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An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in London by Nathan Penlington & Sarah Lester

by Sarah Lester and Nathan Penlington


One weekend in the middle of October 1974 the French writer Georges Perec set himself a challenge – to describe everything that happened in place Saint-Sulpice, Paris. Not a record of the buildings or history of the square, but a record of ‘that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens’.

40 years later writers Nathan Penlington and Sarah Lester replicated Perec’s experiment - with a few important similarities and a few significant changes, most notably relocating to a square in London, a small insignificant square in the North East borough of Hackney.

In a major departure from the original protocol this is more than the work of one writer, a collaboration between two observers with differing sensibilities and styles - the overlaps and deviations of the simultaneous accounts underlining the impossibility and futility of the task.

Part documentary, part poetry, part catalogue – An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in London is more than a homage, it is a surprisingly witty, tender exploration of urban life.

Nathan Penlington is a writer and performer. He has featured on BBC Radio 1, 3, 4 and 6 Music, and appears in The Journal of Experimental Literature and the acclaimed anthology Adventures in Form.

Sarah Lester is a writer and former assistant editor at the Journal of Wild Culture. She earned an MA in Anthropology and Cultural Politics at Goldsmiths and is currently working as a Researcher at UCL.