Sunday, 28 February 2010

A Week of Links (20/02/10 - 26/02/10)

I thought I'd start with a photo by Flickr user Tubb who uploaded several cracking shots this week. I couldn't help feeling that there was something dreamlike and surreal about this shot. It's amusing that the cage steals the show from the landscape. I also like the way the low angle makes it look as though the city has been flooded...which leads us perfectly to our first link:
Around London:
God's eye views of the Olympics:
Surveillance (near enough unbelievable what's been reported this week):
Architecture and Infrastructure:
    Art & Photography:
    • Kim Høltermand - Awe inspiring photography in the second instalment of this new series of interviews with architectural photographers - Archinect
    • Urban Legends - Writing and street photography by The Flaneurbanite, a fellow explorer of the Metropolis - via Londonist
    • Sodom & Gomorrah - Infamous biblical cities re-envisioned as an "amusement park for visionaries" by Italian artist Alessandro Bavari  - via WebUrbanist
    Finally some Fun Stuff:

    I hope you enjoyed the links. Please let me know if you have any comments. Many thanks to Flickr user Tubb for licensing use of their photography with Creative Commons.

      Saturday, 27 February 2010

      Architecture for Everyone

      The short documentary above was created by a not-for-profit production company in South London called Chocolate Films. In addition to their commercial work they are notable for their community and educational outreach programme. Their film promotes a partnership between RMJM architects and The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, launched in 2008, and called Architecture for Everyone.

      The film begins by highlighting the need for creative and community based solutions to architectural problems in the inner city where space is at a premium. I particularly liked the climbing wall on top of the sports hall at the Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey. Althought the film focuses on sports architecture in London, the Architecture for Everyone scheme is actually intended to encourage youths from inner city areas across Britain to take an interest in architecture. In doing so the scheme hopes to change those areas "from the inside out" by fostering community links and supporting diversity within the architectural profession as a whole. To help achieve this they have set up a programme of workshops in major cities across the UK. In 2009 they were also able to send six British youngsters to study architecture at Harvard University in the United States.
      Seeing the film I was struck by what a fantastic opportunity this provides for the youngsters and communities involved. For further details you can visit either The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, or Architecture for Everyone who also have their own blog.

      Thursday, 25 February 2010

      Becoming part of the urban furniture...

      The Spanish artist Isaac Cordal has been working on his series entitled 'Cement Eclipses: The human being becomes part of the urban furniture' since 2006. Most recently Isaac has been working in London and Brussels. His motivation for the series derives from a concern over expansive urban land speculation, and a metamorphosis he perceives in the urban dweller who "abandons his role as a citizen", and "confirms his voluntary isolation from nature", by accepting a position alongside the pavements, streets and walls as just another part of the urban furniture. In so doing the urban dweller reduces themselves to a function of that environment.

      Isaac conveys this through the creation of cement figures representing people going about there everyday lives. Cement is used because he believes it most "betrays us in our relationship with the environment that surrounds us". Once a suitable location has been found for his figures Isaac attatches them to the urban surface using an impermanent adhesive material. They are then photographed and left to their "fate". As Isaac describes:
      This can be compared to the graffiti that can be found in the same space, and also share the same fate of being erased, painted over, and so on. Perhaps the next place that this particular work can be discovered is on the shelf of the person who found them, or the figure's fate would finally be to be converted into part of the urban rubble.
      Isaacs photos of his work convey the sense that even when his figures are placed together, they remain isolated and alone. And despite being made of cement, they are no less subject to the vicissitudes of life in the urban environment.

      [Image - Untitled by Isaac Cordal]

      Here is a video of the artist at work:

      Many thanks to Isaac for kindly permitting me to reproduce his photographs of the series on Urban Orienteer. More of Isaacs work can be found on Flickr or on his website.

      [Via Flickr]

      Saturday, 20 February 2010

      A Week of Links (13/02/10 - 19/02/10)

      Around London:
      Art and Architecture:
      Living otherwise:
      Many thanks to Flickr user Art Crimes for licensing use of their photography with Creative Commons.

      Thursday, 18 February 2010

      Watching the Watchers...

      Our first featured film is of an interactive mobile installation designed by a German Artist Raul Mandru. The map itself is based on the findings of the Privacy International global surveillance rankings produced at the end of 2007. It is composed of pictograms symbolising the surveillance issues most relevant to a particular location. The density and size of the pictograms indicate the level of surveillance in that area. For example, you can't fail to miss the giant CCTV pictogram covering the south of England

      The interactive element of the installation comes from the ability to navigated the map by use of a mobile phone. Information on particular locations can be retrieved by clicking on them. However, while the satellite view allows the viewer to assume a certain omniscience and make objective comparisons between different locations, if they click on their own location they find that they themselves are on camera. This demonstrates not only their capture within that system of surveillance, but crucially also their complicity with it. 24 hours after attending the exhibit users receive a message on their mobile phone including a photo of themselves and a log of their activity while navigating the map.

      Originally conceived as part of his degree at the University of Applied Arts in Dortmund, Mandru's installation went on to win several international awards for design including the Red Dot design award in 2008.

      Of the four films that I'm posting today Florian Mondl's is the most recent. It is also the most enigmatic. The title of the film refers to Banksy's 'audacious' Newham Street Post Office mural of 2008. However, I think the real key to the film comes about 45 seconds in with the appearance of the phrase 'Sleepwalk into a Surveillance Society'. I believe this phrase came into currency back in 2004 when the UK's then acting Information Commissioner Richard Thomas commented in the Times on proposals for the National Identity Register (NIR):
      My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society where much more information is collected about people, accessible to far more people shared across many more boundaries than British society would feel comfortable with.
      Watching the film I couldn't help sensing a degree of ambivalence in it, particularly in the juxtaposition between the stark, almost aseptic, environment it portrays, and the dreamlike soundtrack that carries us through. There are cameras everywhere, but barely a person to be seen. Surveilled London is presented as dystopian, and yet somehow captivating. A fantasy perhaps? I'm reminded of the Lacanian sentiment that truth would be structured like a fiction.

      Unfortunately there wasn't much information available about this film online so I decided to try contacting the creator directly. Florian told me that he is currently studying Multimedia Art in Salzburg, Austria and visited London specifically to complete the film. As he explains:
      When I think of Salzburg there are hardly any CCTV cameras besides private cameras for home security. Vienna is a little bit more London-like but far from being a "surveillance city"... up to now.
      London and its unbelievably high concentration of cameras seemed to be the best place to show how wrong it could go.
      Reading this I was reminded of Anna Minton's claims in Ground Control about the differences between British cities and those on mainland Europe. While critics reply that continental cities aren't so great either, Florian's attitude shows us that this is beside the point. To return to Richard Thomas' "anxiety", the fact remains that British Society has accepted a situation that many, both here and abroad, would not feel comfortable with. From this perspective the ambivalence I detected in Florian's portrayal of surveilled London is perfectly understandable. We really only have ourselves to blame. 
      Many thanks to Florian for his kind email. His portfolio should be online shortly.

      The third film in our roundup comes from Studio Smack based in the Netherlands. The focus for their playful satire is the development of smart CCTV systems such as Samurai. In this context they suggest that "artificial intelligence" functions as a euphemistic cover for the more worrying prospect of "artificial judgement". They portray this through the value laden tags applied to each individual 'threat' as they appear on screen. The film ends by gesturing to the absurdities generated by a technologically managed paranoia of this kind. In the attempt to ensure that nothing has been missed, the need to have watchers watching watchers generates the potentially infinite regress that we could associate with the gaze-tracking camera.

      Smack's own Meijdam Antoon (aka Baldy) makes an appearance but is identified from a satellite view only as 'THREAT'. One can only assume that his crimes against the system are too sensitive or varied to be elaborated further. Those wishing to know more about his infamy could start here. I also recommend their award winning film on advertising and consumerism called Kapitaal.

      The final film is a personal favourite. It was created by David Scharf and received first prize in the Emerge and See Festival in Berlin 2007. Though it is the oldest of the bunch it has lost none of its salience: while the faces behind national security may have changed, the arguments they provide are basically the same. Each is dismissed in summary fashion. The format borrows significantly from the scenes in either the TV or Film adaptations of Douglas Adams' novel The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy where protagonist Arthur Dent consults the guide. I particularly enjoyed the dry delivery of Stephen Taylor's voice over. Despite the film's humorous approach it ends with a serious message:
      We believe that people willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.
      Don't forget to smile and wave when you see the drones over Stratford City in 2012...just so long as the police remember to secure permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) first that is.

      Saturday, 6 February 2010

      Cities of Stories...

      While reading the art blog Lines and Colors a while ago I came across this excellent stop-motion animation. It was produced by Apt Studio in 2009 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Harper Collins imprint 4th Estate. 

      The film immediately caught my imagination as the small character, animated on the pages of Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, escaped the book's pages as the closed upon him, and stepped out into the bustling intertextual metropolis beyond. That figure is of course the reader. Bauby himself was not able to share the privilege of escaping his own story. Having suffered a stroke in 1995 he was afflicted with a rare condition known in his native France as 'maladie de l'emmuré vivant'. A literal translation into English would be 'walled-in alive disease'. Otherwise completely paralysed, Bauby's only means of communicating his life story was by blinking his left eye. As his transcriber repeatedly read the alphabet aloud Bauby would blink to signal the letter he intended them to write. Proceeding in this way the book took ten months to complete. Bauby died two days after its publication in 1997.

      Watching the film I was reminded of Ludwig Wittgenstein's analogy between language and the city in his Philosophical Investigations:
      Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.
      Wittgenstein's reason for making this analogy was to undermine the idea that a language, or our grasp of it, need be complete in order for us to use it meaningfully. For Wittgenstein it was sufficient that we are able to successfully navigate the elements of the language we do have in order to convey meaning. With regard to the city, would London be any more or less complete, any more or less navigable, once Renzo Piano's Shard has been built? And what about after its demolition, perhaps to make way for a new tower? We might need to stop and get our bearings of course. But there would be plenty of other sign posts and landmarks around to help us...unless everything changed at once. With regard to either language or the city, we generally get on fine making do with what we've got. He goes on to suggest that "to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life". Likewise with the city. So what form of life does the city in the film support?

      On first sight the figure of the reader emerging from Bauby's book appears to be a kind of flâneur; a solitary stroller out to botanize on textual asphalt, to paraphrase Benjamin's assessment of Baudelaire. Without any particular commitment or care the flâneur is free to take each story as they please: the consummate consumer then; more a biblio-tourist than a bibliophile? Not perhaps an ideal friend. 

      On the contrary, the reader the film celebrates would be the bricoleur rather than the idle flâneur. Both are consumers but only the latter remains passive in that act; merely a roving eye (?). True the bricoleur may also read selectively, 'poaching' what they want as they go. Their distinction is their inclination to creatively re-combine their pickings in order to create new narratives. Moving around the city those stories are put into circulation. They find new audiences, new storytellers, and can generate affects beyond the scope of the imagination alone. In this way the film can be read as a condensation of the practices of walking and reading explicated in Michel de Certeau's book The Practice of Everyday Life, and an allegorisation of the 'tactics' constitutive of both.

      What I particularly like about the film is the way in which it suggests that the city is more than just infrastructure and architecture. Amongst other things it is a place where stories are developed and shared. Following Wittgenstein's cue I suggested above that to imagine a city is to imagine a form of life. I wonder to what extent concerns over form of life would inform the daily work of urban planners and architects? And also, where might we look to find the architectural equivalent of a dead language?