ability to liberate.
Bakhtin also turns, within his polemic, to the medieval feast through
which he explores the layer of the official and unofficial. Of the unofficial
feast, found in medieval folk culture, he writes:
They offered a completely different, non-official, extra-ecclesiastical
and extra-political aspect of the world and a second life outside
officialdom, a world in which all medieval people participated in
more or less. 21
And of the official he states:
The link with time became formal; changes and moments of crisis
were relegated to the past. Actually, the official feast looked back
at the past and used the past to consecrate the present. Unlike the
earlier and purer feast, the official feast asserted that all was
stable, unchanging, and perennial: the existing hierarchy, existing
religious, political, and moral values and norms, and prohibitions. 22
Where the designation between the official and the un-official can
further our thinking of the feast is that it gives us a framework in which
to identify the coercive element of the event. Both events, official and
unofficial, create an altered space in time, and time in space. They are
differentiated by whether they act to further the prevailing ordinary
order, or whether it act to go against it. By this, one could understand
the unofficial as a play event which starts and finishes beyond the
ordinary; the official starts and finishes within the ordinary.
21. Bakhtin, “Rebelais and His World, 1965”, p. 199.
22. Bakhtin, “Rebelais and His World, 1965”, p. 199.
This is supported through the event’s connection to the play of power
in time. Bakhtin acknowledges the spontaneity of the unofficial feast,
often triggered by an unforecastable victory in battle or return from a
successful hunt. 23 He contrasts this with the official feast in which, by
looking backwards, the keeping of time becomes ordered; the principle
of playing with time itself was taken away. While there is logic to this,
by taking the structure away from time, you delete the constraints play
This dual aspect is further the object of Bakhtin intrigue as he explores
the concept of comic grandeur within Rabelais’ writing. Characters
within Rabelais’ work are notable through the exaggeration in the
physical characteristics in appearance and movement. This device in
language and narrative has several juxtaposing repercussions as Pam
Morris, commenting on this, tells us, it “ridicules and celebrates,
crowns and de-crowns, elevates and debases” 24 .
If we return to our starting point, Lowry’s painting, we can begin to
uncover aspects of comic realism’s duality in the representation of VE
day celebration. In the light of the vivid festivities, the city as a backdrop
appears comparatively tonally drained. The homes and factories puff
smoke from their chimney, as if simultaneously belching and cheering.
With our attention on the fires, driving the plumes of smoke, we
see them both warming the city and choking the city. Within this
too, the factories are employing, but also using the people. All these
observations point to a state of merriment within an environment of
23. Bakhtin, “Rebelais and His World, 1965”, p. 210.
24. Morris, The Bakhtin Reader, p. 21.
Lefebvre guided us to think that this duality is part and parcel of the
fabric of the city, the order of the everyday and social stability. It is
perhaps this multiplicity of dichotomous readings which make Lowry’s
image so captivating. In reading Lowry’s image, it is fair to say we have
asked more questions than we have answered. This however is just the
predicament Huizinga would have pointed us to, were we to ask him,
“The attempt to assess the play content in the confusion of modern life
is bound to lead us to contradictory conclusions.” 25
The chronotopic nature of play – as a free and ephemeral bubble of
activity – makes, it in many senses, unquantifiable. We have explored
the scales at which play appears within the frame of Lowry’s painting
but in closing, it is important to observe the presence of characters
who are not participation in the collective celebration. Their presence
remind us how extraordinary the depicted event is, within the context
of the ordinary.
25. Johan Huizinga, “Play-element in Contemporary Civilisation”, in Homo Ludens: A Study of the
Play-Element in Culture. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), p. 199.
Lowry, Laurence Stephen, VE Day, 1945, Oil on Canvas. Glasgow
Museums: Art UK Art Foundation. https://artuk.org/discover/
Art UK Online Public Catalogue. “VE Day, Laurence Stephen Lowry”,
Accessed 2nd of April, 2018. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/
Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Rebelais and His World, 1965” , extracts (translated
H. Iswolsky, Indiana University Press, 1984), in The Bakhtin Reader:
Selected writings of Bakhtin, Medveedev, Voloshinov, Edited by Pam
Morris New York: Bloomsbury, 1997, pp. 194 - 244.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Bakhtin Reader: Selected writings of Bakhtin,
Medveedev, Voloshinov, Edited by Pam Morris New York:
Benjamin, Walter. “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” and “Paris, Capital of the
Nineteenth Century”, in Leach, Neil. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in
Cultural Theory. London: Routledge, 1997, pp. 24 - 40.
Denith, Simon. Bakhtinian Thought: An Introductory Reader, London,
New York: Routledge, 1995.
Huizinga, Johan. “Play-element in Contemporary Civilisation”, in
Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Beacon Press,
Boston, 1971 pp. 195- 213.
Huizinga, Johan. “Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural
Phenomenon”, in Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture.
Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 1971. pp. 1 - 27.
Lefevbre, Henri. “The Production of Space (extracts)”, in Leach,
Neil. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. London:
Routledge, 1997, pp. 138 - 146.
Oxford English Dictionary Online, Oxford University Press, Continually
updated at http://www.oed.com/
Figure 1: Tarvy Bridge Social Club, 1978. “Thamesmead all stages SE28”, https://www.facebook.com/groups/ThamesmeadSE28/
APPROACHES TO SPACE AND TECHNOLOGY
WEEK 2, 23.01.18
Graham, Stephen. “The End of Geography or the Explosion of Place?
Conceptualizing Space, Place and Information Technology.” In Progress
in Human Geography 22, no. 2: 1998, pp. 165 - 185.
Wertheim, Margaret. “Internet Dreaming: A Utopia for All Seasons”, in Tofts,
Darren. Prefiguring Cyberculture: An Intellectual History. New Ed edition.
Cambridge, Mass.; Sydney: MIT Press, 2004, pp. 216 - 226.
The compression of space and time through the development of
telecommunication technologies has led to an ever growing single
integrated ‘global’ community. The consequence of this phenomena
and the implications this has on the local is considered by Graham
in the “The End of Geography or the Explosion of Place?” He argues
that the digital realm, since its inception, and physical space have and
continue to co-evolve. To support the case for co-evolution Graham
looks to the research of Greg Staple:
[Staple] believes that the Internet and other communications
technologies, far from simply collapsing spatial barriers, actually
have a dialectic effect, helping to compress time and space barriers
while, concurrently, supporting localising, fragmenting logic of
‘tribalisation’. Far from unifying all within a single cyberspace,
the Internet, he argues, may actually enhance the commitment of
different social and cultural interest groups to particular material
places and electronic spaces, thus constituting a ‘geographical
explosion of place’. 1
1. Stephen Graham, “The End of Geography or the Explosion of Place? Conceptualizing Space,
Place and Information Technology.” in Progress in Human Geography 22, no. 2 (1998). p. 174.
We can understand place to be distinct from space by virtue of its
imbedded social value. By this logic we could interpret the ‘geographical
explosion of place’ as where the realm of the social is no longer solely
rooted in physical locations; it exists in, and is also distributed on, digital
platforms. In this stance the internet’s ability to co-locate communities,
bound by special interest or common identity, does not re-place the
value of physical places have but enrich them. Digital ‘spaces’ provide
alternate place for social connection without superseding the physical.
Let us consider where social activity is physically displaced. An example
of such social displacement can be seen as a repercussion of the current
re-generation of the London Suburb of Thamesmead. The estates on
Thamesmead were designed in with spaces for social practice, such as
the Social club at Tarvy Bridge (Figure 1).
Figure 2: Tarvy Bridge rubble, “Thamesmead all stages SE28”, https://www.facebook.com/
Figure 3: “Thamesmead all stages SE28”, https://www.facebook.com/groups/Thamesmead-
The arrival of Crossrail to near-by abbey wood station has lead to the
planned mass re-development of the area, leading to the removal of
many of these existing places of local discourse and social capital (figure
2). In this case, the residents of Thamesmead use digital spaces, such as
closed and highly active Facebook groups. The Thamesmead all stages
SE28 group - which describes itself as ‘a place for all your photo’s,
memories, adverts for local services, fun days etc’ 2 (figure 3) - allows
local people voices and opinion to gather and organise themselves to
face the private powers purchasing and changing their local area.
In this scenario the digital space has grown from, and is dependent
on, a common physical place: the digital has been forced to act as a
substitute for the lost physical space. The energy of the Thamesmead
all stages SE28 group is focused on preserving and re-instating local
place. In this instance, the community has found a safe digital place on
the internet to exercise a certain level of agency and autonomy.
2. “Thamesmead all stages SE28”, Facebook, January 30, 2018. https://www.facebook.com/
THE CITY, SPACE AND TECHNOLOGY
WEEK 6, 27.03.18
Aarseth, Espen. “Allegories of Space”, in Borries, Friedrich von, Steffen P.
Walz, and Matthias Böttger. Space Time Play: Computer Games, Architecture
and Urbanism: The Next Level . Springer Science & Business Media, 2007,
pp. 44 - 47.
Boyer, Christine. “Imaging the City in the Age of Electronic
Communication”, in Cybercities , New York: Princeton Architectural
Press, 1996, pp. 137 - 182.
Christine Boyer, in her essay Imaging the City in the Age of Electronic
Communication, sets out conditions which she sees coming into
conflict in the contemporary city, that of the physical city and the
image and imageability of the city:
1. Christine Boyer. “Imaging the City in the Age of Electronic Communication”, in Cybercities,
(New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), p.151
2. “The City, Space and Technology”, Discussion from Seminar, led by Dr. Hanna Cannon
In the end, this flood of images of the city fails to offer the
spectator a stable sense of physical reality, because public space
appears impermeant and nondescript within the persistent flow of
information. Thus perception of the physical city begins to shift. We
divert our eyes to protect ourselves from the tyranny of constant
visualisation. Our sense of sight is dulled by this hyper-imageability
that makes everything appear familiar and already known. And
the reliance on stereotypical images erases the complexity and
nuances of the physical form of the lived city. Escape into the visual
excess that images can provide also distorts or disguises traumatic
material that the public may wish to deny. 1
Boyer points out the peculiar situation which is created when the image
eclipses our reading of physical space of the city. 2 She notes that we rely
on fixed way-markers in space in order to orientate and navigate space
in the city . Our familiarity with the way-markers of the city is
reliant on their relative unchanging, in an otherwise evolving, space.
Boyer observes that the image obfuscates these fixed points, replacing
them with a representation of themselves. The image in the age of
‘electronic communication’, and more contemporarily ‘the digital’, can
morph and change with increasing rapidity. The city, and image of the
city, is constantly in flux; where stability in our society is associated
with relative permanence, can we consider this condition to generate
a situation of contflict?
Boyer points us towards conflict, as it implies the point at which
forces, acting against one another, meet. She sees this relationship as a
‘tyranny of constant visualisation’; where the image in the city/of the
city assaults the participant by a war of attrition. The participant finds
their own senses and memory to be the battle ground this ‘war’. Our
sensitivity to the image is worn down by constant overstimulation.
The image acts as a layer of visual noise, but in a situation, as Boyer
points out, were each voice has the same point of view. The louder the
image, or the multiplicity of the image, shouts, the quieter the voice
of the physical setting be heard comparatively. It is a layer which also
acts to re-write the memory. We are made familiar to the presence
of the visualisation but, where the constantly changing is showing no
real difference, we are dulled in to a place of passivity. In this sense we
could consider ourselves as the site of contestation, but a situation of
WEEK 8, 13.03.18
Baudrillard, Jean. “Simulacra and Simulations”, in Jean Baudrillard: Selected
Writings. Edited by Mark Poster. Translated by Jacques Mourrain. 2nd
Revised edition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002, pp.
169 - 187.
Hovestadt, Ludger. “Why Games for Architecture?”, in Borries, Friedrich von,
Steffen P.Walz, and Matthias Böttger. Space Time Play: Computer Games,
Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level . Springer Science & Business
Media, 2007, pp. 335 - 339.
Itzkoff, Dave. “A Strange City Called Home.” The New York Times, May 4,
2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/ 04/nyregion/thecity/04gran.
The Florida Project is a 2017 film (directed by Sean Barker), which
follows the life of a young girl and her mother, living through a
summer in a motel in Kissimmee, Florida, just beyond the gates of Walt
Disney World. 1 Their struggles are presented through the perspective
of Moonee, 6, as her mother, Halley, goes to extreme lengths to keep
them in stable, if fundamentally impermanent, home. The film closes
as Monnee is threatened with removal from her mother and, in a lastditch
effort, makes a break for it. In a dream like sequence Moonee
makes it into Disney land, having only ever seen its silhouette on the
skyline in the distance before. The film is very engaging in its portrayal
of the struggle of living in the shadow of, Disney Land, a place famous
for its the make-believe.
Baudrillard takes us to Disneyland in his writing on simulation in
Simulcra and Simulation:
1. Sean Barker, dir. The Florida Project. (New York: A24 Films, 2017).
Figure 1: Promotional Poster image, The Florida Project. Sean Barker, dir. (New York: A24 Films,
Figure 2: Film still showing Moonee and her mother Halley, The Florida Project. Sean Barker, dir.
(New York: A24 Films, 2017).
Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe
that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and America
surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyper-real
and of simulation. It is no longer a question of false representation
of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no
longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle. 2
The Florida project stresses the dream like situation with the walls
of Disneyland; which in turn makes us more aware of the contrast of
the ‘real’ gritty of life just beyond its walls. Baudrillard’s posits that we
enjoy and exacerbate the physical thresholds to places like Disney land.
We control these imaginary places, so they can be seen to be divorced
from the rest of the ‘real’ world. Baudrillard suggests that we do this
to distract ourselves of the simulated or ‘hyper-real’ nature of the
world beyond its walls. In this sense, it could be understood as a kind
of ‘hyper’-escapism. Baudrillard asks us to consider to the ‘hyper-real’
as the conflated layers by which we perceive information; simulation
displaces its origins, as ‘simulacra’. 3 As a new truth replaces an old
truth, we loose our footing on what came first. Within our current
context, anyone can be a storyteller, and the story is able to stray as far
from the ‘truth’ as it wants to.
If we return to the emphasis of the Florida Project, this story suggests
that society imposes restrictions on the participation in designated
zones for the imaginary. We could say that the ability to escape to the
make-believe is a luxury only afforded by privilege. This, as Baudrillard
would point out, is an observation made on the back of a piece of
simulated media; we do not have a stable footing on reality to begin
2. Jean Baudrillard. “Simulacra and Simulations”, in Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. Edited by
Mark Poster. Translated by Jacques Mourrain. 2nd Revised edition. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford
University Press, 2002), p. 175.
3. Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations”, p. 169.
WEEK 9, 20.03.18.
Galloway, Alexander R. “Origins of the First Person Shooter”, in Gaming:
Essays on Algorithmic Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 2006,
pp. 39 - 69.
Murray, Janet H. “Immersion”, in Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of
Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1998, pp. 97 - 125.
Let us consider the interpretation of participation in games through
the mask as explored in Janet Murray’s essay on “Immersion”:
participation in the spectacular event begins with ordinary people,
rather than professional entertainers, donning costume or mask.
The mask sets off the participants from the nonparticipants and
reinforced the special nature of the shared reality. It creates the
boundary of the immersive reality and signals that we are roleplaying
rather than acting as ourselves. The mask is a threshold
marker, like Harold’s moon or the Jurassic Park boat. It gives us our
entry into the artificial world and also keeps some part of ourselves
outside it. 1
Murry highlight’s the mask’s importance by way of its levelling effect.
Murray observes how social/physical does not dictate the ‘mask’ a
player will choose to adopt in a game. Further to this, the mask acts as a
marker of participation; who is within the game and who is beyond it. It
is in this argument, Murray sees the mask as a threshold of immersion.
Within the analogy of the mask – as a way of seeing participation in
the game – we can consider the role of the mirror. This thought has
been drawn from a parallel reading of Alexander Galloway’s essay on
“Origins of the First-Person Shooter”. Galloway discusses, in part, the
role of the Point-of-view (POV) shot as a filmic device. Galloway looks
1. Janet Murray, “Immersion”, in Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace.
(Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1998), p. 133.
at moments of Lady in the Lake, 2 directed by Robert Montgomery,
1947. Where the viewer is made aware of their position within the
body of the film’s protagonist (Marlowe, as played by Humphrey
Bogart), Galloway states, “Each time Marlowe’s body is also shown on
the screen – in a mirror, when smoking, , when crawling, being kissed,
and so on – the illusion of the subjective shot is broken, and the viewer
is reminded of the camera lens’s failure to merge fully with Marlowe’s
own optics.” 3 .
Figure 1: A hand appears
Figure 2: Film still, Lady in the Lake. Robert Montgomery, dir.
(California: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1947).
The figures 1and 2 you see are snapshots of a scene, as it is played out,
at 2 points in which we are reminded of our position within Marlowe’s
Point of view 4 . Although these shots do not fall into Galloway’s
category of the ‘masked POV Shot’ – where the “edge of the frame is
obfuscated with a curved, black masking” 5 – we could say that within
these shots, Marlowe’s body is a ‘mask’ through which we participate
in the film.
2. Robert Montgomery, dir. Lady in the Lake. (California: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1947).
3. Alexander Galloway. “Origins of the First Person Shooter”, in Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic
Culture. (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), p. 44.
4. “Immersion”, Discussion from Seminar, led by Dr. Hanna Cannon (Edinburgh, 20.03.2018)
5. Galloway, “Origins of the First Person Shooter”, p. 42.
Galloway criticises Montgomery’s execution of the POV shot within
the film, marking it as a ‘failed formal experiment’, because it creates
points in which the audience out of their state of immersion.
While this may be true of immersion within film, the mirror could
be considered as an important way of understanding the threshold
of immersion within a game. The mirror, literal or not is a point of
reflection; a chance to view the body which we are connected to. We
could view the mask, as furthered by the mirror, as a device which
allows you to keep your foot in the door of ‘reality’. It is a point which
stops you from losing yourself fully. The mirror serves as a reminder
of the self you are portraying, within the game.
WEEK 7, 06.03.18
Mitchell, William J. “Boundaries/Networks”, in Me++: The Cyborg Self and the
Networked City . MIT Press, 2004, pp. 7 - 18.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto”, in Kennedy, Barbara M., and
David Bell, eds. The Cybercultures Reader. London: New York: Routledge,
2000, pp. 291 - 324.
“VR: A New Dimension in Learning?” Times Higher Education (THE),
January 5, 2017. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/vrnew-dimension-learning
The informatics of domination is a concept set out by Donna Haraway
in “A Cyborg Manifesto”; It is set as the new opposing force against
the ‘old hierarchical dominations’ of White capitalism patriarchy. 1
Harraway explores the dichotomous relationship between these 2
forces as a synopsis of a more systematic shifting in social/political
focus. She represents this systematic dichotomy with the context of
a chart (Figure 1: overleaf). She suggests that the right-hand column
cannot collectively be described as ‘natural’, however in making that
observation the pretence in which the left-hand column is deemed
natural begins to unravel. It is here then that we can start to sense
Harraway’s trepidation in this move, from one ultimate to another,
in a series of dichotomous states or as she describes ‘from all work to
all play, a deadly game’ 2 . Harraway’s argument for the ‘Cyborg’ is one
which moves away from this these fundamentals ends of a sliding scale,
as embodied in the case of gender she states, “It’s not just that ‘god’ is
dead; so is the ‘goddess’.” 3 The presence of the cyborg can be seen to act
as a centripetal force within these essentials.
1. Donna Haraway. “A Cyborg Manifesto”, in Kennedy, Barbara M., and David Bell, eds. The
Cybercultures Reader. London: New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 300.
2. Harraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”, p. 301.
3. Harraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”, p. 300.
Bourgeouis novel, realism
Biology as clinical practice
Decedance, Magic Mountain
Organic division of labour
Organic sex role specialisation
Racial chain of being
Second world war
White capitalism patriarchy
Science fiction, postmodernism
Biology as inscription
Obsolexcence, Future Shock
Ergonomics/cybernetics of labour
optimal genetic strategies
Envolutionary Inertia, constraints
Neo-imperalsim, United Nations
Global factory/ electronic cottage
Women in the integrated circuit
Fields of difference
Informatics of domination.
Figure 1: Donna Haraway. “A Cyborg Manifesto”, in Kennedy, Barbara M., and David Bell,
eds. The Cybercultures Reader. London: New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 300 - 301
I have enjoyed considering the relationship between opposing forces
throughout this body of thoughts. I have gathered some of these as
Harraway did (Figure 1). Lefebvre identified this phenomena as the
dialectical Process, and he is not alone in identifying this. Walter
Benjamin suggested that our thinking through these opposing states
was the way in which we move forward;
Figure 2: Chart in style of Donna Haraway, By Author.
From each epoch stem the arcades and interiors, the exhibitions
and panoramas. They are residues of a dream world. For this
reason, dialectical thinking is the organ of historical awakening.
Each epoch not only dreams the next, but also, in dreaming, strives
toward the moment of waking. 4
Play, being a unifying theme of this work, escapes categorisation
within this table of dialectical situations. Unlike the cyborg, Play is
not a means of centrifuging these fundamental, but exists as a mean of
subverting them; of escaping them.
4. Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” and “Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth
Century”, in Leach, Neil. Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory. (London: Routledge,