Playful Pop-ups and Public Things: Extinction Rebellion, the Marble Arch Mound and Antepavilion

Conor Moloney | PhD Researcher and Teaching Associate, School of Geography and School of English & Drama, Queen Mary University of London

Over the past twenty years London has been reshaped into a city of play. A bloom of colourful pop-ups, sensory landscapes, haptic installations and immersive events has transformed the character of public spaces, accelerated by mega-events such as the 2000 Millennium Dome and the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games, and now intensifying through the 2020 Pandemic recovery. These interventions are now firmly embedded in the toolkit of urban placemaking, regeneration and gentrification (Stevens 2007, Harvie 2013). What is driving this phenomenon, and how does it impact on the relationship of citizens and the public domain? This spectrum of activity strongly resembles the range of relational, participatory and social practices current in the arts (Bourriaud 2002, Bishop 2012). While these artistic practices reframe the relationship between artist, artwork and audience, they often also engage us as citizens with political agency, sometimes in highly antagonistic ways. Yet the institutional spaces of the art world differ from the spaces of the city in a material way: public spaces and the bodies that populate them are governed by a palimpsest of regulatory regimes requiring careful negotiation, improvisation and even transgression (Valverde 2011, Koch 2016). At the same time, pop-ups may hold potential for what Bonnie Honig has conceptualised as ‘Public Things’, with the possibility to set agendas, convene publics, and provide platforms for the articulation of interests (Honig 2017, Butler 2015). To explore the challenges and dilemmas of play in the public domain, this paper will present ongoing research on three contemporary pop-ups and their materiality: Extinction Rebellion’s bamboo protest structures, the Marble Arch Mound (a visitor attraction) and Antepavilion (a pavilion for an arts venue).