Phantom Railings


Site Specific Interactive Acoustic Installation
Malet Street Gardens, Bloomsbury, London

Phantom Railings was a project triggered by the discussion of gated gardens and the control of public city space in LondonThe work was an interactive sound piece that recreated the absence of the original railings of a garden in central London, which were removed during the 1940s.

The installation recalls a particular episode in London’s social (and spatial) history: the removal of railings from London’s private squares as part of the war effort, the subsequent ‘democratisation’ of green space in the city centre, and the ruling decision to reinstate fences in the newly accesible public spaces.

Between 2012 and 2014, Phantom Railings was installed in Malet Street Gardens, a garden whose railings where removed during the war and, unusually, never replaced, leaving a line of iron stumps along the surrounding wall.

Using sensor-based acoustic devices, the installation, traced the movement of pedestrians and translated it into the familiar sound produced by running a stick along an iron fence. The pitch of each railing’s sound was set to vary according to the pedestrian’s speed and proximity, allowing the piece to be ´played´ as desired. The music produced by this urban instrument was captured as a real-time audio-visual score and streamed live through the project´s website (

A 20 minute score produced by 11 dancers playing the Phantom Railings can be accessed here:


By bringing visibility to the absent railings of Malet Street Gardens, the installation aimed to discuss accessibility and the control of urban public space by promoting a critical awareness of the social (and spatial) history of the city.

Outsider: Public Art and the Politics of the English Garden Square, published by common-edition in 2015, is a book that documents the performance of the Phantom Railings and discusses further the project´s relation to the histories and politics of the English Garden Square. Outsider has contributions by Jeremy Deller and the landscape architect and historian Todd Longstaffe-Gowan.


Catalina Pollak Williamson in collaboration with: Adrian Godwin, Guillaume Zenses, Steve Kelly, Nathanael Price, Bartira Sena, Ken Boak, Daniel Soltis, Debbie Davis.

The project was supported by the Centre of Creative Collaboration -C4CC, University of London.

More information about the project can be found at:



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