Eigelstein - Koeln
The discussions expanded the themes of the London workshop around researching the senses and urban planning, but also emphasized more everyday practices, urban identity, and sensory museums. This was in part determined by questions emerging from the London discussion; in part it grew out of the specificity of Cologne. By moving from London to Cologne, the workshop not only inscribed itself in a long history of Anglo-British exchanges – thus inviting to reflect on the role and range of cultural transfers and mutual emulations between cities of different sizes and ranks, but also to reflect on comparability and the role of particular sensory regimes of individual cities.
On the second day five inter-disciplinary, cross-professional groups were asked to sketch out research methods to examine one particular sense in the Eigelstein street.
To see the full report:
Monica Degen, Astrid Swenson & Manuela Barz, AHRC Sensory Cities Network, Cologne Workshop Report, 26th-27th February 2016, Kölner Stadtmuseum and NS Dokumentationszentrum’, [http://www.sensorycities.com/workshop/cologne/report-from-ahrc-sensory-cities-cologne-workshop/]
1. ‘Social practices’ and ‘sense making’:
The importance of ‘social practices’ in shaping and framing sensory regimes was apparent across talks and discussion. Sensory experiences in the urban realm are a co-creation between the built environment, people’s behaviours and environmental factors. The senses link subjective individual worlds with the social world. One way of conceptualising sensory experiences in the city would be to draw on ‘practice theory’ and think of the senses as an ‘assemblage of practices’ and the sensory as the mediating or uniting factor. There is a complex layering of sensory dimensions, not just historically or in forms of multiple sensescapes but also in terms of sensory perceptions interpreted from financial, political, cultural, historical or social perspectives. Semiotics also appears useful as a framework to think about the relation between discourses and narratives – i.e. the importance of storytelling for sensemaking – by distinguishing between denotation (‘what is sensed’) and connotation (the associations that are connected to sensing).
Groups and methods
1. City of Vision:
The first group discussed visual methodologies and how greater multi-sensorial awareness might affect these. The group was in some ways the least heterogeneous (all members had a lived in the city, studied its history and worked on historical and visual sources) – therefore the first question we explored was whether and how: 1. similar, yet subtly different disciplinary training and professional work as historian, art historian, artist, photographer and curator, 2. prior historical and political knowledge of the street, and 3. memories both personal and professional affected what we ‘sensed’ and how we would approach the street through visual methods in our work. We used a ‘walk along’ methodology with each other (i.e. we walked and talked about what we saw, sensed and how we had or would use it in our work as historian, curator and photographer) and then analysed the results at the end.
Key points of discussion were:
- Each of us have different sensory maps of the street depending on our purpose of visiting/seeing it – when focussing on the ‘visual’ for research we all tend to look up beyond street level.
Our methods combined visually driven questions and conclusions (picking up clues about the history through the architectural fabric) with textual (attention being drawn to particular bits of the street through knowledge of the historical record) and oral (interest and representation being driving by conversations with inhabitants and visitors) ones.
Knowledge makes us see and sense: We all saw things we had not seen before by having our attention drawn to different layers of history and interpretation.
Conversation creates community: from a discussion of the museum’s exhibitions and the use of photography it appeared strongly how conversation about objects, memories and uses through the senses can positively create a sense of place and decisions about regeneration.
We noted that for all of us our research involves an element of fieldwork and participant observation but we usually do not discuss the process in our writing as part of the discussion of methodologies. We discussed whether this should be done more in historical or art historical work.
Visual methods and multi-sensorial awareness: we found that external conditions (a cold, clear Saturday morning with few people and cars in the street) meant there were few sounds, smells or movements distracting from a focus on the visual – and indeed the built-environment rather than the uses of street by people. Awareness of the importance of other senses on this occasion came rather through knowledge of the historical record, memories of other conditions in the street and the discussion with the other groups after the fieldwork. It seemed valid to focus on one sense and then to combine insights.
Turning from analysing what we saw to how we would represent it, we noted that given the strong links between senses and imagination – the representation of visual sensing can not only be done visually but also powerfully through narrations and art forms that draw on other senses.
We found our existing methods not challenged through the experiment, but we found that we a) literally ‘saw’ more through the interdisciplinary exchange and b) were reflecting on a broader range of question by having the question about the interaction of the senses in our mind.