Dr Carlos López Galviz leads the School of Advanced Study’s Reconfiguring Ruins project, which aims to provide a critical reflection on the contemporary explosion of interest in ruins across the arts and humanities. Now it is nearing its end, Dr Galviz thinks it’s a good time for reflection.

Funded by a development award from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Reconfiguring Ruins has brought together four investigators from different disciplines (history, East Asian studies, geography and English literature) and a range of artists and professionals connected to the project’s two non-HEI partners, namely Newcastle’s New Bridge Project (NBP) and the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). Now we are nearing the end, this seems a good time to reflect on what we have done so far, what is yet to be delivered and what our future plans are at the moment.

Our first research workshop at the Museum of London in January 2015, was attended by 24 people, 11 of whom were artists who had answered a competitive call to take part in the project. A brief synopsis of the two-day event can be found here.

The second workshop in Newcastle in June, attracted an equal number of people and was a chance to visit a range of places. They included the impressive Dunston Staiths – said to be Britain’s largest wooden structure, built in 1893 to help ship coal from the minefields to international markets, the former premises of the Northern Constitutional Club – now offices of the artist-led Locus+, and several sites across Newcastle city centre that inspired local writers to produce poems, prose verses and other excerpts of writing specifically for the workshop.

The workshops and the exchange between investigators and non-HEI partners have proved very stimulating and rewarding. Some of the extraordinary diversity of views and perspectives are available through the Ruins elsewhere and otherwise section of the project’s website. So far there are postings from three artists and a performance scholar as well as a brief account of a 16th-century English polemic and an exploration of race and gender through the psycho-geography of Lampedusa, Italy. Each posting provides a rare reflection on how the idea of reconfiguring ruins might impact the authors’ work.

Also in June, we received more than 170 applications for the project’s artist commission. Needless to say, shortlisting and awarding the commission were incredibly difficult. The winners, Kelvin Brown and Jacob Robinson, both graduates from the Royal College of Art, are finalising their artwork, largely a film that combines excerpts from The Ten Commandments (1923), new filming of the original set (ruined, re-excavated and preserved), interviews with locals from Guadalupe, outside Los Angeles, and other relevant material. The artwork will launch on 2 October in the gallery space of the New Bridge Project in Newcastle, moving to London afterwards. Our idea is for the artwork to be exhibited in Senate House to coincide with the School’s Being Human Festival.

We are also co-writing a creative piece (eight hands are proving challenging to direct!) and developing a tool site that allows us to capture the value the New Bridge Project brings to Newcastle and the region. The tool is a proof of concept that, hopefully, other artists’ organisations can use in the future. Our aim is to use the experience of designing and developing the tool to prepare a new ‘follow-on’ funding application to the AHRC-Care for the Future call.

The project has opened up an important debate and enriched our thinking in ways that we couldn’t have foreseen. This is true of the exchange between us, the investigators in the project, but also of the many dialogues that are still ongoing through the blog, in our own work (written and otherwise), and with colleagues elsewhere. Like ruins, that exchange has turned into a fascinating process with multiple materialities and scores of mediations.

Project members:
Dr Carlos López Galviz (project Ieader), School of Advanced Study, University of London
Dr Nadia Bartolini (co-investigator), The Open University
Dr Mark Pendleton (co-investigator), University of Sheffield
Dr Adam Stock (co-investigator), University of Newcastle
Charlotte Gregory (non-HEI partner), New Bridge Project
Dr James Dixon (non-HEI partner), Museum of London Archaeology

Dr Carlos López Galviz, an architect and urban historian, is taking up a new position as Lecturer at the new Institute of Social Futures, Lancaster University. He has extensive experience in international comparative research covering areas such as urban and rural sustainable planning, metropolitan history and the ethnography of urban travel, with projects completed successfully in the UK, Europe, America and China. Dr Galviz has also worked as a consultant for agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and collaborated with artists, geographers, planners and architects on a range of issues around social exclusion, memory and heritage, and underground travel.