Workshop 2014

‘Curating the Activist Object’

A two day workshop at May Day Rooms (London)

7 – 8 July 2014
May Day Rooms (Map), 88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH


The wave of political uprising in recent years has made visible the inventiveness and creativity that characterizes contemporary social movements and political activism. Digital infrastructures, mundane technologies, ad-hoc architectures, and new modes of narrating and documenting are refurnishing the political practices of activists and citizens. We know that politics is not only made of discourse, on the contrary, it is made of objects and infrastructures that we should take into careful consideration. We want to draw inspiration from this insight to approach the material culture of political activism. Specifically we intend to explore the precarious condition of the improvised design of activist objects and the implication of practices of documenting and curating political materials.

In this workshop we want to approach the social life of activist objects drawing on theoretical approaches to politicised objects more broadly conceived. We want to explore the entanglement of practices of design, documentation and curation, as they are framed and tested by academics, curators, activists and artists. We ask in which contexts and through which dynamics these objects are designed and forged? Is the circulation of documentation what transforms an otherwise mundane object into an activist one? Is the documentation (the creation and circulation of photos, videos, websites) an activist practice in itself? Is it possible to curate and exhibit objects without disarming their distinctive political capacity?

This initiative will be organized around a workshop and a website that will create an archive as an experimental site from which to explore the documentation of activist objects. It continues a previous meeting held at the Victorian & Albert Museum in September 2013. We invite participants in the workshop to explore the work of documenting what they consider an activist object. The document could be a photo or a collection of images, a text, a video, or a recording of a story. We invite you to activate your imagination in the exercise of documenting activist objects.


Penny Harvey (CRESC/Anthropology University of Manchester)
Adolfo Estallela (CRESC, University of Manchester)
Yannis Kallianos (CRESC, University of Manchester)
Elizabeth Silva (Sociology, Open University)
Nick Thoburn (Sociology, University of Manchester)
Domenico Di Siena (CRESC)
Hannah Knox (CRESC, University of Manchester)
Fergus Heron (Faculty of Arts, University of Brighton)
Rafael Schacter (Curator/University College London)
Martin Newth (Chelsea College of Arts)
Isaac Marrero-Guillamón (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Gaby Porter (curator)
Eleanor Casella (Historical Archaeology, University of Manchester)
Dimitris Dalakoglou (Sussex University)
Neil Cummings (London School, University of the arts)
Michelle Bastian (University of Edinburgh)
Nerea Calvillo (Citizen Sense, Goldsmiths, University of London)
Sandra Dudley (School of Museum Studies/University of Leicester)
Michal Osterweil (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Jim Gledhill (University of St Andrews)
Nirmal Puwar (Goldsmiths University)
Anthony Davies (MayDayRooms)


Mayday Rooms
88 Fleet Street
London EC4Y 1DH

MayDay Rooms is a safe house for vulnerable archives and historical material linked to social movements, experimental culture, and marginalised figures and groups. A site for gathering, holding, and animating documents and idioms of dissent which continue to offer a critically productive and emancipatory relation to the turbulent present. It is geographically located in Central London, but linked in collaboration, inspiration and practice with an international gathering of common and concurrent initiatives.


Image by Danie Bobadilla – Sin Sistema. Creative Commons License By-NC-SA.

Structure of the Workshop

Monday July, 7th – Presentations

12:15 – 13:00 Lunch and Welcome

13:00 – 13:15 Short Introductions and Welcome

13:15 – 14:30 presentations

• Anthony Davies (MayDayRooms)
• Neil Cummings (London School, University of the arts)
• Nirmal Puwar (Goldsmiths University)

14.30 – 16:00 presentations

• Nerea Calvillo (Goldsmiths University
• Sandra Dudley (University of Leicester)
• Eleanor Casella (Univerity of Manchester)
• Michelle Bastian (University of Edinburgh)

16:00 – 16:30 coffee break

16:30 – 18:00 presentations

• Dimitris Dalakoglou (University of Sussex)
• Michal Osterweil (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
• Jim Gledhill (University of St Andrews)

Tuesday July 8th – Discussion and provocations

9:00 – 9:30 Introduction.

9:30 – 11:00 Work in groups.

11:00 – 11.30 Coffee break.

11:30 – 13:00 Proposals from the groups and general discussion.

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch

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