The Shadow Database: Activism, Art, and Aspiration within Urban Regeneration

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Tom Keene


This visual essay presents Database (E)state, which is an artist and activist-led PhD research project that explores the role of relational databases in processes of urban regeneration. The essay addresses the proposed demolition of Cressingham Gardens Estate by Lambeth Borough Council, in South West London, in the UK. By depicting the problems associated with accessing, comprehending, and creating a resident-controlled ‘Shadow Database’ of Lambeth’s databases systems, the essay points to the material, ethical, and political implications of database technologies in residents' lives. This articulation draws from art practice, philosophical theories derived from Gilbert Simondon and Michel Foucault, and also histories of database technologies. The act of creating the Shadow Database, therefore, combines theory, art, and activism as a means to make human and technical components of Lambeth’s databases more accountable to residents.

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