Design Labs

City Lab

Institute of Art and Technology

Art in culture, health, housing and commerce 

The Lab asks how we can use art more effectively in society

Lab Leader: John Byrne

The City Lab aims to develop research that will:

  • build new forms of citizenship based on creativity and social responsibility
  • help us to re-imagine our current uses of architecture, art, design, fashion and urbanism within and across the fields of culture, health, housing and commerce within the context of the city
  • develop new forms of hybrid and transdisciplinary practices that are capable of having positive, real world and sustainable impact on the social, political, economic and cultural infrastructure of the city

This process would involve a drive to reshape the pedagogic delivery and professional practice of architecture, art and design within the context of the city. This can be achieved by working across a range of socially oriented projects and practices that call for social change within the city context. As well as respecting and examining existing disciplinary specificities, this will also mean working with more comprehensive, expanded constituencies, reaching and building new audiences and developing models of city-based architecture, art, fashion and design practices that are valued more widely, beyond the current conventions of economic and personal impact.

The City Lab’s research expertise combines:

  • Application: practice-led and practice-based approaches to knowledge production
  • Usership: the uses of architecture, art and design as creative tools for educational development and social change
  • Constituencies: the uses of art and design in developing collaborative forms of social and ecological change
  • History and critical theory: rethinking the story of how art can be used in society

Research projects:

The research conducted by the City Lab demonstrates synergy between architecture, art and design practice and theory. It is distinctive through its diversity. At its core are discourses of the city and the network of practices upon which it impacts.

The long-term Research aim of the City Lab will be to develop a local, national and international programme of activities and collaborations built around the key themes of:

  • The uses of art and design
  • Socially engaged/transdisciplinary practice
  • Architecture
  • Fashion
  • Design
  • Brand and identity
  • Communication design
  • Place making
  • Regeneration and sustainable cities
  • Academic/cultural organisation partnerships
  • Pedagogy
  • Art, design, health and wellbeing
  • Alternative economies
  • Regeneration

The City Lab in Context:

All the research fields within The City Lab expose the impact and influence of architecture, art, fashion and design within the context of our everyday environment. The City Lab’s research projects embody how the production of original knowledge, through practice and critical theory, can lead to real, impactful and sustainable change within our contemporary culture.

Rethinking and reimagining the city through constituent practices of sustainability, material constructions and applications of technology contributes to the enhancement of our local, national and global environments.

The research themes of City Lab simultaneously occupy the cutting edge of their disciplinary specificities whilst remaining active within the real-world context of the city. City Lab supports research and practice that embraces or focuses on those elements that are undiscovered or operate in the realms of periphery, such as design for well-being and constituent practices that enable the reimagination of marginal cultures within the urban environment.

City Lab will seek to innovate and promote enterprise-based teaching and learning practices within its research context via the development of a student-led and entrepreneurial pedagogy.

The remediation of architecture art, fashion and design practices within City Lab leads to the development of culturally significant practices whereby the communicative powers of art and design objects and projects allude to the transformative nature of products and environments. This research is evident in the projects of spatial design through themes of the vernacular and sustainability.

City Lab project archive

L'Internationale

The Uses of Art: The Legacy of 1848 and 1989

“...let every one of these short lives leave its sure record of some kindly thing done for others—some goodly strength or knowledge gained for yourselves; so, from day to day, and strength to strength, you shall build up indeed, by Art, by Thought, and by Just Will, an Ecclesia of [Europe], of which it shall not be said, “See what manner of stones are here,” but, “See what manner of men.”

– John Ruskin, lecture “The relation of art to ‘use’”, 1870

‘The Uses of Art – the legacy of 1848 and 1989’ is a five year European funded project which sees a collaboration between existing members of L’Internationale Moderna Galerija (MG), Ljubljana, Slovenia, Museum voor Hededaagse Kunst Antwerpen (M HKA), Antwerp, Belgium, Museu d’art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Barcelona, Spain, Van Abbemuseum (VAM), Eindhoven, Netherlands, Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofia, (MNCARS), Madrid, Spain, SALT, Istanbul, Turkey and partners who have expertise to help realize the project: Grizedale Arts (GA), Coniston, United Kingdom, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), Liverpool, United Kingdom, Koninklijke Akademie Schone Kunsten (KASK), Gent, Belgium, Universität Hildesheim (UH), Hildesheim, Germany.

‘The Uses of Art: The Legacies of 1848 and 1989’ Project saw L’internationale members collaborate with partner institutions to facilitate a range of exhibitions, shows, seminars, lectures, symposia and publications that sought to address the shifting and changing roles and functions of art institutions. By looking back to 1848 and 1989, the intention of the project was to reimagine and revision a role for art in the production of new forms of citizenship and participation. ‘The Uses of Art: The Legacy of 1848 and 1989’ project itself was officially launched in Madrid, at the Reina Sofia in May 2013. As part of this project, a L’Internationale Online Platform has also been developed www.internationaleonline.org.

John Byrne, Leader of City Lab was manager and co-ordinator of the ‘Constituencies’ Research Strand of L’Internationale Project ‘The Uses of Art: The Legacy of 1848 and 1989’. This Research Strand research strand has to the publication of book ‘The Constituent Museum: Constellations of Knowledge, Politics and Mediation – A Generator of Social Change’ for publication in April 2018. This publication is edited by John Byrne (Lead Editor/Liverpool John Moores University) in collaboration with Elinor Morgan (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Middlesbrough), November Paynter (SALT, Istanbul and Ankara), Aida Sánchez de Serdio (Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid), Adela Železnik (Moderna galerija, Ljubljana). The book draws on the accumulated knowledge and speculations of the many artists, curators, writers and institutions involved and includes a series of ‘Project Studies’ that evaluate a real world ‘toolkit’ for change.

The publication ‘‘The Constituent Museum: Constellations of Knowledge, Politics and Mediaiton – A Generator of Social Change’ was also developed through a series of seminars, conferences, exhibitions and publications that included an ‘Office of Useful Art’ at LJMU/Liverpool School of Art and Design (October/November 2015), A ‘Glossary of Common Knowledge ‘Constituencies’ Seminar held at LJMU in March 2016, and a ‘Constituencies’ Conference held in MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) in August 2016.

Museum of Arte Útil

Van Abbemuseum
Eindhoven, the Netherlands 
7 December 2013 - 30 March 2014

Museum of Arte Útil team: Nick Aikens, Tania Bruguera, constructLab (with Alex Roemer, Bureau d’Études, Collective Workds and others), Annette Eliëns, Charles Esche, Annie Fletcher, Gemma Medina and Alessandra Saviotti.

Initiators: Azra Akšamija, Lara Almarcegui, Artun Alaska Arasli, Joseph Beuys, Augusto Boal, Tania Bruguera, Santiago Cirugeda, Liz Christy, Paulina Cornejo, Eduardo Costa, Critical Art Ensemble, Sean Dockray, Electronic Disturbance, Theatre 2.0., Jalila Essaïdi, Claudia Fernández, Daniel Godínez Nivón, Rebecca Gomperts, Grizedale Arts, Núria Güell, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Institute for Human Activities, IRWIN, Djambawa Marawili, Memetro, Mike Merrington, Missdata, NSW Builders Labourers Federation and Victoria Street Resident Action Group, Ahmet Öğüt, Jeannette Petrik, Pino Poggi, Bik van der Pol, Provo, Publink, Luca Pucci, Laurie Jo Reynolds, Rolling Jubilee, John Ruskin, Ruben Santiago, Bonnie O. Sherk, Apolonija Šušteršič, Vivieternamente, WochenKlausur, Wooloo Artists from the Yirrkala región Yomango, Stephen Wright, Yao Jui-Chung+ Lost Society Document

Really Useful Knowledge

Museo Reina Sofía
Madrid, Spain
29 October 2014 - 9 February 2015

Curators: What, How & For Whom/WHW

Artists: Brook Andrew, Ardmore Ceramic Art, Arte Partisano, Ariella Azoulay, Hicham Benohoud, Chto Delat?, Phil Collins, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Emory Douglas, Primitivo Evanán Poma and Asociación de Artistas Populares de Sarhua, Núria Güell and Levi Orta, Dmitry Gutov and David Riff, Adelita Husni-Bey, Iconoclasistas, Abbas Kiarostami, Runo Lagomarsino, Darcy Lange, Victoria Lomasko, Marcell Mars, Azzedine Meddour, Mujeres Públicas, Daniela Ortiz, Trevor Paglen and Jacob Appelbaum, Trevor Paglen, D. A. Pennebaker, Hannah Ryggen, Catarina Simão, Mladen Stilinović, Straub–Huillet, Subtramas, Traficantes de Sueños, Lidwien van de Ven, Cecilia Vicuña, Carla Zaccagnini, Želimir Žilnik

Confessions of the Imperfect, 1848-1989-Today

Van Abbemuseum
Eindhoven, the Netherlands
22 November 2014- 22 February 2015

Curators: Alistair Hudson, Steven ten Thije

Artists: Constant, Jeremy Deller, Fernando García-Dory, Liam Gillick, Renzo Martens, Antoni Miralda, Li Mu, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmuş, John Ruskin, Static and Akram Zaatari.

Glossary of Common Knowledge: Constituencies

Liverpool John Moores University
Liverpool, United Kingdom
2-4 March 2016

Curators: Zdenka Badovinac, John Byrne, Bojana Piškur
Organized by: Moderna galerija, Ljubljana and Liverpool John Moores University

Participating narrators: Nick Aikens, Marwa Arsanios, Zdenka Badovinac, John Byrne, Lia Colombino, Khwezi Gule, Anders Kreuger, Ahmet Öğüt, Meriç Öner, November Paynter, Alexei Penzin, Bojana Piškur, Raúl Sánchez Cedillo, Aida Sánchez de Serdio, pantxo ramas, Adela Železnik

The Arte Útil Summit 2016

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
Middlesbrough, United Kingdom
22-25 July 2016

Participants: Biniam Araia, Kathrin Böhm,Tania Bruguera, John Byrne, Sebastian Cichocki, Charles Esche, Annie Fletcher, Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust, Núria Güell, Gemma Medina, New Linthorpe, Alessandra Saviotti, Rosalie Schweiker, Michael Simon, Kuba Szreder, Stephen Wright.

Asociación de Arte Útil

The Asociación de Arte Útil is part of an ongoing collaboration between Tania Bruguera, Grizedale Arts, Van Abbemuseum, Liverpool John Moores University and the Internationale confederation of European museums, as part of the five year project ‘The Uses of Art: The Legacies of 1848 and 1989’. The Asociación de Arte Útil is co-directed by Tania Bruguera and Alistair Hudson (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) in partnership with the Van Abbemuseum.

Thanks to the initiators, volunteers and users of Offices of Useful Art in Liverpool (Tate Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University), Birmingham (IKON Gallery), Middlesbrough (MIMA), Istanbul (SALT Galata).

Conference: Working with Constituents

Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
Middlesbrough, United Kingdom
8-10 September 2016

Participants: Biniam Araia, Burak Arıkan (Graph Commons), John Byrne, Jesús Carrillo, Céline Condorelli, Isabel García (Archivos en Uso), Anthony Gardner, Annie Fletcher, Kristine Khouri, Elinor Morgan, Alina Müller (The Silent University), Daniela Ortiz, pantxo ramas, Nikos Papastergiadis, Igor Španjol.

The Uses of Art: Final Exhibition

SALT Galata
Istanbul, Turkey
2 April- 11 June 2017

Abbas Akhavan, Refik Anadol, Amy Franceschini – Futurefarmers, Laure Prouvost
Conceived by November Paynter

Health and wellbeing projects

What's on for dementia wellbeing

A ‘what’s on for dementia wellbeing’ service can be accessed through the Welcome2Liverpool phone app – a free, real-time guide to events across the Liverpool City Region. Design principles for the service will be established through workshops with arts organisations, clinicians, app developers, and people living with a dementia diagnosis. A platform is also being developed to facilitate the submission of activities to the service.

Find out more

Labyrinth Exchange

The Labyrinth Exchange was initially developed to gather experiences of living with dementia and explore the role of humour. In finding a fresh perspective of this challenging condition we aim to tackle the various forms of stigma experienced. By collaborating with people who are living with dementia we co-designed a labyrinth made of donated knitwear and postcards to communicate the stories gathered. The labyrinth itself extends the metaphor which links the shape and form with the brain, making for an aesthetically pleasing and inviting, but also thought-provoking experience.

In partnership with Liverpool Dementia Action Alliance and SURF (Service Users Reference Forum) the Labyrinth Exchange will be employed in primary schools to raise awareness amongst children of the symptoms and characteristics of dementia. Around 50% of grandparents in the European countries are providing some type of grandparental childcare at one point in time and this figure has remained relatively stable over time between 2005 - 2010. We recognise that children and schools can provide vital support in the development of age-friendly communities.

The project will continue to raise awareness amongst families in the hope of reducing health inequalities. By inviting discussions in an open platform we aim to break the stigma attached to mental health and ageing.

Beneficial outcomes:

  • It highlights the possibility of living well with dementia
  • It offers coping strategies for many who are living with dementia
  • It raises the level of public awareness, provoking modifications in the perception of people living with dementia, that is, that people with dementia are a part of society and that they need to be given the chance to live well with dementia and key campaigners in the process of de-stigmatisation

We invite people to build the labyrinth with us by sharing their experiences of living with dementia. Playing, laughing and being active while accepting new challenges is a great way to keep the brain engaged. The labyrinth focuses on joyful moments to bring a smile or maybe a laugh and let people know that we can live well with dementia.

The collaborative workshops are led by a team of LJMU artists and students.

The project is currently being considered by the Association of Arte Utile as a replicable archive project.

Life Chance Fund Steering Group

LJMU City Lab is partnering with Liverpool City Council (LCC) and Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group (LCCG) on a Life Chances Fund Bid to improve quality of life amongst 70+ receiving 14 hours or more domiciliary care. LCC, in partnership with LCCG submitted an expression of interest to the Cabinet Office to secure funding, through the Life Chances Fund (LCF) to use payment by results (PbR) as a mechanism to improve outcomes for older people and specifically people with dementia to reduce or delay admission to residential care.

The Life Chances Fund has £80m to contribute to outcome payments through payments by results contracts to tackle complex social problems through the development of social impact bonds and the expression of interest proposed the introduction of a new model of domiciliary care which takes the best practice examples and evidenced-based interventions to drive flexibility of provision for service users.

The service will include a multi-disciplinary team delivering a wide variety of services and ensuring access to community-based provision where appropriate. We will be using an artful approach to health and social care in order to reduce social isolation.

The aims of the project are to:

  • Reduce admissions to residential care
  • Reduce length of stay in hospital
  • Lower readmission to hospital after discharge
  • Improved quality of life/wellbeing

We will be developing a training programme, one-to-one arts sessions and capacity building arts practice within the community.

On Cloud 79

'On Cloud 79’ is a 40 minute comedy play that will feature as part of the Royal Liverpool Hospital's Dementia Action Week. Dementia is certainly a tough subject for comedy, almost everyone is affected by it and knows someone who is living with it. In 2030, dementia is going to be the leading cause of death and disablement. There isn’t an easy way to explore something as tricky and challenging as dementia. As the late Sir Terry Prachett said, "If there is indeed an emerging sense – finally – that we’ve stopped pussy footing around dementia and can now bear to utter its name, we nevertheless find a cloud of unknowing persists.”

On Cloud 79 combines personal stories of dementia, amusing anecdotes with text analysis research. We captured emotions both sad, true and funny to explore people’s dementia journeys.

City Lab are presenting an abstract for the BSG conference in September.

Health Systems Global Symposium

The Health Systems Global Symposium is the leading community of researchers, policy makers, practitioners and advocates, and is held every two years. In 2018, it was themed on ‘Advancing health systems for all’ and held in Liverpool, for the first time, coinciding with another key UK event, the 70th anniversary year of the National Health Service. With the spotlight on Liverpool, we worked with two marginalised groups locally: the elderly and asylum seekers, using a participatory approach to explore social isolation and identify their priorities for health care. We brought these into the public arena and shared these stories alongside the lived experiences of health systems from around the world explored at this symposium.

We curated a global photo/text competition in collaboration with The Liverpool School of Tropical medicine which formed a large exhibition at the event. The exhibition has subsequently been shown at National Museums Liverpool and the Fabric District Festival: This Social Fabric in 2019.

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