Finding the Material of Memory: Sketch for a Palimpsest

Smith, S. 2021. Finding the Material of Memory: Sketch for a Palimpsest. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Humanities

TitleFinding the Material of Memory: Sketch for a Palimpsest
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsSmith, S.

This written component of the research complements a film project developed as art-based research, the aim being to investigate the primary research question: How can the Barbican be revealed as a place of memory through a visual portrait?
Using walking as a means of researching the Barbican in the City of London, the research tests the efficacy of the method of deep topography, a term originally coined by writer Nick
Papadimitriou, and applies this to a visual art practice rooted in site-specificity. This leads to a supplementary research question: Is it possible to develop an artistic method based upon literary approaches to psychogeography, memory, and place? and proposes that deep topography lends itself to an improvisatory mode of research essential for artistic research and of particular usefulness for a site responsive creative practice. Deep topography allows a mode of close observation of the built environment to access a sense of the past contained in the structure of the present city.
Reflecting on memory studies and theories of place, the written component balances discussion of the earlier phases of site research and tracks the development of the creative project. A supplementary research question emerges from the site research: How can the work of a number of cultural theorists be synthesised and applied to a film about the Barbican? Later chapters contrast theories of place and memory and analyse their relevance to the site and contribution to the creation of the film.
The two-screen film titled Sketch for a Palimpsest embeds the methods and motivations of deep topography in its structure and mapping of the architecture and spaces of the Barbican, tracking the movements of a walking figure through the site. The film contains a voiceover of sources narrating the Barbican from a variety of perspectives. The film’s right-hand screen consists of views of the cityscape and architecture, on the left are either close-up details of the built environment or appropriated, abstracted and adapted footage of the Barbican and other sites.
The film achieves two critical elements, firstly it offers a realisation of deep topographic methods in a creative film project, and secondly perceives the built environment’s influence on our sense of the past. The culmination of the research is informed by an understanding of memory and its contribution to our sense of place as complex real and imagined places.

File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
PublisherUniversity of Westminster
Publication dates
PublishedJul 2021
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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