Post-traumatic vases

Joseph Edwardes-Evans has made a series of extraordinary, tiny vases which respond to the matter of post-traumatic landscapes.  Each of them is made with found materials typically discarded as waste or scrap. Twisted fragments of metal are mounted on slices of carefully sanded wood from plants such as buddleia, which are considered by many as  weeds. The material remains of our past, neither forgotten nor remembered, re-emerge and are re-formed in the present.

What is a post-traumatic art? The telling of an anteriority, which is to the past what the memory is to reality, taking form and placing its truth in the present. The post-traumatic vase is the oblique arrival, and presentation, of this anteriority where it meets the present, in the way that a vase puts forward as spectacle something past, dead or dying, and hovers it between our world, where it can be contemplated, and the non-world, to which it belongs.

plastiCities symposium – Programme and live blog

The plastiCities symposium on June 3rd has now sold out. However, there will be some free places after lunch, so if you haven’t reserved a place but would like to come along then , please do drop in.

To see our live blog of the day, produced by PhD researcher in French CJ Leffler, please visit:


10am     Welcome and introduction

10.10     Sara Parratt-Halbert (SEEDS)

10.40     Dr Tom Stafford (Psychology, UOS) and Dr Stuart Wilson (Psychology, UOS)

11.40    Coffee

12pm     Luke Bennett (Built Environment, SHU)

12.30    Complimentary lunch

1.30     Dr Adam Stansbie (Music, UOS)

2          Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson (French, UOS)

2.30     Coffee

2.45    Prof John Barrett (Archaeology, UOS)

3.15    Dr Chris Van Dyke (Geography, University of Kentucky)

3.45    Prof Martin Jones (Geography, UOS)

4.15    Discussion

5pm    Close

plastiCities – a free symposium, 3 June


Tuesday June 3rd 2014, 10am-5pm

G03, Jessop West, 1 Upper Hanover Street, University of Sheffield

Scientific discourses on neuroplasticity abound with metaphors both of (neuronal) landscapes and (cortical) ‘real estate’. This cutting-edge symposium brings together speakers from across the disciplines to explore the ways in which recent advances in the understanding of neuroplasticity might be used to construct new models for negotiating urban landscapes and temporalities. Our discussions will include a consideration of how brain trauma and cerebral re-organisation can yield new understanding and insight regarding the complexity and resilience of the damaged topographies that punctuate the post-industrial, post-colonial and post-traumatic cityscape. Thinking through the sculptural dynamic of cerebral morphology will also open up a debate concerning the ways in which critical methodologies from the arts might find their place in the sculpting of new forms of stability within the contemporary built environment, participating in the ‘real life’ making of cities, at both grass roots and policy level. This symposium is open to all and will feature a digital exhibition by Stuart Wilson.


10am     Welcome and introduction

10.10     Sara Parratt-Halbert (SEEDS)

10.40     Dr Tom Stafford (Psychology, UOS) and Dr Stuart Wilson (Psychology, UOS)

11.40    Coffee

12pm     Luke Bennett (Built Environment, SHU)

12.30    Complimentary lunch

1.30     Dr Adam Stansbie (Music, UOS)

2          Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson (French, UOS)

2.30     Coffee

2.45    Prof John Barrett (Archaeology, UOS)

3.15    Dr Chris Van Dyke (Geography, University of Kentucky)

3.45    Prof Martin Jones (Geography, UOS)

4.15    Discussion

5pm    Close

The event, which is part of the In the City programme organised by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sheffield,  is jointly hosted by occursus and the School of Geography.

To reserve a free place, please visit our eventbrite page

urban plasticity // plastic cities

FP montage

We are very excited to announce that an occursus led post-disciplinary bid for a major 5-year funded research project to investigate urban plasticity has been submitted this week. The bid is led by occursus director Amanda Crawley Jackson (French Studies, University of Sheffield), with  Luke Bennett (Built Environment – Sheffield Hallam University), Katja Hock (Fine Art – Nottingham Trent University), Tom Stafford (Psychology, University of Sheffield), John Barrett (Archaeology, University of Sheffield), Cristina Cerulli (SSoA), Vanessa Toulmin (University of Sheffield, Head of Engagement) and Sophie Watt (French Studies, University of Sheffield). The bid is grounded upon the existing collaborations and explorations already catalysed by occursus and the Furnace park project, such as Scree (Bennett & Hock) and academic papers reflecting upon the site assembly phase of the Furnace Park Project (Bennett & Crawley Jackson).

We have set out the summary below that was submitted with the bid. We will know at the start of 2014 whether our bid has been shortlisted, and if successful in the process will commence this exciting project in October 2014. Fingers crossed!

plastiCities is a project about the damaged topographies that litter our contemporary urban environments – brownfield, neglected and abandoned sites; wastelands and tipping grounds; and the post-traumatic, post-industrial sites that are awkwardly left over in the gaps between regeneration and housing projects. A post-disciplinary team of researchers will investigate the ways in which recent advances in understanding the plasticity of the brain might help us repair and re-purpose such sites, evolve new futures for them and connect them to wider urban recovery. Through an innovative live project, Furnace Park in Sheffield, and through widening engagement with other similar projects, we will develop and disseminate effective and innovative practice through case studies, workshops, guidance notes and a variety of other resources (including extensive online media). Our concern in this project is to examine both how ‘wasteland’ sites have adaptive potential and to understand also those material and other resistive factors that retard change – for example, contamination, structural remnants, liability and powerful narratives of perceived risk, redundancy, blight and danger.

 The fate of the places we are concerned with is wrapped up in their pasts, but there is an urgent need for these pasts to be considered in a more holistic way. It is precisely for this reason that the project engages voices from the arts and humanities in order to disrupt and re-cast perceptions, putting forward other visions and narratives of damaged topographies drawn from literature, art and film, in order to release and expose alternative futures. This will be complemented by the work of artists in residence and other creative practitioners who are embedded in the research team, alongside lawyers, geographers, archaeologists, psychologists, architects and literary and cultural theorists. Voices and expertise from the arts will therefore play a part in developing creative but also pragmatic responses to caring for the future of damaged topographies, acknowledging the resistance of the past while at the same time refusing to remain bound by it.

We will explore the idea that the past is multi-layered and multi-populated (by humans, animals and other things). We will suggest that it is as important to consider the materiality of the past as it is its human spectres. This stubborn materiality, we will argue, radiates out into our future, creating constraints and strange knock-on effects that we often struggle to understand within conventional forms of urbanism. The resonance of the past in the present and future is not always understood, but it is tangible nonetheless. The past piles up and forms the made ground of the sites humanity occupies, abandons and passes through.

This is what we mean by plasticity: first, it recognises the ways in which past, present and future are enfolded in and impact on each other. Secondly, it affords both the possibility of change and, in its appreciation of the vibrant agency of the ground itself (the site in which the past is barely contained), an acknowledgement of both contingency and constraint.

The ethos of our project is one of learning and reflecting through doing, as the gardener learns how to work her site through her hands-on engagement with it. From this vantage point, which characterises, critiques and builds on traditional and established practices within urbanism, we will develop novel ways of seeing, defining and managing damaged urban topographies in order to contribute tangibly to their future repair, recovery and resilience. We aim, finally, through this research, its dissemination and a series of spatial interventions, to improve community well being and show how other groups of practitioners, enthusiasts and citizens might reconsider and reconnect with  these ‘dead’ spaces, which have hitherto often been assumed to exist outside of community purview.

Greg Keeffe: “the city will be born, not made”

Download a free pdf of Greg Keeffe’s book, Urban Evolutionary Morphology: The Vestige City

Focussing on the Greengate area of Salford (Manchester, UK), the book interrogates the city as ‘an evolutionary and emergent super-organism’ and puts forward four pro to-propositions for the:

  • exaptive city
  • spandrel city
  • atavistic city
  • phenotypic plasticity city

Readers of this blog may remember our reading loop discussions on exaptation and spandrels, prompted by our reading of Slavoj Zizek’s Living in the End Times

In Gould and Lewontin’s seminal critique of the adaptationist programme, the spandrel becomes a metaphor for Panglossian wrong thinking: the nose evolved as somewhere to put our spectacles, the legs so that we may wear trousers, and the spandrels of San Marco or King’s College chapel are there to be decorated.

The spandrel is the bit beside, the structural by-product, the connective material, the unintentional, the bit part between the arches. The arches are the attention seekers, pulling our eyes up to heaven. The spandrels are a quiet reminder that looking where you shouldn’t, at the extra, can be as compelling as the main act. The secondary acts of the San Marco mosaicists met an opportunity in the four spandrels between the arches. They made it possible for remainders to steal the limelight.


The spandrel can be a warning against the hubris of narrative itself. Our own stories could be mistaken for adaptationist theories of evolutionary cause and effect: ‘at that point I realised’, ‘if I hadn’t done this then that would never have’. In the end, we may be mistaking exaptation for adaptation. Best not get too attached to our own versions of things.

(Terry O’Connor, extract from ‘The Spandrel Opportunity’, 2011)