Nine Urban Biotopes: Negotiating the Future of Urban Living by Alison Rooke and Christian von Wissel

 9UB-Soweto_20140809-webCollaborative Evaluation: 2nd visit to Soweto (c) v. Wissel, 2014

Dr Alison Rooke and Christian Von Wissel are presenting their paper on the 9 Urban Biotopes project at the UCL Urban Lab+ London Symposium 2015.

Date : Thursday 17 September, 2pm,

Location : Darwin Room B05, Darwin Building and The Bartlett, 140 London Road, London

Chair: Paola Alfaro d´Alençon (Technische Universität Berlin)

A number of critics have argued that the critical potential of art and the figure of the artist has been co-opted and neutralised as culture becomes an expedient resource in the management of publics on a global scale (Yudice 2004, Holmes 2004). This paper argues that there can be pedagogical value in recognising the inevitable conflict and tension in international cultural and educational exchanges and making this apparent through a collective dialogical process. It takes as an example ‘Nine Urban Biotopes’, a socially engaged art project funded by the EU Culture Programme, delivering artistic research and cultural exchange in seven cities across South Africa and Europe in 2014.


End-of-project round table discussion in Paris (c) v. Wissel, 2014

Nine Urban Biotopes brought together local practitioners and experts in participatory and socially engaged art and architecture to work in collaboration exploring the challenges of urban sustainability, including the sustainability of cultural commissioning itself. Local ‘biotopes’, consisting of cultural partners and NGOs with their long-standing ties to neighbourhood and community groups, hosted visiting arts practitioners who responded to issues of regeneration and development, community safety, migration, housing and economic subsistence in the thick of life, at the local level in each city. The creative practitioners occupied a nodal point 9UB’s multi-layered network at which the numerous, at times conflicting expectations and investments came together and meta and micro-agendas of hosts, local participants, coordinating and funding partners had to be negotiated.

Drawing on Chantal Mouffe’s (2007) theories of agonistic pluralism, our paper examines the role of the academic partner and the visiting artist practitioner in order to critically examine the inevitable antagonisms inherent to participatory work and international cultural exchange. The paper will focus on the experiences of 9UB’s Soweto and Paris residencies.

More information on the project go to:

The book-app and ePublication can be accessed/downloaded via:

Information on the UCL Urban Lab+ London Symposium 2015:

“The symposium is a chance for a wide community of urban educators and practitioners to address how inter- and trans-disciplinary learning can enhance global knowledge and address international issues in a world that is both rapidly urbanising and globalising. It is not always clear how international and intercultural approaches can best be implemented in practice, especially to ensure that urban education plays a constitutive role in addressing issues of inequality, or global disparities in the production of urban knowledge or the resources to develop and extend expertise, and this challenge will be at the core of the symposium.” (Source: Urban Lab+ London Symposium 2015)

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Dr Alison Rooke is CoDirector at CUCR, Goldsmiths College.

Christian Von Wissel is a PhD Candidate in Visual Sociology at Goldsmiths College, London and teaching assistant at Munich Technological Univerisity. (TUM)

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