URM - urban readymades - again

I've looked through a lot of the images on the Urban Readymades site, and have thought about the notion of "Urban Readymades" quite a lot in recent days. Although there is something appealing about the notion, and it's a neat way of hijacking an art term to apply to things outside and beyond the art world, I'm not sure it really works, or that the things, events, situations portrayed in the images at the URM site can actually be thought of as readymades in a Duchampian sense. Duchamp did more than simply rename - he altered, subtly or not so subtly, the objects he chose and then deliberately recontextualised them. A photograph of a more or less random discovery or incident in an urban environment does not do the same thing. The artist or photographer is selecting, naming, giving attention to, indicating that something is of interest, is an object of curiosity, could be regarded as art; but the item is not being transplanted from its original location into the institutional framework of art in the same way as Duchamp's readymades. The act of "naming" urban readymades lies closer to Cage's  strategy of deflecting attention away from the performed musical act and towards the chance or random auditory event. The process of "discovering" and then documenting and representing situations encountered in the urban environment is also akin to the practice of the Situationist derivĂ©, and the assembling of documentation into graphic representations with real or notional links to geographical point of origin is similar to the mapping activities of artists who base their practice on urban exploration or intervention.

So I am looking for another term to describe this activity. For my own part, I have for years consistently documented found, discarded, overlooked, disused, relocated, incongruous objects and situations in both urban and rural environments. And I know lots of others, artists and non artists alike do the same. The images somehow assemble themselves into archives of kinds, suggest narratives, behave like art or not, trigger moments of memory and recognition, appeal to a sense of the absurd or function as a subtle critique of the dominant values of a society. It could also be argued that they belong to a genre of photography with its own grammar, conventions, means of distribution, value systems. But an important characteristic from my viewpoint is that these images refer to things/events/situations that are not monumental, not spectacular, that are ephemeral, perhaps paradoxical and that can function as part of a discourse that is not dependent upon the imperatives of the art institution or the market.

I conclude therefore, that I don't want to use the term "Urban Readymades" despite its obvious appeal, but I do want to examine and engage with a photographic practice that is about "capturing", "exposing" and "framing" small incidents and overlooked objects in the urban environment. And further to this I see it as a perfect method for collaborative, non-heirarchical, open practices where individual images exist within a field of reference and signification that creates dialogue.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts Jeremy, on this question of the urban readymade. And also, on how to further approach the idea or experience of the urban poetics of the found or disjunctive. It definitely does seem to have a long standing or presence within various practices and thinking around the found, the urban, the ruin, and I think it's interesting and useful to raise this question, of how to describe or name or speak about this. In some way it almost feels like one of the primary experiences or actions of the creative mind - to start to look at the world around you and begin to appreciate the sudden appearance of something peculiar or different or out of place that is also so absolutely in place, something that is so near and yet so beautifully disquieting, and that comes together through the mysterious movements of the everyday. I think it's really a compelling and continual way to develop or maintain these creative perceptions. And your notes here definitely make me think about how photography places a part... (Maybe this will come up in the upcoming seminar on the Poetics of the Second Hand?) Something to wonder about... Cheers! B

  2. Thanks, Brandon, for your comment. You're right, that the theme of the seminar "Poetics of the second hand" is relevant here, and it is indeed very often a poetic recognition that is at play when one selects or becomes aware of then and records a certain found or discovered situation. I'm reminded once again of Bachelard's "Poetics of Space", as well as older references like Lautreamont's umbrella and sewing machine on the operating table, although I'm not especially concerned with that kind of rupture or disjuncture that the Surrealists hoped to achieve. I have a new book entitled "Shadows, Markings, Other Stories" that is concerned with these moments of recognition or realization within a photographic endeavour. It will hopefully be published in the spring.


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