Urban Archiving


The menu at an Eat a Memory gathering in Rochester.

The menu at an Eat a Memory gathering in Rochester (CC:BY-NC).

The Urban Archiving theme of the Living Archives project explores archives and archiving practices in urban contexts. What is an urban archive? How can archive material and archiving practices become meaningful resources for communities of practices engaging in urban development? How to connect urban practices of today with the past, and the future?

The aim is to explore and prototype urban archiving practices for collecting, storing and sharing urban data that potentially can give us insights and deeper understanding of urban matters and human behaviour. Our attention is directed towards two different types of urban archives collecting, storing and sharing: (1) urban data generated on cultural practices and the intangible cultural heritage of a city, and (2) urban data generated by networked technologies (open data).

The research approach is based on principles and methods from the fields of participatory design, and artistic research. Our research process consists of a series of interventions conducted in the form of design activities and artistic actions or gestures, which results in a collection of prototyped urban archiving practices. The interventions include hands-on design projects prototyping how urban archives can become resources in urban development, as well as projects of more visionary and philosophical kinds, ‘dreaming’ about and imagining alternative urban futures.

Urban gardening communities as urban archives
Our activities are situated in urban contexts, which offer a wide range of entry points for research. In order to narrow down the window of exploration we focused on the phenomenon of urban gardens, which lately has gained an increased attention as a means to attain resilient cities. The theoretical framework is based upon the assumption that urban gardening communities can be ‘read’ as urban archives, and become platforms for collecting, storing, sharing new and diverse stories about a particular neighbourhood, or community. The urban garden is perceived as a performed memory expressed through the cultural backgrounds and experiences of the urban gardeners.

Visual overview of the research process and the outcome.

Visual overview of the research process and the outcome.

Researchers: Elisabet M. Nilsson and Veronica Wiman.

Collaborators and partners: City of Malmö/Malmö stadMalmö City Archives, Marketview Heights Community (Rochester), Miljöförvaltningen Malmö stad, Mitt Odla, RaketaRochester Institute of Technology, Slottsträdgårdens kafé, Stena Fastigheter, students at Malmö university.


In reverse chronological order:

November 3–4, 2015: Memory Gaming at the AHA festival
As part of our participation in the ‘Re-enactments – Archival Performances’ at the AHA Festival the Memory Game was played. At the first gaming session the source was archival traces from the AHA festival 2014 archive. At the second gaming session (18 hours later) the players re-enact and share their memories and experiences from taking part in the archival performance during the last 22 hours. Read more.

October 18: Participating in the International Conference Culture and Computing
Presenting the paper ”Urban Archiving for Smarter Cities : Archival practices beyond Open data” at Culture and Computing 2015, Kyoto University, Japan.

October 8–10, 2015: The Memory Game travels to Rochester (US)
Memory Game is a card game (a remake of the classical Memory game) and an archiving practice designed to work as a platform for dialogue, and a framework for collecting, storing and sharing memories and cultural heritage. The gameplay is an act of collective storytelling, and an associative play between the players and the memories performed and re-enacted. As part of our collaboration with Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) the game is played and exhibited at the MU/RIT Partnership Symposium.

June 8–10: Participating in Nordes 2015: Design Ecologies
Presenting the paper  “Gardening communities as urban archives and social resource in urban planning”, Nordes conference Design Ecologies: Challenging anthropocentrism in the design of sustainable futures, Konstfack – University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, Sweden.

June 4–5, 2015: From Soil to Structure
From Soil to Structure is a two-day program of cultural activities and discussions around soil and urban memories. Artists, urban gardeners, residents and researchers will meet to experience, discuss as well as taste a specific moment in history. From Soil to Structure is the second in a series of curated interventions by the Living Archives project during 2015, all responding to the theme of Performing Memory.
• Information about the program and participants.
• Photo documentation from the two days.

May 5, 2015: Soil Memories workshop
As part of Makroskopet’s Program at ‘Framtidsveckan’ in Sofielund, Living Archives organises the workshop Soil Memories. More information and workshop invitation (only Swedish).

March – October 2015: Plant your History in Rochester and “Odla din historia” in Malmö
Our research activities are situated in urban contexts, which offer a wide range of entry points for research. We initially chose to focus on the phenomenon of urban gardens, which lately has gained an increased attention as a means to attain resilient cities. Conceptually, the assumption is that an urban gardening community can be ‘read’ as an urban archive collecting, storing and sharing data about that particular community. The Plant your History and ‘Odla din historia’ are research interventions run in collaboration with two urban gardening communities in Rochester/US, and Malmö.

March 12, 2015: Eat a Memory # 2
Eat a Memory #2 was organised in collaboration with Marketview Heights Collective Action Project in Rochester, and researchers at RIT. The  event spawned a new project: Food: A Celebration of Diversity.

March 2015: Visit to Rochester (US) and RIT
On March 9–13 we went to Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology for a research trip hosted by Ann Howard and Jane Amstey . The aim was to learn more about the recent urban development process of Rochester and the work conducted by researchers and students at RIT. The visit resulted in a collaboration with RIT with the project Plant your History.

January-December 2015: The urban garden as a performed memory and social resource
This project explores the potentials of urban gardening communities to be ‘read’ as urban archives, and become platforms for transmitting knowledge and connecting different communities of practices that engage in urban development and societal change (for example design communities and urban gardening communities). Issues to be explored are how practices of urban archiving can contribute to a more holistic view of our cities, including urban gardening communities that engage in urban sustainable development, but seldom are invited to have a say in matters of urban development.

November – December 2014: Digital resources for urban gardeners
Project in collaboration with students at the course Interaction design and media, Faculty of Culture and Society, Malmö University. Design brief: Design a website based on digital archive material on urban gardening, aiming at supporting and inspiring people that already are, or want to become, urban gardeners.

November 27, 2014: Eat a Memory # 1
Eat a Memory is a series of experiments exploring food and meals as performed memories, and cooking as archival practice. See documentation.

October – December 2014: Greenhouse Artist Talk
This series of talks invites artistic practitioners to present and explore work related to urban gardening and archives. The greenhouse (’växthuset’ at the café in Slottsträdgården, Malmö) becomes a site for research and artistic practice curated by Veronica Wiman. Read more.

September 2014–January 2015: Open data and digital archives in the urban gardening context
In collaboration with master’s students at the Media Software Design programme, researchers in the Living Archives project initiated an exploratory study aiming at supporting urban gardening practices through digital technologies. The study resulted in two prototypes: the Sensor Stick generating data on moisture levels at various soil depths, and the Voice Garden enabling gardeners to share ’local’ knowledge. Read more.
• Photos from the interventions.


Nilsson, Elisabet M. & Barton, Jody (in press). Co-designing newcomers archives: discussing ethical challenges when establishing collaboration with vulnerable user groups. Conference proceedings, Cumulus Hong Kong 2016, Hong Kong, November 21-24.

Nilsson, Elisabet M. (in press). Prototyping collaborative (co)-archiving practices – From archival appraisal to co-archival facilitation. Conference proceedings 22nd International Conference on Virtual Systems & Multimedia, Kuala Lumpur, October 17-21.

Nilsson, Elisabet M. (2015). The Smell of Urban Data: Urban Archiving Practices Beyond Open Data. In Living Archives (Ed.) The Politics, Practices and Poetics of Openness, Malmö University, Sweden.

Nilsson, Elisabet M., and Wiman, Veronica. 2015.Urban Archiving for Smarter Cities : Archival practices beyond Open data. Conference proceedings, Culture and Computing 2015, Kyoto University, Japan.

Nilsson, Elisabet M., and Veronica Wiman. 2015. Gardening communities as urban archives and social resource in urban planning. Conference proceedings, Nordes 2015: Design Ecologies, Challenging anthropocentrism in the design of sustainable futures, University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, Sweden.

Nilsson, Elisabet M., and Veronica Wiman. 2015. Eat a Memory: A Tool for Urban Archival Practices to Support Citizens’ Participation in Urban Development. Conference paper, The fifth decennial Aarhus conference, Critical Alternatives, Aarhus, Denmark.

Wiman, Veronica. 2014. Approaching Urban Gardening and Farming: Initiatives by Citizens, Municipalities and Governments. In Podium: FoU-magasin fra Universitetet i Tromsø, Det kunstfaglige fakultet, No. 8: 7–9.


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