Persistent Afterimages: The Living Structure of Bodies, Buildings and Archives

Sagar, Ilona. 2024. Persistent Afterimages: The Living Structure of Bodies, Buildings and Archives. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Art [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Through moving-image, discursive events, text and publication, this research critically explores the spatial connections between ideology, bodies and buildings, exploring the powerful tensions at play within the architecture of health for social and civic improvement. Through practice-led enquiry and archival analysis, I reflect on the tenets of modernism inherent in public design and common assets, critically examining what is activated through my intervention within this discourse. A central question being: How do we ‘observe’ such radical social experiments in the production of health and wellbeing from the locus of the present?

At the core of this enquiry are two extensive case studies, The Peckham Pioneer Health Centre (1931-1950) and Park Hill Estate Sheffield (1961-2004). These contrasting schemes are the cornerstones of my practice-based research and thesis. Both buildings and their respective archives offer a snapshot in time, representative of two crucial moments in health and social reform in the interwar and post-war periods. The Pioneer Health Centre, built before the foundation of the Welfare State and 20 years prior to the formation of the NHS, and Park Hill Estate, active at the peak of the welfare state, coming into decline in the 1980s.

By utilising my practice-based methodologies, this research critically unpicks how bodies perform the architecture of power and consequently, in what way embodiment becomes the catalyst for a variety of forms of mapping, metaphor, analogy and blurring – both within the realisation of utopic architectural health proposals for social remodeling, and as a method of navigation, experimentation and provocation within my own practice. The survey, the body and its attendant technologies become key tools to test and provoke the boundaries active within the archive, between observed and observer, body and building, modernity and obsolescence. The gaps and omissions left open and slippery in both archives, materialise the question of observation: who is being watched and what is the apparatus of the observer? Who is invisible?

In examining the ideological implications of architecture as an embodied instrument, and data as a diagnostic tool driving a solutionist approach to complex social problems, images and their afterlife become central to every aspect of the research. Whether the trace left in an archive, the production of medical diagnostic images, or the realisation of an architectural plan, I am thinking through notions of afterimage. What is an image, how can it be used to navigate archival, present, and speculative societal space? Not only an optical phenomenon or purely a metaphorical tool, afterimage in this context describes both a method of technological surveillance and acts as a historical interface between the eye of the researcher and the material of their research.

What anchors this enquiry is an interest in both case studies as sites in flux – archives perpetually unsettled and unfixed. Whether through change of use or falling into dereliction, it is in their uncertain state between past vision and present reality that they speak to the ongoing issues they come to represent. Using methods of co-inquiry, I set out to find a shared language that sits in-between, connecting architectural materiality with embodied knowledges, archives, entangled and physically sited in on-going lived experience and encounter. In tracing the decay, maintenance is exposed both in its utility and as a discourse. What are we protecting? What are we being asked to remember? This practice- led research draws out architecture not only as governmental agent, but an actor in its own right, asking in what way the historical apparatus of publicly activated architecture as an instrument of health becomes a critical tool and witness.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Artist moving-image; Co-inquiry; Archives; Health; Maintenance; The Peckham Experiment; Park Hill Estate Sheffield

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Date Deposited:

07 Mar 2024 12:08

Last Modified:

11 Mar 2024 15:59


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