La sémiotique urbaine est bien plus qu’une exposition.
Il s’agit du projet du fin de cours de neuf étudiants MBA in Contemporary Art : sales, display & collecting à l’Institut d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts.
Le programme du Master offre une spécialisation dans la Gestion des Arts et de la Culture et il donne une expérience directe avec l’industrie de l’art.
L’équipe, représentée par cinq différentes nationalités, s’est réunie pour concevoir l’exposition depuis le début jusqu’à la fin du projet.
Urban Semiotics is more than an exhibition. It is the graduation project of nine MBA students at IESA (Institut d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts). The Masters program specializes in Arts & Cultural Management and provides first-hand experience of the art industry..The team, consisting of five different nationalities, come together to mount the exhibition from beginning to end. The theme of the project explores the complex relationship between human beings and cities. This is often reflected not only in the dynamic urban structure of the people’s daily lives, but also in the society as a whole. Each city has its unique architecture, art, monuments, and traditions that throughout the years, they form the city’s culture. The medium of the artworks displayed is various, and ranges from videos to drawings.
The project will developed in 2 parts:

An exhibition : physical project

A curatorial plateforme: online content


Cities are an embodiment of the collective experience of the people who lives in it.There is an individual personality and a larger societal ideology that marks the character of our surroundings. In this mesh of modern jungle, individuals are the smallest units that make up the large structure. Bourdieu was very much aware of this distinction and realised the difference between the realities that exist inside and outside an individual, yet they had to be in relation as they formed the two dimensions of the larger societal experience. [1]

Urban Semiotics [2] is an attempt to convey how the self interacts with the city. This brings with it various struggles and conflicts and how this tug of war results in this urban structure we live in. It is even reflected in its architecture, in its music and the art the city produces: its cultural development. Through the years, the perception of our cities forms and reforms into a narrative construct that eventually becomes an underlying entity only to be experienced through its culture. Allowing our cities to develop this anthropomorphic quality to it. Peeping through this experiential lens, we look at urbanity that goes beyond the physical construct of a city and encompasses its historical and socio-political reality. A reality that is described by Foucault as lying at the intersection of utopia and heterotopia [3] .

Questioning the larger concept of space, he highlights the age-old distribution of space:

sacred / profane; urban / rural; open / closed. Our fluid movement between these 4 permeable boundaries allows us to build a larger reality for ourselves. These heterotopias exist between the real and the unreal. The existence of our collective memory in a juncture where spaces might mean differently to different people and communities. Multiple realities can coexist and in these seemingly unreal realities, we bring together various forms and ideas that otherwise could not have coexisted. From the smallest cohabitational space of a bed in our rooms to a larger city, space allows us a moment of ponderance, a state of reflection that can somehow be lost in the larger struggle.

The Exhibition

The aim of the exhibition is to question the actions, reactions and ponder on the inactions that define our daily lives. Pietro Ballero’s works question a society that acts as a silent witness becoming complicit in travesties of our community. His artwork Greetings from Venice – Il peso morto della storia[ 4] (2018) marks the one year anniversary of the death of a 22 year old man, Pateh Sabally, who had escaped from Gambia and killed himself by drowning in the Grand Canal in Venice. Drawing from Antonio Gramsci’s book Gli Indifferenti ( 1929), Ballero comments on the fickle and indifferent attitude of people who watched Sabally drown himself and instead of saving his life, recorded videos to be fed to the masses online social network. By rewriting the contemptuous comments found on this video online, the artist has provided collective imagery of a vacation in Venice weaving a narrative of a tragedy too heavy to ignore. In another artwork using a similar ubiquitous article, Bellero has used receipts from supermarkets and shops to offer us an insight into everyday life in a city. On a closer examination, one can almost see a pattern forming of our binging consumerist attitude.The artist started this campaign online on his social media platform commenting on the mass consumption proliferated by social media . 

In contrast to Ballero’s fast-moving consumerist world and social consequences, the artists collective Domenico Mangano and Marieke Van Rooy focus on a more subtle but persistent polarisation between the healthy and the mentally illness?. Legacy of the Dilution Project (1970s), a long-term artistic research project revolving around the subject of anti-psychiatry and the democratic movement in the Netherlands in the 1970s , the artist duo have reinterpreted through various drawings and videos. Homestead of Dilution, (2016) takes a look at the Dannendal affair where Carl Muller used the principles of ‘antipsychiatry’ and created a more open and free environment for the intellectually disabled. The artists question the ‘normal’ and the ‘abnormal’ stipulated by society and how the city accepts and engages with them. The project was called ‘dilution’ to reflect the act of adding ‘normalcy’ to the ‘craziness’. However, this experiment ended four years after it began. Homestead of Dilution links this history with the present-day state of mental healthcare in the Netherlands. [5]

Through the works of Pan Wei we continue the theme of polarising societies. Pan Wei uses a traditional Chinese Rock Bonsai to illustrate the massive economic divide of our times.

[1] Swartz, D. (1997). Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu . Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

[2] Urban semiotics is the study of meaning in urban form as generated by signs, symbols, and their social


[3] Foucault, M. (1984). Des espaces autres. Hétérotopies. Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité , 5 , 46–49.

Retrieved from

[4] This is part of the phrase taken from Anonio Gramsci’s Gli Indifferenti . The complete phrase is L'indifferenza è il peso morto della storia (Indifference is the dead weight of history)

[5] HOMESTEAD OF DILUTION, 2016, HD video 48'. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Artist list

PAN Wei (Julian)

Pietro Ballero

The curatorial platform

Mediation program

Community Collaboration

Through this project, we wish to further public engagement and establish a dialogue that allows us to get a reaction from our community. The outreach and mediation programme designed would be to collaborate with the Agency for Artist in Exile (TBC), based in that serve the needs of refugee artists and help them according to their needs. The Agency provides artists with studio spaces and puts them in touch with their network that helps them restructure their art practices.

The Walk Moving beyond the physical spaces, our aim is to establish a permeable platform that allows a free flow of creativity. Incorporating elements of our city, street art, in many ways proves to be unique yet the most egalitarian medium of expression. Urban art or street art took roots in Paris in the 1980s with the rise of hip-hop in New York and then in Paris. Initially associated with gang tags and vandalism, street art transformed into a creative reaction of society, an open canvas depicting the socio-political realities of the city. Through a curated walk, we would be able to highlight some of the characteristic works by this city’s street artists, understand how they perceived their surroundings and the city as a whole. Beginning from our immediate setting, arrondissement 11 has some of the most striking street art that one gets to witness in Paris. From the ‘le mur’ at the corner of rue Oberkampf and rue St Maur where you can watch the artists in action almost twice a month to the hidden gems spread across to Belleville, Urban Art is the an excellent example of the way the city itself can be a work of art, taken out of strict museum settings and brought among its people, understood as a social…. Street art also brings into focus the larger question of space and how we engage with it.


With respect to our visitors, we have developed an interactive experiment in the exhibition. We would request our participants by putting a tag with the name of their city on the map of Paris. The end result would be a beautiful holistic view of the city of Paris and people who live in it. Through this social experiment, we wish to project the essence of the city and the various global influences that make up its unique character. Digital Outreach (tbc)

The organizers are reachable via:


Contact details IESA:

1 Cité Griset, 75011 Paris, France