Dr Cecilie Sachs Olsen

Personal profile

Cecilie Sachs Olsen is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the centre for the GeoHumanities. Her work is practice-based and revolves around developing creative methods for urban research and exploring how artistic practice can be used as a framework to analyse and re-imagine urban space and politics. Cecilie is also initiator and member of the artist collective, zURBS (www.zurbs.org), with whom she has conducted over 40 art projects in 9 European cities over the last 6 years. zURBS works with a participatory approach in which a wide range of participants are invited to take part in workshops, exhibitions, model-making, treasure hunts, games, seminars, expeditions and walks all of which engage publics in exploring the urban environment. The aim is to experiment with different approaches to how we can re-imagine the urban landscape through imaginative and creative processes that question what urban space means and is.  

Cecilie's PhD was one of the first performance practice-based geography PhDs, advancing innovative work at the intersection of urban and creative geographies and performance practices. Building on her experience working on research platforms that develop urban strategies where an artistic approach is key (e.g. Metropolis Lab/Copenhagen International Theatre, Copenhagen 2007; ReOccupation/Zurich University of the Arts, Zurich 2013 and Urban Breeding Grounds/ETH Zurich 2012/13),  this research analysed the participatory art practice of her artist collective zURBS, querying how this practice may produce geographical knowledge and influence how we live in and think about cities. As such, the research advanced understandings of how participatory art can shape urban imaginations and the social and material organisation of cities.

Taking this research one step further, Cecilie's post doctoral research moves from examining how participatory urban arts practices offer the means to engage communities with their city, working collaboratively to envision new urban futures, to investigate how these practices can, and have become part of urban development strategies. Issues of representing interests and participating in the decisions that produce urban space are central here. There is often a perceived distance between the institutional powers of the city (e.g. planners and developers) and citizens in civil society (e.g. local communities). Cecilie's research aims to develop a critical and practical account of the intersections between participatory art and urban governance and policy, querying how arts practices can provide the means to do away with this distance and expand the ways cities are developed and governed.

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