This project has been made possible by a grant from the Creative Arts Council of Brown University.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why arcade?

Why the arcade? 
The Westminster Arcade, sometimes called the Providence Arcade, is one of the most striking buildings in downtown Providence. It connects Westminster and Weybosset Streets, two streets at the heart of downtown, and features two imposing neoclassical facades, complete with porticoes and Ionic columns. But part of the reason for its striking quality today is that is stands unused and empty- a characteristic that captured my attention. Over the last half a century or so, the arcade has changed hands many times as various owners sought to save it from demolition, or attempted to keep it financially viable. Its current empty state is the result of development plans: in 2008 remaining tenants were forced out to allow for the construction of a residential tower on the adjacent lot (as a result of the economic collapse, the tower was never built, and both the Arcade and the adjacent lot remain empty). Clearly there are politics at play with the Arcade, but I am less interested in these than in looking at the building as a complex tangle of meaning and the site of many activities over the years.

Why an arcade? 
The name of this project is an intentional reference to Walter Benjamin's magnum opus, The Arcades Project (the German title is Das Passagen-werk). It is a work that has influenced and clarified a lot of my research, as it deals with the experience of urban space, and the relationships between physical, material spaces and psychological, emotional, and imaginative spaces. 
As a very brief introduction, Benjamin, who was an intellectual presence between the first and second world wars, is one of the most influential figures in Western intellectual history. In The Arcades Project, Benjamin focuses on the arcades of 19th century Paris, and approaches the architectural phenomenon of the arcade as a way of digging into the social and cultural psyche of nineteenth century Western Europe. The arcades become a way for Benjamin to provide reflections on cultural trends and phenomena such as the growth of commodity culture, the vision of urban utopias, and the construction of historical narratives. But perhaps one of the most prominent (or at least most relevant for my interests) is his focus on the experience of urban space, which he sees as intimately connected to ideas of trace, memory, and material change.
The reference to Benjamin's work is a nod to his influence on my thinking (as well as on the larger trajectory of twentieth century Western scholarship) and an acknowledgement of Benjamin's role in defining the symbolic importance and associations that arcades hold.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


In the description of this blog I wrote that it intends "to document the development of An Arcade Project". Being limited to 500 characters in the description, I would like to expand upon that. In addition to being a space for documenting the project, this blog is also intended to be a space for reflection on the processes involved in creating the project, and on its wider themes. I will be sharing the research that I am doing and reflecting upon it as I go, using this space as both a record of the project and as a space to grapple with the ideas and issues that come up.

I come to this project with an interest in site-specific work as a crossroads of my two areas of focus: archaeology and dance. Three main themes in my explorations of site-specific dance are:

changes in urban space over time
the relationship between material things and human memory
the movement of people through spaces

These ideas are informed by my backgrounds in academic archaeology and the embodied practice of training in, choreographing and performing modern dance. I am interested in using dance performance to (re)present urban spaces (specifically unused, abandoned, or ‘forgotten’ spaces) in unexpected ways. In doing so, my hope is to encourage and facilitate different ways of understanding the pasts and presents of the sites and to raise questions about the changes of the materiality and meanings of sites over time.