The City as Performative Object


Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum


The city is an unstable entity, a fluid mass produced by humans and objects in the act of moving.

The research The City as Performative Object is based on our hypothesis that the city is created by move-act of the individual. Drawing from Judith Butler’s thinking around gender, performativity and speech act we approach mobility as a performative force, continuously writing, rewriting and overwriting the city’s architecture, identity, planning and intentions. We will explore the city’s unstable existence, its ongoing presence as a performative object.

With other words: In the same way as Butler approaches gender as an unstable aspect of one’s personal identity that is continuously produced by several performative acts that can be studied, we intend to approach the city, and especially its architecture, as an unstable construction, that is produced by what we call (for now), move-acts.

Research component 1: Theory
-Has the city always been performative through mobility, and did we just not have tools and experience to realise and articulate this or is this something that emerged with new technologies?
-What does our radical solidarity with the perspective of the move-entity offer politically speaking in a society that is more and more permeated by the power of data?

Our research will start with a lexicon of all possible move-acts and move-act related topics. The research will result in writings published (if possible) on diverse podia. One example is the contribution to Stadsleven on May 6 2016: De magie van langzaam lopen

 Research component 2: Curatorial
Scrutinising existing works of art or practices will result in a list of existing works that (unintentional?) express The City as Performative Object. A selection will be aggregated, combined and analysed.

Examples of existing works that express the City as Performative Object:

Research component 3: Practice Based
We intent to realise a series of walk and walk based experiments with ourselves and/or other participants. Results will be published on our website

Research effluence: The Empathy Jump
We intend to realise a short 8-9 min data-film in 2016-17 in collaboration with CBK Zuidoost. The realisation of the film will not be part of the research, but will be informed by the research. There for we think it is relevant to mention. Working Title of the Film is “The Empathy Jump”. And example of the intended work method can be found here.