msdm a nomadic house-studio-gallery for photographic art and curatorial research, an expanded practice of the artist's book, photobook publishing and peer-to-peer collaboration created by contemporary artist paula roush

msdm House-Studio-Gallery (detail)



mobile strategies of display & mediation ]msdm[
as artistic practice 

Note: In discussing the diverse mobilities and creative practices of artists, we transition between an observational perspective ('they') and a collective voice ('we'), inviting all who engage with this manifesto to see ourselves as part of a shared journey towards transformative artistic practice.

I. Mobile Strategies as Intuitive Intricacies 

mobile strategies of display & mediation ]msdm[ is an intuitive artistic approach that originates from specific sites or locations, setting in motion a series of deliberate actions and movements. Rooted in the dynamic interplay between artists and their surroundings, ]msdm[  involves a responsive engagement with the diverse mobilities that shape contemporary creative practices. These mobilities encompass a wide spectrum, ranging from the global flows of migration to the local intricacies of available creative spaces. In essence, ]msdm[ embodies a fluid and adaptable methodology, harnessing the potential of mobility to inspire artistic expression and foster deeper connections between artists and their environments. As a multifaceted artistic concept, ]msdm[ presents an exploration into the intersection of movement, creativity, and the spaces we inhabit.

Emergence from Specific Locations 

The mobile strategies of display & mediation ]msdm[ find their genesis in the unique characteristics of specific locations and sites. As artists immerse themselves in these environments, a dynamic interplay unfolds, where the intrinsic qualities of the place evoke a responsive and creative engagement. The distinctiveness of each location triggers various mobilities within artists' work - both physical and conceptual. Physical mobilities may involve exploring the architectural features, spatial configurations, and tangible elements that influence artistic practice. At the same time, conceptual mobilities are set in motion, as artists respond to the historical, social, and cultural narratives embedded within the space. Thus, the emergence of mobile strategies from specific locations becomes a catalyst for artists to navigate a vast realm of creative possibilities, transforming our experiences and reflections into artwork.

Commitment to Place-Based Research and Decolonial, Hydrofeminist Approaches

In the pursuit of a deeper understanding and engagement with the world around us, msdm is committed to place-based research, underscored by a decolonial and hydrofeminist approach. This commitment positions us to offer valuable insights into the processes of migration, adaptation, and change, illuminating the paths towards a more equitable and ecologically just future. Through both artistic and scholarly exploration, msdm seeks to make visible the flows and fluxes that define our world, embracing the complexities of our entangled existences. Our work is a testament to the power of art to not only reflect but also challenge and transform our understanding of space, place, and identity in a glocalised world. By integrating these approaches, msdm contributes to a broader discourse on sustainability, equity, and the role of art in societal transformation.

Triggering Mobilities for Artists

The "new mobilities paradigm" has ushered in a paradigm shift in the way artists perceive and engage with their practices. Drawing insights from Kaya Barry and Joni Keane's work on ‘Creative Measures of the Anthropocene,’ this paradigm highlights the profound influence of contemporary mobilities on artistic expression. With the world becoming increasingly polarised, artists find themselves navigating a contested landscape of global mobility and environmental challenges. Whilst the notion of mobility transcends geographical boundaries, enabling artists to draw inspiration from diverse cultures and experiences, the "new mobilities paradigm" prompts artists to critically examine the relationship of restrictions to human mobility to the environment, fostering a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness between creative practices and the Ecocene. As artists grapple with the complexities of the contemporary migration, this paradigm encourages us to explore innovative ways of engagement, responding to the ever-changing tapestry of mobilities or lack of that shape our artistic and environmental narratives.


II. Exploring the Entanglement of Artists' Mobilities

Artists' mobilities are intricately entangled with a multitude of multi-scalar mobilities, forming a complex web of influences that shape our creative journeys. At the individual level, artists' personal mobilities, such as their movement across cities or countries, bring about diverse perspectives and cultural encounters that enrich our artistic practices. These individual mobilities intersect with broader socio-economic and political mobilities, where obstacles to global flows of people, ideas, and resources impact artistic expression. Any restrictions to the exchange of artistic knowledge and techniques across borders fosters impediments to the global artistic community, transcending geographical boundaries and threatening a vibrant cross-pollination of ideas.

Artists' Mobilities and Multi-Scalar Influences

Furthermore, artists' mobilities are also intricately connected with multi-scalar influences on various levels. At the local scale, the availability of creative spaces plays a pivotal role in shaping artists' practices. The ebb and flow of artists seeking studio spaces in urban areas often become influenced by gentrification trends, which can lead to both the scarcity and inflation of suitable locations for artistic endeavours. The dearth of affordable studio spaces can push artists to seek alternative locations, resulting in the emergence of vibrant artistic communities in previously overlooked neighbourhoods. Conversely, the saturation of artists in specific areas may stimulate creative competition and foster unique collaborations, resulting in a distinct artistic identity for that locale. Additionally, artists' practices are entwined with the architectural mobility of spaces that accommodate large works, installations, and projects responding to the site's materials. This multi-scalar entanglement influences the trajectory of artists' creativity, where the availability and adaptability of spaces shape the breadth and depth of our artistic explorations.

Influence of International Migration and Local Creative Spaces

International migration plays a transformative role in artists' practices, as artists who navigate the complex web of legal and political permissions are able to traverse borders, engaging with diverse cultures and artistic practices. The ability to move across borders is contingent upon navigating legal and political frameworks, which directly impacts artists' opportunities for cultural exchange and collaboration. However, the prevailing tight borders and conservative restrictions on migrants, including cultural workers, represent a status quo that stifles the free flow of creative ideas and cultural dialogues. These barriers not only limit the potential for artistic innovation but also undermine the rich contributions of cultural workers to glocal narratives. Challenging these restrictions through both practice and discourse is essential, as it advocates for a more open, inclusive, and dynamic environment where art can truly flourish and reflect the multiplicity of human experiences. By confronting and questioning these boundaries, we reaffirm the role of art as a critical catalyst for social change and cultural understanding, pushing against the constraints that seek to confine the creative spirit.

The experience of migration infuses our work with fresh perspectives, intercultural dialogues, and a sense of belonging to a broader glocal community. Moreover, migration can lead to the formation of diasporic art scenes, where artists from different backgrounds converge and create new artistic expressions that are reflective of our hybrid identities. On the other hand, the availability of local creative spaces can significantly impact artists' practices on a day-to-day basis. The presence of vibrant artistic hubs, such as galleries, studios, and art centres, fosters a supportive environment for experimentation and collaboration. Conversely, the lack of accessible creative spaces can present challenges for artists, affecting our ability to produce, showcase, and engage with our work and audience. The relationship between artists' mobilities and the dynamic interplay of international migration and the local creative landscape defines the intricate tapestry of contemporary artistic practices.


III. Mobilising Mobile Strategies in Creative Space Making

Mobile strategies of display & mediation ]msdm[ find a natural and compelling application in the context of vacancy, where abandoned or underutilised spaces become the canvas for artistic exploration. When artists engage with vacant buildings, we trigger a series of mobile strategies that respond to the unique characteristics of these spaces. The emptiness and historical residues of such locations inspire artists to creatively inhabit and activate these neglected environments. By utilising mobile strategies, artists breathe life into these vacant spaces, transforming them into vibrant hubs of artistic expression. The juxtaposition of contemporary artistic interventions within the backdrop of the abandoned architecture engenders a thought-provoking dialogue between the past and present, unveiling the hidden potential and evocative narratives residing in these vacated structures.

Interrelation of Artists' Mobilities and Architectural-Scale Mobilities

The mobilisation of mobile strategies in creative space-making establishes a significant interrelation between artists' mobilities and architectural-scale mobilities. Gentrification, for instance, can influence artists' choices of location for studio practice. As urban neighbourhoods undergo gentrification, artists may experience shifts in access to affordable spaces, leading them to explore alternative areas with creative potential. This process can, in turn, contribute to the revitalisation of previously neglected urban pockets, as artists infuse these spaces with their creative energy, contributing to a renewed sense of community and identity. Moreover, the availability of architectural typologies that accommodate large works, installations, and site-responsive projects directly impacts artists' artistic outputs. The flexibility and adaptability of spaces play a pivotal role in facilitating the realisation of innovative and ambitious artistic visions.

Influence of Architectural Typologies on Artists' Works

Architectural typologies exert a profound influence on the form and expression of artists' works, particularly in the realm of installation and site-responsive projects. The spatial characteristics of a vacant building, such as its layout, lighting conditions, and acoustic properties, inspire artists to design site-specific installations that engage with the space's unique features. Abandoned industrial sites, for example, may inspire artworks that echo the history of labour and industry, while disused churches may prompt artistic explorations of spirituality and memory. The interaction between artists' creativity and architectural typologies generates a symbiotic relationship, where the spaces both inform and become intrinsic elements of the artwork. By embracing and manipulating the affordances of vacant buildings, artists forge an immersive artistic experience that resonates with the audience and contributes to the transformation of vacant spaces into artistic sanctuaries.


IV. The Potential of Mobile Strategies in Response to Spatialities

Versatile Artistic Approach of Mobile Strategies

The artistic approach of mobile strategies is exceptionally versatile, capable of responding to a myriad of spatial contexts. Whether it be vacant buildings, urban landscapes, natural environments, or cultural heritage sites, mobile strategies empower artists to navigate and engage with diverse spatial realities. The fluidity of this approach allows artists to adapt their creative practices to the unique affordances and challenges presented by different spaces. Mobile strategies open up endless possibilities for artists to experiment, collaborate, and reimagine the relationships between artistic practice and spatiality. Whether transforming derelict structures into immersive installations or interacting with the natural world through site-specific performance, the adaptability of mobile strategies enables artists to shape their artistic narratives in harmony with the environment we inhabit.

Ecological Psychology and Vacant Buildings as Resource-Rich Spaces

The application of the concept of affordances from ecological psychology, as exemplified by RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture Art Affordances in Vacancy Studies), unveils the untapped potential of vacant buildings as resource-rich spaces. Affordances refer to the potential actions and opportunities that the environment offers to individuals. In the context of vacant buildings, these spaces are reimagined as abundant "nests" of resources, presenting a wealth of opportunities for artistic exploration. Artists are not confined by traditional constraints but are inspired to creatively engage with the materials, histories, and spatial arrangements of these abandoned structures. This perspective shifts the perception of vacancy from mere emptiness to an enigmatic reservoir of creative possibilities, where artists can unlock the latent potential of these forgotten spaces and transform them into thriving hubs of artistic expression.

Significance of Considering Vacant Sites as Resource-Rich "Nests"

Recognising vacant sites as "nests" of resources holds profound implications for social, cultural, and economic aspects. From a social standpoint, this perspective challenges the stigma associated with abandoned spaces, encouraging communities to view these sites as potential catalysts for creative renewal and community engagement. Embracing the artistic potential of vacant buildings can revitalise neglected neighbourhoods, fostering a sense of pride and belonging among residents. Culturally, these resource-rich spaces become platforms for artists to weave narratives that reflect the collective memory and identity of a place, thereby preserving and reinterpreting its cultural heritage. Moreover, the transformation of vacant buildings into vibrant artistic spaces can fuel economic growth by attracting creative industries, tourism, and investment, breathing new life into local economies. Ultimately, considering vacant buildings as "nests" of resources reshapes our understanding of the relationship between art, architecture, and society, spotlighting the transformative power of mobile strategies in unlocking the dormant potential of our built environment.


IV. Specific ]msdm[ Projects Employing Mobile Strategies in Vacant Buildings

]msdm[ projects demonstrate the application of mobile strategies in transforming vacant buildings into artistic spaces. ]msdm[ started as a collective art platform and developed through the gentrification that displaced many creatives out of London. In 2015, due to the lack of affordable studio space, msdm began occupying vacant buildings and converting them into a model of House-Studio-Gallery defined by a triple purpose of living, making, and sharing. These buildings include a late 19th-century industrial warehouse previously used for self-storage, a warehouse unit that had been a printer's workshop in the 1980s, a 1940s art deco electricity showroom that had also served as the UK border agency offices in the 1990s, and currently, a community day centre with its own nursery and photographic dark-room facilities. Despite undergoing a gentrification cycle that often leads to their demolition, these buildings possess a remarkable industrial heritage with an emotional resonance that inspires a continuous flow of creative output.

In Building #1, located in Whitechapel, the project 'Evidencing the East End' featured an installation that eloquently explored the site's cultural history, immersing viewers in an experience that combined fact and fiction, juxtaposing contemporary Whitechapel with a staged 1888 version of the crimes that led to its mystification as the gothic east end. Simultaneously, the artist's book titled 'Blackchapel Woundings' served as an evocative documentation of the project's process and outcomes, preserving the narrative for future reflection.

Building #2, nestled in Bow Locks/Lea Valley, witnessed the 'Flora McCallica' installation, where botanical elements intertwined with industrial remnants, offering a contemplative fusion of nature and urbanity. The artist's book, 'Decomposition,' encapsulated the journey of transformation, capturing the essence of the site's ecological flux.

In Croydon's Building #3, 'Electric Kabbalah' materialized as a photo-based installation, delving into the mystical aspects of the Kabbalah tradition within an architectural context. The accompanying book delved into the spiritual significance of the project, engaging in a profound exploration of metaphysical themes.

Finally, Building #4 in Woolwich hosted the 'Domenest' installation, an artistic endeavor that reimagined the archive of the house-studio in a gallery setting. The publication 'News from Nowhere Lockdown' mirrored the zeitgeist of the pandemic, utilizing AI features incorporated into photographic software to represent surveillance during an unprecedented period."


V. Specific ]msdm[ Projects Employing Mobile Strategies in contested sites

Adding to these explorations, msdm has embarked on projects that delve into the essence of watery places and the practice of wateryquery, further expanding our artistic and research into contested sites.

'Liquid Memories' began with the “situated waters” of the Douro River and Pasteleira reservoir park, in the city of Porto, Portugal. Taking its title from the liquid memories workshop, explores the fluidity of memory and place through the lens of water, engaging with bodies of water as living archives that embody histories, cultures, and ecological transformations. The first bloc of works, ‘WATER STATIONS,’ was developed in a workshop with a group of Porto-based artists and photographers. Water samples collected from a local water treatment plant were used to soak photographic collections, unleashing water’s archival materialities. This process not only highlighted water's role in shaping and reflecting our collective memories and identities but also explored its capacity to transform and reveal new narratives within the photographic medium. The second bloc of works, ‘WATER STORIES,’ was activated through a mass zoom live editing lab and an open call for further collaborations, extending the project's reach beyond Porto to include waters far afield such as Iceland, the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores archipelago, Africa, and Mariana, Minas Gerais, Brasil. This phase of the project fostered a global dialogue on water's significance across different cultures and environments, inviting participants to share their unique water stories and experiences.

'Follow Y/Our River' project began as an artist's residency tracing the River Lea from its source to its confluence with the Thames at Canning Town (London, UK). This journey aims to explore the intersection of ecological awareness, personal development, and research-creation as it relates to riverine environments. "Follow Y/Our River" combines place-based research with the practice of wateryquery to trace the social, cultural, and ecological narratives of the River Lea. Emphasizing the relational dynamics between humans and water, the project encourages a symbiotic interaction that respects and learns from the natural world. Through a series of site-specific interventions and collaborative artworks along the River Lea, 'Follow Y/Our River' highlights the river as a source of inspiration, challenge, and transformation, urging us to consider our impact on and responsibility to these essential watercourses.

Both 'Liquid Memories' and 'Follow Y/Our River' exemplify msdm's commitment to engaging with watery places through artistic and scholarly inquiry. These projects not only expand our understanding of mobile strategies in creative space-making but also underscore the importance of water in constructing narratives of place, memory, and belonging. By focusing on watery places and employing wateryquery, msdm continues to explore the potential of art to mediate our relationship with the vacant environment, advocating for a more equitable and ecologically just future.

Mobile Strategies as Artistic and Research Tools in the Context of Vacancy

These ]msdm[ projects showcase the immense potential of mobile strategies as both artistic and research tools in the context of vacancy art practice. By employing mobile strategies, artists can dynamically engage with the unique characteristics of each vacant building, eliciting thought-provoking experiences that transcend the conventional boundaries of artistic expression. The flexibility of mobile strategies allows artists to adapt their creative practice to the specificity of the site, creating installations and artwork that resonate with the history, atmosphere, and aura of the abandoned spaces. Moreover, the accompanying artist's books and publications act as invaluable research tools, offering insights into the artistic process, conceptual underpinnings, and contextual significance of each project. These documentation pieces serve as a bridge between the artistic practice and its impact on the environment and the audience. In essence, mobile strategies not only empower artists to create transformative works of art but also enable a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between art, space, and the collective consciousness. As artists mobilise their creative prowess in response to vacancy, we transcend mere visual representation, transforming vacant buildings into dynamic hubs of creativity and cultural exploration.


Join Us in Shaping the Future

As we stand at the confluence of art, mobility, and social transformation, ]msdm[ invites you to join us in this journey of exploration and innovation. Our manifesto is more than a declaration; it is an invitation to artists, thinkers, activists, and communities to engage with us in challenging the status quo, reimagining the potential of spaces, and co-creating narratives of change and resilience.

We call upon you to bring your unique perspectives, creativity, and voices to this collective endeavor. Whether through artistic collaboration, scholarly research, or community engagement, your contribution is vital to expanding the horizons of what we can achieve together. Let us unite in our quest to make visible the invisible, to give voice to the silenced, and to transform the vacant and overlooked into vibrant hubs of creativity and cultural exchange.

In embracing the fluidity of mobile strategies, the depth of place-based research, and the commitment to decolonial and hydrofeminist approaches, we forge a path toward a more equitable and ecologically just future. This is a journey of collective action and shared vision, where art becomes a powerful tool for societal transformation.

Join ]msdm[ in redefining the boundaries of artistic practice, in advocating for the free flow of ideas and cultures, and in creating spaces where art and activism converge. Together, we can shape a future that reflects the multiplicity of human experiences and the boundless potential of creative collaboration.

Let's mobilise, innovate, and transform. The future is ours to create.






paula roush   :::
msdm studio :::