Somaesthetically Informed Public Art

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Urban Interventions (3) SIPA
Urban Interventions (3) SIPA installation shot one
Urban Interventions (3) SIPA installation shot two

SIPA aims to take ordinary aesthetic experiences from everyday lived environments[1] and transform them into public art interventions that affect the way people think, feel and act.

Somaesthetics was a term first coined by contemporary American philosopher Richard Shusterman who used it to define ways in which ‘an experience’ is felt by an individual; whilst at the same time making no distinction between the body and the mind as to how that experience is felt.[2]

Shusterman’s work draws on early 20th Century American philosopher John Dewey’s definition of “an experience” needing to be unified and complete. Dewey says that, ‘we have an experience when the material experienced runs its course to fulfillment….a game is played through…a situation it is so rounded out that its close is a consummation…Such an experience is a whole…An experience has a unity that gives it it’s name, that meal, that storm…The existence of this unity is constituted by a single quality that pervades the entire experience in spite of the variation of its constituent parts.’[3]

However Shusterman also expands Dewey’s definition of “an experience” to include fragmentation & reflection. Shusterman asserts his position stating that, ‘It is… rash…to presume that what I mean by aesthetic experience is simply “the [Deweyan] sort of experience that connotes an immediate , qualitative whole” …I insist…on the existence… of aesthetic experiences of fragmentation …’[4]

Aesthetic philosopher Sherri Irvin also expands Dewey’s term of reference that “an experience” must be consciously undergone. Irvin does this by arguing against Dewey’s definition that for “an experience” to occur, ‘the action and its consequence must be joined in perception.’[5] Instead Irvin argues that aesthetically felt experiences should include events that occur in the twilight of consciousness, ‘But there is also the matter of those aspects of experience that remain in the twilight of consciousness; one is vaguely aware of them, but they are not vividly present within ones experience. This lack of vividness might be thought to disqualify the experience from having an aesthetic character. I submit, though, that there is no such disqualifying effect; indeed, the position of an aspect of experience on the spectrum between full attention and vague awareness may be part of the experiences aesthetic character. [6]

SIPA draws on both the Deweyan traditional as well as the expanded definitions of “an experience” such as fragmentation, reflection & events that occur in the twilight of consciousness; as a method of tapping into experiences that contain powerful human values.[7]

SIPA then takes the value laden somaesthetically felt experience; and translates it into a piece of art with an instrumental value that attempts to affect the way people think, feel and act.

The first SIPA installation -“Urban Interventions 3’[8] - was carried out in 2015 by Black Cube Collective[9] & Gayfield Creative Spaces[10] in collaboration with word artist Ed Hadfield.[11] This installation was informed by Urban Interventions (1)[12] and Urban Interventions (2).[13] Urban Interventions (3) builds on research by artist Ed Hadfield.[14]

The SIPA installation work might also be said to have some historical resonance with the work of the Situationists and particularly the early Situationist International, which was concerned with breaking out of everyday capitalist routines. They were interested in urban planning and architecture going on ‘derives’, or wanderings throughout the city, experiencing the urban environment in a new way, and recording their findings and experiences. They took to “[t]he study of the specific effects of the geographical environment (whether consciously organized or not) on the emotions and behavior of individuals,” [15] which they termed ‘psychogeography’ defined by Guy Debord, author of The Society of the Spectacle, as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment…and behavior of individuals.” A more apposite SI definition with regard to SIPA might be understood as a “toybox full of playful inventive strategies for exploring cities…that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.” [16]

For SIPA the inventive strategy of the street sign is the way in which it plays within the arena of sentiment and emotional aesthetics[17] to create connotations[18] that resonate on a personal inter-subjective level[19]. As a pedestrian reflects on the sign in relation to their own world, a new aesthetically felt experience emerges in its own right, providing possible avenues for further thoughts and actions within the urban environment.

Black Cube Collective was set up in 2012 by Ronald Binnie[20] and Svetlana Kondkova[21] to provide a platform for emerging artists. Gayfield Creative Spaces was formed in 2001 by Dr John Ennis[22] to promote the cross over between art, design and well-being.


[1] Everyday Aesthetics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:

[2] Shusterman, R (2000) Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty Rethinking Art, Rowman & Littlefield

[3] Dewey, J. (2008) John Dewey the Later Works, 1925-1953: 1935/Art As Experience, Vol. 10. 2nd Edition. pp. 42 – 44 Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press

[4] Shusterman, R (2004) Complexities of Aesthetic Experience: Response to Johnston. The Journal of Aesthetic Education [Internet]. Vol.38 (4) pp109 – 110. Available at:

[5] Dewey, J. (1980) Art as Experience. [Internet]. New York: Perigee. p.44 Available from Scribd

[6] Irvin, S. (2008a) The Pervasiveness of the Aesthetic in Ordinary Experience, British Journal of Aestheticsm [Internet] Vol 48, (1) Jan 2008 pp.29 – 44. Available from

[7] Irvin, S. (2008a) The Pervasiveness of the Aesthetic in Ordinary Experience, British Journal of Aestheticsm [Internet] Vol 48, (1) Jan 2008 pp.29 – 44. Available from

[8] Hadfield, E (2015)






[14] Hadfield, E (2015), Research: Pursuing aesthetically felt experiences containing human values, and turning them into art objects that have experiential and instrumental value for the perceiver, through an examination of John Dewey’s key text ‘Art As Experience.’



[17] Foster, H (2010) Seriously Playful, in Barbara Kruger, New York: Rizzoli International Publications

[18] Langer, S. (1942) Philosophy in a New Key. A study in the symbolism of reason, rite and art. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press

[19] Percy, W. (1975) The Symbolic Structure of Interpersonal Process in The Message in the bottle: how queer man is, how queer language is, and what one has to do with another. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux