“Before you can synch up languages, they have to bump up against each other. You get friction and heat, and that’s good.”
That’s what choreographer Erika Chong Shuch is saying in this picture as her co-teacher, urban designer Ghigo DiTommaso, leans in to listen. The two instructors from disciplines with different habits, words, and tools of the trade are already doing a lot of listening—and debating—in order to learn each other’s languages and figure out how to study and intervene in public space with both bodies and design.
“With my artist colleagues, we can be recycling our language, talking among ourselves, but Ghigo stops me, says ‘Wait—what do you mean? What is that?’—it’s great,” Chong Shuch told the class, punctuating her words with the physical gestures of a dancer.
The first meeting of the new Global Urban Humanities course called Public Space: Placemaking and Performance was a packed house of students from departments ranging from performance studies to archaeology to landscape architecture. During introductions, some students broke into song or dance, while others admitted that even talking in a seminar gave them stage fright.
“This is not about virtuosity,” said Chong Shuch. “This is not about pleasing people.” She promised to provide tools of performance for those to whom this was new. Similarly, DiTommaso said that he hoped to reintroduce the notion of “low-stakes failure” as a tool for experimentation in architecture, and to provide handles to the theoretical readings in the course for people “who are learning a trade”—whether as landscape architects or performers.
“We are both practitioners, first and foremost,” said DiTommaso, "and that is what shapes the way we look at theory." He said that fifty percent of the class would take place “in the street,” including theory sessions, "so you can look right out and test what we're talking about."
The course will start with readings in urban theory and performance theory, and proceed to the creation of student-led interventions in public spaces around the Bay Area.
“I’m not sure I even know what ‘public space’ is,” said Chong Shuch.
“We know where we’re starting in this class, but we don’t know where we’ll end up,” said DiTommaso.
The progress of the course over the semester can be followed at the course website at placemakingandperformance.com.
Public Space: Placemaking and Performance/Theories of Practice, Practice of Theories is listed as Landscape Architecture 254 and Theater, Dance & Performance Studies 266. More information on the course is available here. This course is one of three new interdisciplinary, team-taught courses exploring cities that are created each academic year as part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative.