Spectral Traces: Film screening, discussion & exhibition



It is perhaps a good place to start this blog post by acknowledging a long period of absence from this medium. States of Vacancy was set up as a space to explore issues, ideas and directions I was encountering through-out my practice-led PhD artistic research project, however the rigours of bringing to completion an ambitious and complex project that included writing up a dissertation and constructing a feature-length documentary film dictated that the blog would remain a lesser priority.  Anyone who has done a PhD or has been around a loved one doing a PhD will know the extent to which it completely consumes your life – indeed at times I felt like doing one is akin to suffering from a mental illness, if that is not too hyperbolic. Nevertheless, the film is now finished, all writing and practice is submitted, I have been conferred with my doctorate, and can now move on to the business of putting my film and research out into the world.


On that note, I would like to draw your attention to an event that takes place in Manchester on July 3rd called Spectral Traces: Absent Presence, Ruins and Ghost Spaces.  As the title might suggest, the event is an exploration of the growing artistic and academic interest in ruinous spaces, the effects of post-industrial and failed speculative development on our built-environment, and the notion of the absent presence that haunts the many abandoned structures and spaces created by shifts in global economic development. Whilst there remains an abundance of scholarly research that confronts the profound disruptive sociological and geographic effects the neoliberal model of economic development, I feel there remains a paucity of work that examines our sense of place in relation to macro-economic and political forces. Both of the research projects featured in Spectral Traces attempt to redress this balance by focusing to varying degrees on the notion of ‘home’ as a most intimate place that can tell us a lot about the relationship between place and space, and how our experience of home is shaped by uneven economic development and the failure of neoliberal policies.


In Manchester to present her fascinating research into affect, absent presence and ghost cities is Dr. Christina Lee (Curtin University, Australia), editor of the brilliant recently published Spectral Spaces and Hauntings: The Affects of Absence (New York: Routledge, 2017). In her paper, Christina discusses her hometown of Goldsworthy, a remote mining town in Western Australia, which was bulldozed after it ran out of iron ore. Christina visited the site about 20 years after it disappeared from the maps, and describes the very odd experience of the erasure of place, the displacement of a sense of home, and the interplay of memory and the absent presences in the (now disappeared) built environment. She relates this experience to research she conducted into ghost cities in Inner Mongolia. Focusing on the city of Ordos Kangbashi, Christina describes how the sheer scale of buildings and public infrastructures built in anticipation of mass migration to these cities dwarves the actual population, creating large-scale urban vacancy, steadily deteriorating new ruins, and a strange dissonance between the built environment and the people who inhabit it. Christina’s presentation will be accompanied by a small photographic exhibit documenting her experience of these ghost cities, and there will be a Q&A session with Christina.




Spectral Traces will also feature the U.K. premiere of A Place Where Ghosts Dwell (2017), an essay-film that explores the relationship between a marginalized place and its vacant spaces in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. The film results from 4 years of research in my hometown of Longford; one of the places that suffered disproportionally as a site of what became popularly known as ghost estates – or unfinished housing estates. Filmed principally in 2015 in and around Longford town, the film not only ventures through the strange, eerie and haunted environs of unfinished houses and vacant commercial ghost developments  but furthermore questions why Longford has historically, economically and socially become marginalized, using the place a as vehicle for understanding inequality, uneven development, and positive social change in Ireland. ‘A Place Where Ghosts Dwell’ employs an innovative narrative structure that emerges essayist approaches with ethnographic film and highly stylized video-reflexive techniques to produce a film that celebrates the creativity of a small, dismissed place and the otherworldliness of its abandoned, ruinous spaces.  The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with yours truly.


I am not going to venture much detail of the film and exigencies of the research in this post, as now that I have re-animated this blog space I hope in the coming weeks to disseminate my research and give the reader a wider sense of my methods, findings and theoretical framework. However, if you are interested please watch this space and I would be delighted to see you on the 3rd July if you wandering Manchester’s environs.


To book a free place at Spectral Traces visit:



For further updates on the film and future events see: For further updates on the film and future events see:







1 thought on “Spectral Traces: Film screening, discussion & exhibition

  1. Bernard Canavan

    Hi Patrick
    I dont have an email, or a telephone number for you, by which I can send a message. I think all the existing ones I have you no longer use.

    But I just wanted to send you this reference about a Longford woman that you may not know about, and which represent the old Catholic macho position which led to physical force politics in Ireland and led us to do our thinking in heaven, while being condemned to do our living on the earth.
    Forgive me if you know this work already, but I didn’t see it in the bibliography of your thesis. It is about a woman called Hanna Greally from Athlone, who was incarcerated in St Loman’s Asylum, a place I remember often hearing adults referring to in hushed tones as a boy. I know that both of these midland towns are outside your remit, but st Loman’s was the institution that catered for County Longford, and I vividly remember it as a child in Edgeworthstown as a place that many locals, particularly women, were sent to for ‘awkward’ behaviour, often to do more to do with morality than medicine. Hanna Greally has left quite a strong literary account of her twenty years behind its walls from the 1940s to the 1960s, so I thought that you might be interested in it.

    I bought a second hand copy of the book and it has an introduction by Dr Ellis Ward, who is sharply critical of it from within the confines of the psychiatric discipline, but I dont think that quite gets to the root of what Hanna tells us of her experience. I have, since I first came to London in the 1960s when the anti-psychiatric movement was at its height, been interested in the works of people like RD Laing, Goffman, Sartre and others, but this was before Foucault and the Post-Modern world developed. The latter were interested in critiquing power and institutions, while the earlier movement were interested in rationality and human relationships. Anyway, if you can lay hands on it, I think it is worth reading, particularly as it applies to our own small patch of the country.

    Sent from my iPad


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