Urban Room: May-June 2019

“Every town and city should have a physical space where people can go to understand, debate and get involved in the past, present and future of where they live, work and play. The purpose of these Urban Rooms is to foster meaningful connections between people and place, using creative methods of engagement to encourage active participation in the future of our buildings, streets and neighbourhoods.” (Urban Rooms Network – Place Alliance)


At the University of Reading this summer, we present the Urban Room: a temporary wooden structure which carries the potential for enabling conversation and encounters between people and communities across Reading as a town and the University. Built by second year Architecture students as part of their studies, the Urban Room will offer a visually stimulating focal point on the beautiful London Road campus of the University during May and June.


As part of the University’s arts strategy, the Urban Room will host a programme of events asking ‘how can arts practice help create a ‘door’ between the town and the University?’. We will be inviting Reading artists, University students and staff, community organisations and the public to discover and rediscover the Urban Room during a series of interventions, invitations and events.


Working with Reading arts organisation Jelly, we plan to host six artist micro-residencies, where for two days at a time artists will be invited to occupy the Urban Room, providing specific moments for the general public to encounter their practice and exchange ideas.

We have also invited Reading School of Art and Reading International to host reflective events on their recent community-facing programmes. Finally, we will celebrate ‘Hybrid Practices’ through an architecture-artist lens, inviting public, artists and University researchers to explore what happens when different expertises come together to explore one set of problems.


Following the Urban Room arts programme, the space will become an exhibition venue for Architecture students to show the outcome of their work. After dismantling, the Urban Room will have a further life at a nearby primary school as an outdoor learning space for children.



The Urban Room will be built by students from the School of Architecture between 26 April and 3 May, in collaboration with academic staff and external contractors:

Fabricators: Xylotek

Structural engineers: Corbett Tasker

Design team: Invisible studio

The Shanly group www.shanlyhomes.com are working in partnership with the School of Architecture offering sponsorship as part of their 50 year celebration .

We would like to thank them for their contribution towards the Urban Room structure and sponsorship of our public lecture series



Key dates (subject to confirmation)

15, 17, 22, 24, 29, 31 May:

Public-facing artist ‘encounters’ will occur on Wednesdays and Fridays, 12-2pm, between 15 May and 31 May. All are welcome

7 June: ‘Hybrid Practices’ event (co-hosted by staff from the School of Architecture, the School of Art, and the Arts Strategy)

14 June: Architecture End of Year Show

21/22 June: University of Reading Open Day


Tree Conversations artist residency – reflections

Artist Rachel Barbaresi writes about her experience developing an artist residency for the University, which aimed to give University members new ways to interact with and notice their surroundings on campus. Participants were invited to join a series of ‘tree walks’ on campus, gathering ‘data’ and documenting what they saw in creative ways.


She writes:

“The aim of these workshops was to carry out collective visual research in response to trees at Whiteknights and the MERL gardens with participants from across roles and disciplines at Reading University. I wanted to take an approach that allowed room for subjective responses to the experience of observing and recording the trees, and for the backgrounds, interests and personalities of the individuals involved to play a role. So although the trees were our subject, there is a sense in which this was about the potential for discovery through bringing different backgrounds, disciplines and experiences to the process of observing and recording.


There were two walks in the MERL garden and two in an area of Whiteknights campus called ‘the wilderness’, and an additional walk in the Harris gardens. I became interested in the idea of avoiding photography as a form of documentation, and focussing on other, less familiar ways to record the trees. Participants were given a bag of materials and tools which included drawing implements, a range of drawing surfaces, acrylic work surface to enable tracing, slide cases which could be used for collecting fragments of moss, leaves etc, plasticine for taking impressions, tape measures, notebooks for writing. We also took sound recording equipment. Although I made some suggestions participants were invited to use the materials as they wished and there was freedom to experiment and invent.


Participants spoke about being outside their comfort zone and feeling anxious about taking part in a creative activity, worries about not being an artist and how their drawing ability would be judged. Some also spoke of a sense of anticipation in being able to open the bag of materials and explore and experiment with the contents.
Some of the problems which came from this way of working opened up unexpected possibilities. We decided to go ahead with plans despite forecasts of heavy showers, and undeterred, the group turned up in waterproofs. During the heaviest showers, the rain took away control over our drawing materials, paper becoming wet making drawing more difficult. Participants began to embrace the rain as part of the process, pressing soggy paper into bark of tree trunks to emboss it, causing ink to disperse through shaking water drops from tree branches and using wet mud and leaves in drawings. The weather brought an energy to the process and contributed to the creativity and invention.


It was interesting to work with a group which ranged from people who have arts training to those who have very little experience with drawing. It wasn’t entirely obvious, looking back through the drawings, whether people had experience or not. And when I had conversations with people afterwards about their ideas and approaches to the activities, there were creative approaches and outcomes which were not linked to drawing skills, but to ideas and lateral thinking.


Generally participants spoke positively about the experience despite the weather! One participant commented that she found it a very mindful experience. Others enjoyed the opportunity for creativity, and valued the time spent in beautiful areas of the campus with time to experience the space rather than rushing through. There was an intensity in the experience of looking and making. 


All of the drawings, plasticine impressions, notes and collections have been labelled and organised into an archive with the help of project assistant Sonya Chenery. We categorised items by the person who had created / collected them. The collections were displayed at the Cole Museum over two days, two weeks after the walks took place, and we explored different approaches to curating the outcomes. Visitors were invited to use the collection as a starting point for their own monoprints, lino-prints and tracings as a secondary way of connecting to the original experience of visually recording the trees.


Working collectively made me aware of how much I miss when looking around me and how subjective and individual our experiences are even when we are all working with the same subject matter. I became aware of certain trees, textures and shapes purely as a result of my co-researchers noticing and recording them. We have filters when experiencing the world around us, perhaps as a way of coping with the overwhelming volumes of sensory stimulation around us.


There is so much material to work with as a result of these workshops and I am beginning to think about ways of approaching the collection with an interest in how to develop the sense of archive and follow threads and relationships within the collection.



Tree Conversations: Artist Micro-Residency

Artist Rachel Barbaresi invites you to take part in her micro-residency at the University, as part of the ‘What is Public Art?’ series of activities this March.

Rachel will lead a series of creative research walks in the campus grounds, exploring their potential as spaces that invite university members to be outside their normal frame of reference and encounter new connections. She will then create a pop-up ‘studio exhibition’ in the Cole Museum, inviting further interaction from visitors, through creative responses to found items and considering different ways of categorisation and display.

Rachel writes:

“Using trees on the site as a focal point, we will work with a range of tools to record and collect data through experimental drawing processes (drawing ability is not necessary). Reading University campuses are renowned for the diversity and quality of its tree specimens and these will provide rich source material for our visual investigations.”

Each participant will be given a set of tools and materials for drawing and recording data. Guidance will be offered, but participants are invited to invent their own approaches to working with the tools and selecting data to record. Activities may include drawing, taking impressions using plasticine, photography, collecting (sound recordings, found objects), measurements and estimates.

On Wednesday 6 March you can join the research walks on campus. Walks take place at 10am or 11.30am in the MERL gardens (meet at MERL), and 2pm or 3.30pm on the Whiteknights Campus (meet at the Library Foyer). Please sign up in advance by emailing Miranda on m.c.laurence@reading.ac.uk stating your preferred time. Everyone is invited to take part – no experience is needed, just curiosity! (Please wear appropriate clothing and footwear for walking outdoors. In the event of bad weather the walks will be rescheduled.)

Rachel then invites further visitors to join her in curating the archive of drawings, which will take place during a ‘studio exhibition’ at the Cole Museum. Visitors will have the opportunity to respond to the archive through creative activities including monoprinting, casting in plaster, drawing, written reflections and creative writing. Guided by Rachel, visitors may also consider different approaches to categorising, displaying and interpreting the found and created items in this museum setting.

The studio exhibition will take place at the Cole Museum, during the day on 21 and 22 March and visitors are welcome to drop by for a short or longer period of time.

If you are interested in attending the studio exhibition at the Cole Museum, please email Miranda on m.c.laurence@reading.ac.uk to register your interest and you will then be sent further information about how to take part. Or you can drop in on the day.

Rachel will also invite responses to the research at the MERL Late event on 14 March ‘More Than Human’; to book for this event please visit the MERL website

Rachel Barbaresi’s previous projects have involved a range of approaches to participatory practice including reminiscence, working with archives and making. Taking urban spaces and architecture as starting points, her approaches to collective research incorporate the diverse voices of participants and a socially situated reading of place. 

‘Future Thinking’ project: Call-out for Artist or Creative Designer

We are seeking to engage a freelance artist or creative designer to develop existing or new artwork which engages with one or more of the themes of Biodiversity, Urban Environment, or Climate Resilience.

The artist will develop interactive, multi-sensory work and will design and deliver five interdisciplinary ‘Challenge Days’ centred on the artwork for pupils aged 11-16, and SEN students. These will be delivered at the Museum of English Rural life between 17-30 June.

The artist will be invited to collaborate with selected researchers from the University of Reading, primarily working across discipline areas related to our Environment theme.

This project is co-delivered by the Arts Development Officer, and the Impact Officer (lead for the Environment theme), with support from the Student Recruitment and Outreach Office, and from MERL. Support from all these areas will be available to the artist throughout the project.

Deadline for applications is 9am on Monday 25 February. Please download the brief  for full information! Future Thinking Artist Brief – University of Reading

The project has been made possible through funding committed via the University of Reading’s Access and Participation Plan.

What is Public Art?

What is Public Art?

Awareness-raising week: 4-8 March 2019

Is it large? Or small? Is it abstract or functional? Can it be a bench, a lamp post or a window? Is it a sculpture, a picture, a film? How can it change our daily lives? Where on campus would you put it? Could it improve our wellbeing? What do you think?

The University of Reading is commissioning a series of new public art works for the campus. As we prepare to welcome our first artist later in 2019, we want to spark some curiosity and invite discussion about the what, why, where and how of public art. Join us!

Photo ‘21 Balançoires, Promenade des Artistes’ by art_inthecity, CC BY 2.0. Cropped from the original. Artist: Daily Tous Les Jours

Different activities will take place each day during the lunchtime period, including:

Chalk Drawing

Drop by to take a look or have a go at our giant pavement chalk drawing! This project is led by Art Student Antonia Stanley, who has been on placement with Arts Development Officer Miranda Laurence.

Monday 4 March 12-2pm, Outside Palmer

Lunchtime Workshop

A short, fun and informal workshop to introduce different ideas of public art and ask what difference you think it could make at Reading! Nibbles provided, bring your lunch.

Sign up in advance by emailing m.c.laurence@reading.ac.uk or turn up on the day (places are limited)

Tuesday 5 March 1-2pm, Palmer G02

Friday 8 March 1-2pm, Palmer G06

Information Stall

Drop by to find out more about public art, what it could mean for Reading University and feed in your ideas.

Wednesday 6 March 12-2pm, Library Foyer

‘Tree Walks’

As part of her micro-residency at Reading University, artist Rachel Barbaresi invites participants to join a Tree Walk on campus, to collectively and creatively research the natural environment in which we live, work and study.

Sign up in advance by emailing m.c.laurence@reading.ac.uk; please wear appropriate clothing and foot wear!

Wednesday 6 March, 10am and 11.30 at MERL Gardens (meet at MERL); 2pm and 3.30pm at Whiteknights Campus (meet at Library Foyer)

(in wet weather, this will be postponed)

Artist talk

Multi-disciplinary artist Tai Shani talks about her work in this regular series of talks from the Art School.

Wednesday 6 Mach, 1-2pm, Nike Lecture Theatre, Agriculture Building

Living Sculptures

Drop by to discover some ‘living sculptures’ playfully interrupting your journey across campus…

This project is led by Art Student Antonia Stanley, who has been on placement with Arts Development Officer Miranda Laurence.

Thursday 7 March 1-2pm, near Friends’ Bridge (in wet weather, this will take place outside URS)


Throughout the week:

Pick up a #Whatispublicart postcard, respond to the question on the card, and post it in the special post boxes in the Library Foyer. You can be entered into a random prize draw!

Postcards and other design has been produced by Typography student Jack Marvell on the RealJobs Scheme.

Look out for #Whatispublicart on Twitter, follow @Rdg_uni_arts to respond with your images and ideas about public art on Reading’s campuses.

This project is led by Museum Studies student Gracie Price.

On the Fabric of the Human Body: Creative Action Lab with Centre for Health Humanities


It’s strangely mesmerising, cutting and sticking. Particularly the cutting out part. You find yourself drawn into the smallest focus of outline on the paper that you’re cutting, on the way the blades of your scissors can turn into sharp corners. It also induces a cramp in my hand. As I rest and shake it out, I consider how long it’s been since someone has sat me down in front of glue, paper, paint, scissors and drawings and told me to make a collage.


The attentiveness of focus is a common thread that has linked the activities during the two-day workshop that I am running in collaboration with Andrew Mangham, co-director of the Centre for Health Humanities here at the University of Reading. We chose two beautiful early modern anatomical textbooks from the Cole Collection as our centre piece – Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica, of 1543, and Govert Bidloo’s Anatomia Humani Corporis, from 1685. These books sit weightily on a central table in the middle of the room, showing off their extraordinarily detailed drawings of semi-dissected human bodies.

Kelley Swain, Fiona Millward and Eleanor Crook inspect the Bidloo text with archivist Fiona Melhuish

We constructed this workshop to invite people to apply their focus to these texts in unusual ways. Our core participants are five artists working in different art forms: Eleanor Crook, a sculptor and anatomical artist; Fiona Millward, choreographer and Rolfer, Kelley Swain, a writer specialising in medical humanities; Simon Hall, artist and doctor (and dentist), and Agi Haines, a designer and artist. Each of these artists was invited to lead an activity in response to the anatomical textbooks, inviting us in from different perspectives, different ways of knowing, seeing, hearing, moving and touching.


The collage session is Eleanor’s, the final one of the two days, and there is a satisfying sense of glee as we get to work on photocopies of some of the more gruesome engravings of dead people that were taken from both books. As my focus centres on the intricate details of these artworks, I notice a completely different appreciation for the work than I’d had in previous sessions, whether that was moving my own body and responding to the pictures of the human body’s muscles, spine and organs; or listening to myself and others reading aloud poems that make our tongues writhe around unfamiliar words and startlingly emotive images. Simon previously led a session in which we were invited to play with lumps of modelling wax while he read passages from a memoir about the experience of blindness. Many people closed their eyes and let the sense of touch guide them.


During the two days, we welcomed different academics and staff members into the room to join us in discovering these different perspectives on our collection items. We banished the Powerpoint presentation in favour of occupying the room in different ways, talking in small clusters, sitting on the floor, clearing the tables away to move around. We gave time for conversations to meander, and sometimes tail off; for anecdotes to be shared and offside connections to be made. Themes emerged around (multi-)sensory perception; medical narratives; truth, fakery and authority of knowledge; the dark delight of the macabre, and much more.


Writer Kelley Swain fed back that ‘This multi-media, multi-genre, and multi-sensory conversation, over two days, allowed me to think about the Vesalius and Bidloo, and their relationships with contemporary Medical Humanities ideas, with much more depth and nuance than I might otherwise have had through a straightforward lecture on the texts.’

Professor Andrew Mangham, co-director of the Centre for Health Humanities, wrote that the workshop ‘encouraged us to develop new and innovative approaches to health research. It is rare for a research event to have such an innovative, multi-sensory approach to its topic.’

The workshop was a pilot ‘Creative Action Lab’, supported by the Heritage and Creativity Institute for Collections, and so we were keen to experiment with a new method of sharing ideas across disciplines. As a Health Humanities event we welcomed colleagues from English, History, Pharmacy, UMASCS (Special Collections), Art, Typography, Psychology. Those who attended welcomed the slowness of this type of discovery, allowing for questions to be asked, contrary to the often more outcomes-focused pacing of such events.


PhD student Amie Bolissian McRae said: ‘One of the extremely valuable outcomes from the workshop’s format was that every person attending had an entirely unique experience and journey through the art and source materials. This meant that, when bringing all our thoughts and perceptions together at the end, there was a wealth of related innovative ideas which drew from the knowledge, experience, and research interests of each attendee.’ This was reflected in artist Agi Haines’ experience: ‘Dipping in and out of people’s practices and then reflecting on them to find shared topics and concerns was a really fruitful format. It seemed to shift the lens away from habitual ‘home’ disciplinary ways of working.’

We are now exploring continuations of this approach and some emerging themes. We are thinking of pairing artists with academics in different disciplines to follow up ideas about the relationship between doing (or making) and thinking, taking inspiration from the great early anatomists, and illustrators of anatomy, who paid such close attention to detail in their pursuit of new knowledge to help cure disease.

Lunchtime Encounters

The PER[form] space is a temporary wooden structure sited on the main campus, designed and built by second-year architecture students, in collaboration with the School of Arts and Communication Design, who acted as the ‘client’ in this replica real-life architectural brief. Students also worked with the School of Architecture’s academics, Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio, and Charley Brentnall of Carpenter Oak.

The structure was built in just three days, and was then the home of a programme of varied activity by students from the Department of Film, Theatre and Television, and the ‘Lunchtime Encounters’ programme led by the Arts Strategy. Over two weeks, University staff and students were invited to visit the structure over lunchtime, encountering a variety of ideas, activities, knowledge and discussions drawn from across the University’s activities. These ranged from a performance of musical saw playing, to introductions to our campus museums, from provocations about food wastage to an insight into essential oils.

Find out more about what happened during the Lunchtime Encounters programme by scrolling through the slides below. You can also watch a documentary video about the process of designing and building the structure.



Invitation: PER[form]

Did anyone notice a greater than normal occurrence of students wearing hi-vis jackets and hard hats recently? Did you hear the noise of hammering drifting through the trees as you enjoyed the sunshine-drenched routes across campus? Did you glimpse a wooden structure gracefully rising between some of our beautiful trees on the Meadow?

Has your curiosity been piqued?

This is your invitation to come closer. Smell the pinewood scents as you approach. Listen to the sounds of nature, and watch shafts of sunlight falling through the honeycomb of the per[FORM] structure. What might you encounter when you come?

Every lunchtime between 12-2pm, from Monday 4 June to Thursday 14 June (weekdays only), all members of the University community are invited to drop into the per[FORM] structure for a programme of eclectic activity. Prepare to meet people you don’t yet know; to encounter new ideas, to touch and hear, see and smell.

You can drop by for 5 minutes or stay for two hours. Have a conversation; listen to the birdsong; take time to see your surroundings in a new way.

The Lunchtime Encounters programme initiative is part of the University’s new Arts Strategy and aims to bring people across the University together. You are invited to interact or experience imaginative and creative windows into some of the ideas, activities and events that stem from our researchers and students.

Bring a picnic, come along, see what’s going on. Feed your curiosity – what have you got to lose?

See you there!



Artistic Practice, Health Humanities and Collections Workshop

Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica

It’s quite difficult to describe the frisson that went around the room as everyone realised that in front of them, to look at and indeed touch, were original copies of some of the most famous books in medical history.


Full of painstaking engravings illustrating the very minute details of the human body in all its layerings, the copies of Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica and Bidloo’s Anatomia Hvmani Corporis provided a huge source of fascination for the artists and scholars gathered for an afternoon’s workshop, jointly organised by the Health Humanities Research Network, and the Arts Development Officer as part of the University’s arts strategy activity.


We invited four artists from different disciplines, with an interest in medical humanities, to join the director of the Health Humanities Centre Andrew Mangham, University Art Collections Curator Naomi Lebens, Research Officer: Cole Collection Verity Burke, and Arts Development Officer Miranda Laurence. The artists were Simon Hall, doctor, visual artist and dental trainee whose work explores art and medicine collaboration; Fiona Millward, a dancer, teacher and choreographer and Rolfing practitioner; Kelley Swain, a writer of science poetry and literature reviews, and teacher of medical humanities; and Eleanor Crook, a sculptor with a special interest in mortality, anatomy and pathology who exhibits internationally in fine art and medical and science museum contexts.

Image from Govert Bidloo – engravings by Gerard de Lairesse

Naomi Lebens and Verity Burke began the session by introducing us to chosen items from the University Art and the Cole collection, respectively; the theme of ‘movement and stillness’ underpinned their choices. Our discussion ranged from the different visual and haptic interactions experienced when dissecting preserved body parts as opposed to conducting an operation on a live person; to how the illustrations of dissected bodies in the two anatomical text books varied from classical to grotesque, and what effect that had on the viewer; to how sketches of performing dancers related to a drawing of a woman on her death bed, and a woman mid- conversation.


These eclectic conversations led us to an exploration of how each of us might unlock an unfamiliar object – whether that might be a work of art, a book, or anything else – from our different discipline perspective. Eleanor wrote: “these responses ranged from it being a kind of physical empathy, to it being a teasing out of stories, to it being a relationship to the hand and the haptic, to it being , in my case, a kind of séance.”


The different disciplines in which everyone worked might have given each person a different starting point, but as conversation flowed, the approaches described by one person drew sparks of responding imagination from another. For Fiona it was illuminating “to recognise the mutuality within our approaches of opening oneself up to the making process, but also the diversity bred of our different forms and so how the steps beyond that spiral out into different directions.”


We are hoping to be able to follow up this stimulating workshop with more opportunities for scholars and artists to exchange knowledge and processes, and indeed be collective in their un-knowing curiosity. As Kelley said, “it was a rare treat to be invited to get together to think about a collection, with artists and academics, all of whom have related points of interest.”


We feel that this is a delicious opportunity to approach the University’s amazing collections in a new and unchartered way. Naomi speaks for us all in saying that the workshop gave her “renewed belief in the power of collections as a tool for opening up dialogues between academics and creative practitioners on an equal footing; helping them to understand one another’s processes and, in turn, to incorporate new ideas and ways of thinking into their work. Fostering true interdisciplinarity.”