Urban Sensographies: The Ignorant Camera

These works were created as part of the AHRC funded project Sensing the City, which ran from 2017 – 2020.

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Urban Sensographies, a book charting the work of the group of researchers who used arts and humanities methods to create an embodied mapping of the urban space of Coventry has just been published by Routledge. this book includes a chapter entitled ‘The Ignorant Camera’ which describes my part of this project.

Most of the video and sound outputs on this page were included in the exhibition  Sensing the City: An Urban Room held at Herbert Museum and Gallery in January 2020. The catalogue for the exhibition can be found HERE.

Here are a set of films and sounds that I produced as part of this project:

Coventry Radiant City (Michael Lightborne, 2020)

A feature-length film about the urban design and architecture of Coventry, and the lived experience of dwelling in the city. A sensory encounter with the legacy of city architect Donald Gibson, whose vision drove the radical re-building of post-war Coventry.

RING ROAD RING (Michael Lightborne, Gruenrekorder, 2020)

A sonic investigation of the of the modernist megastructure that is the Coventry ring road. This album features sound recordings of the low-level vibrations pulsing through the modernist megastructure. To capture these sounds I used contact microphones attached to the concrete pylons that support the road, at various points around its circumference. I was immediately surprised by how melancholy the ring-road sounds. For the Sensing the City exhibition the turntable needle was stuck in a ‘locked groove’ at the end of the record; an
endless loop that keeps going around and around. Released on vinyl and digital by Gruenrekorder. Order the vinyl here and available in the UK via Juno here. You can listen to and purchase the digital version on Bandcamp here and below. Find out more about this aspect of the project here.

For a Road Can Be a Thing of Beauty (Michael Lightborne, 2020)

A two-screen film installation about the Coventry Ring Road and the radical post-war re-design of the city. A car travels around the ring road for a s long as it takes to read the entirety of The Future Coventry pamphlet, published in 1945 to set out a grand vision for the re-building of Coventry as a model modern city capable of accomodating both motor car and pedestrian.

A Catalogue of the Great Buildings of Coventry (Michael Lightborne, 260 mins, 2020)

A combination of macro photography and slow motion video, this film aims to document the great buildings of Coventry (which could include your house)in a manner that re-aligns our attention to the textures and materials of the built environment. It refuses to provide an establishing shot, and undermines notions of uniformity and homogeneity by displaying just how chaotically varied and diverse the surfaces of the city are, at a certain scale.

A Catalogue of the Great Buildings of Coventry (at great speed) (Michael Lightborne, 2020)

A drastically accelerated version of the above video installation, offering a rapid travelogue of the surfaces and texture of the city. Riffing on the history of abstract experimental film-making, this psycho-geological portrait of the city explicitly references Stan Brakage's Mothlight (1963).

Coventry Looking Up (Michael Lightborne, video installation, 29 mins, silent, 2020)
I noticed how often I look down at the ground as I walk around Coventry, and how the city structure itself seems to discourage the upward glance. Areas like the Precinct, Hertford Street, City Arcade and even Corporation Street sometimes seem to enclose and submerge the pedestrian, making parts of the city appear warren-
like, trench-like. The structuring principle for this film was to stop in my tracks and look upwards for a while. This revealed a stratum of activity, and a collage of historical moments and movements, that is not always obvious at ground level. This film was displayed on a circular viewing table, using a downward projection, to reference the archaic viewing technology of the camera obscura. Here the film is presented in 16:9 rectangular format, and silent.

Balloon Tactic
(Michael Lightborne, video installation, 3 mins, silent, 2020)

What would it be like to see the city from the perspective of a helium balloon escaping into the atmosphere? Is the space ‘above’ a city a complementary component of urban space that might also be explored? This film demonstrates a cheap DIY alternative to drone footage that allows the air currents to determine a path through the vertical space of Coventry city. Balloon Tactic was displayed alternately with Coventry Looking Up on a circular viewing table, as above.