‘How Dare You Rubbish My Town!’: Place Listening as an Approach to Socially Engaged Art Within UK Urban Regeneration Context

Elaine Speight

Birkbeck College London


In this essay Speight outlines ‘place listening’ as a cosmopolitan approach to socially engaged art practice within contexts of urban change. Informed by Doreen Massey’s concept of a ‘global sense of place’, place listening stands in opposition to dominant models of public art as well as certain critical art practices, which are predicated upon essentialist readings of place. Speight argues that by failing to acknowledge the varied ways in which places are experienced, such practices negate the agency of people by suppressing more complex narratives. In response, place listening seeks to reveal more contradictory and empowered readings through embodied, relational and sustained engagement with and within specific places. The essay focuses on Palimpsest, an art project designed by Speight herself that took place in West Bromwich, a town that has been portrayed as an exhausted victim of mobile global capital, leading to accusations of misrepresentation and prompting one West Bromwich resident to exclaim, ‘How dare you rubbish my town!’ By examining the methods employed within Palimpsest, particularly urban walking, Speight explores how place listening might enable the expression of more nuanced and cosmopolitan senses of place.

Full text (PDF, 916KB)

Keywords: Place, place-making, place listening, socially engaged art, walking

DOI: 10.5456/issn.5050-3679/2013s04es

Biographical note
Elaine Speight is an artist, curator and researcher whose practice explores the politics of place through a range of creative activities. Since 2005 Speight has co-curated the ‘In Certain Places’ public art programme in Preston, Lancashire.