30th January 2020: Playful Cities. On Dramaturgies for Active Public Spaces.

Keywords #design #dramaturgy #publicspace #playmaking #theatresciences #playfulcities #mab2021

Edgar Allen Poe in his 1845 short story ‘The Man of the Crowd’ narrates the experience of a city dweller, living within the uncontrollable, unpredictable, and meaningful urbanity that comes from his anonymous existence. How will this experience of the city, often described as the hallmark of modern urban life, differ as ‘smart cities’ come into being?

For almost a decade now, cities around the world have strived to become so-called ‘smart cities’. The deployment of sensor networks, big data analysis, or city control rooms aim to make these cities run more efficiently, increase safety and increase economic opportunities for entrepreneurs. Yet, what does this drive towards efficiency and control mean for the in-between spaces of urban existence?

As an alternative imaginary, ‘playful cities’ promote a (post)human-centric view of the smart city in which citizens themselves learn, negotiate, and are confronted with one another through play and games. ARIAS, The Media Architecture Biennale, and Trust in Play join together to contemplate the dramaturgy and strategies for enabling play as an important facet in the shaping of public space. Can public space be activated by making them more playful?

Programme of the evening

Eva Pel – Short film: Sous les pavès, la plage
The city of Amsterdam has a rich history of openness and tolerance. However, in the last 20 years the character of the public realm has slightly altered in different ways. This non-narrative film explores five different public areas in Amsterdam and their relationship practice. Although non-narrative, there is a protagonist, we follow a young adult who above all prefers being in the “in-between” space when traveling from A to B. This short film Sous les pavès la plage (2019), was a commission from the Chief Government Architect Floris Alkemade (Rijksbouwmeester).

Michiel de Lange – Connective Spaces
How can people be meaningfully involved in co-shaping the future of their city? In recent years, a research and design agenda has evolved around the “playful city,” which sees play and games as media for harnessing citizen creativity in city-making. This promotes a people-centric view of the smart city in which citizens themselves learn, negotiate and create innovations through play and games. Looking at a number of examples and cases, Michiel de Lange showed various levels on which citizens can engage and participate in shaping (scenarios for) their city.

Sara Daniel – General Apathy
White, pink, and red balloons arched around Sara Daniel as she performed her artwork General Apathy: an art piece from the Dirty Art Department exhibition held at the Bijlmer, Amsterdam, summer 2019. Questioning ways of visibility and possibilities of communication within public space, Daniel used karaoke and frisbees to engage with her neighbourhood. She embodied the character of an entertainer, public speaker, and play-maker, using the spectacle and its own means — the song, the performance, and the show — to attract and gather. She reclaimed entertainment and play as a potential site for political engagement.

Sigrid Merx – playing the ‘as if’ game
This talk presented two radical performance projects that intervene in public life and space by appropriating a well-known principle from dramatic theatre, the ‘as if’ principle. These projects use this principle to intervene in public space and life, pretending to be something else than art. SELF (Julian Hetzel, 2019)) pretends to be a shop that sells soap made of human fat, an innovative form of upcycling surplus fat from Western society; the money goes to poor people in Africa. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Dries Verhoeven, 2018)) is a fictive monument dedicated to the fall of the Western man, supposedly to be built at a very real construction site. Merx demonstrated how the ‘as if’ strategy allows for a radical form of play and enables artists/designers to play a part in social, political, and economic realities while simultaneously undermining them.

About the Speakers 

Eva Pel is living and working in Amsterdam. Her artistic practice is an ongoing investigation into the ordinary, into public space, social-economic issues and power structures. This process results in short films, photographic series, installations and publications. Her work has been exhibited (amongst others) at Van Eyck Academy Maastricht, University of Amsterdam, Huize Frankendael, Nieuw Dakota, Witzenhausen Gallery NY, Salzamt Linz Austria. Pel was invited to join the Academy honours programme for young artists and scientists (KNAW & Akademie van Kunsten Netherlands) in 2017. In 2019 she received the Mondrian Established Talent Grant. Recently she made the film “Sous les pavès, la plage”, a commissioned assignment for the National Governmental Architect Floris Alkemade. 

Michiel de Lange is an Assistant Professor in New Media Studies, Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University, Netherlands; co-founder of The Mobile City (http://www.themobilecity.nl), a platform for the study of new media and urbanism; co-founder of the [urban interfaces] research platform at Utrecht University; His research interests focus on how (mobile) media shape urban culture and vice versa. Currently, he is co-lead of a NWO funded project “Designing for Controversies in Responsible Smart Cities”.

Trained as a product designer, the performer and play-maker Sara Daniel has developed an intra-disciplinary artistic practice dedicated to rethinking the possibilities of social and political engagement. In her work, she combines forms associated with activism such as sit-ins and protests with the making of context-based scenarios, complete with props, music, costumes and performances. With them, she seeks to make visible and accessible major societal issues, including the housing crisis in Amsterdam and increased atomisation of communities. Sara Daniel graduated in 2019 from Sandberg Instituut. 

Sigrid Merx is an Assistant Professor in Theatre Studies, Department of Media and Culture Studies. She is one of the core members of the research group [urban interfaces] and one of the initiators of Platform-Scenography, a platform invested in deepening the understanding of scenographic working and thinking. She occasionally works as a dramaturg and curator. Her current research focuses on critical performative interventions in public space that reflect on issues of the urban, publicness and civic engagement and on creative methods of investigating, mapping and intervening in public spaces.


January 30, 2020




Pakhuis de Zwijger