Talk of the Town

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Who could disagree that cities are systems? Certainly not anyone who's ever read an Italo Calvino novel, watched a German Expressionist film, tuned-in to the Jetsons, or witnessed any of the other myriad artifacts of the cultural casting of townships as machines. Of course, some of these machines are better-oiled than others, but as population, worldwide, continues to boom and buildings continue reaching for the stars, there is an increasing role for the artist-savant to intervene in divining the future of urban systems. This platform is the launching pad for the "On Cities" exhibition at Stockholm's Arkitekturmuseet (March 4-May 4, 2008), where four artists' projects push us toward "an understanding of architecture and the city as a dynamic system, consisting of social, economic, legal, political, cultural, geographical and physical layers." Oriana Eliçabe's Rebel Voices embraces hip-hop as a means of defining and asserting one's self within cities. The documentary slide project explores hip-hop as a global phenomenon before looking at its success as a means of local expression in various cities in Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. Fernando Llanos traces regions on his bike, with his Videoman project, in which he cycles through existing communication channels to simultaneously record and project his immediate environment in a way that heightens awareness of the space by putting a frame around it. The Delhi-based consortium, Cybermohalla Hub draws parallels between "real" and "cyber" spaces by architecting a real neighborhood (the meaning of the word "mohalla" in both Hindi and Urdu) in the form of a cultural lab in which inhabitants can consider the shifting nature of online place-based identities. The members of the artist group flyingCity perceive a lack of landmark images for Seoul, Korea, and they've collaborated with local community groups to envision utopian ...

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Watching the Watchers

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The third in a series of roundtable discussions at the New School co-organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics and Index for the Disappeared, "Agency + Surveillance" assesses the rhetoric of watching in a post-9/11 environment, partly by examining how a handful of engineers, artists, and activists have responded, in their own work, to the increasing state of national security. By inverting the top-down power structure conventionally associated with the act of surveillance, these practitioners are engaging in "sousveillance": a method of "watching the watchers," whereby visual and other data, habitually obscured from public knowledge, finally becomes apparent. Panelist Jenny Marketou's series Flying Spy Potatoes (2003-2004), for example, consists of digital recordings made in New York City public spaces declared to be high-risk targets for terrorist attacks, including Grand Central Station and the World Financial Center. The artist mounted a wireless camera and radio receiver on a helium balloon -- an innocent enough prop to make her infiltration a success. Urban pedestrians are provided with an interface for mapping and avoiding closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) in iSee, a web-based application from the Institute for Applied Autonomy and member/panelist Tad Hirsch. Since its inception in 2001, the application has evolved to provide maps of several cities, a handheld counterpart, and other functions, such as the ability to correlate crime statistics with surveillance camera locations. These projects draw few, if any, boundaries between aesthetic, conceptual and pragmatic agendas, as if to suggest that a phenomenon like surveillance, which affects every aspect of our everyday lives, requires comparably broad-reaching counter-methods. "Agency + Surveillance" takes place on Monday, March 31st at 6:30 pm in Arnhold Hall. - Tyler Coburn

Image: Jenny Marketou, Flying Spy Potatoes (video still), 2003

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Mixing It Up at Eyebeam's MIXER

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In New York or any other busy urban nexus, it's all too easy to submit to the tyranny of rushing from one destination to another. How much more pleasant -- and artistically fruitful -- it can be to drift through one's environment, sampling its many sensory experiences at leisure. Last Saturday, at Manhattan's Eyebeam, a new media art party called MIXER offered many delights, from cerebral to bawdy, for those who took the time to explore and savor them. First launched in November last year, MIXER is the art-and-technology center's quarterly event featuring performances by acclaimed video and audio artists, as well as interactive installations inviting creative play by the attendees.



One highlight on Saturday was London-based VJ group D-Fuse's performance of "Latitude", an ambient cinematic exploration of everyday life in the rapidly developing Chinese cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chongqing. Inspired by the Situationists' notion of "la dérive" (drifting through cities in response to their emotional impacts), the piece wanders among all sorts of urban tableaux, from the mundane and intimate to the grandiose. Fragments of conversations, shots of crowds, and architectural forms such as the vein-like loops of a Shanghai overpass combine to create an evocative portrait of cities in growth.




D-Fuse, Overpass, 2007


In one stunning opening clip, we see a girl emerging onto her apartment balcony -- then the camera slowly (and vertiginously) pulls back in midair, gradually revealing the immense grids of her high-rise and the construction sites that make up her neighborhood. In another shot, kids perform a dance routine on a dull green field, their sheer numbers and the vivid blue-and-white colors of their uniforms forming a kaleidoscopic pop of energy. While many scenes of street life and urban architecture might recall U.S. cities, other footage is suffused with ...

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Landscapes in Motion

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Throughout his career, English filmmaker Patrick Keiller has explored the nuances of his country's landscape. His investigations are set apart by their interest in the way the social, economic and political forces have shaped the nation's geography. One of his most famous films, London (1994), is a documentary account of the year 1992 in England's capital, as narrated by a fictional protagonist "Robinson". Keiller captures the grit and strife of London during the early 1990s, against the turbulent backdrop of declining infrastructure, IRA bombings, and longstanding Tory rule. Keiller combines static camera shots of London streets and landmarks with a poetic voice-over to create landscapes that evoke the political situation of the time. In his new installation The City of the Future (2007), currently on view at the British Film Institute on London's Southbank, Keiller marks a new phase in his exploration of England's socio-economic geography. Based on his research project "The Future of the Landscape and the Moving Image" (2007) at the Royal College of Art, The City of the Future unfolds as a multi-channel installation composed of moving images of London's late 19th century and early 20th century urban landscape collected from "actuality films," an early genre of documentary film that loosely captures footage of events and areas. Using an interactive map, visitors to the space may select a city and play films corresponding to the location. As such, the participant is made aware not only of the differences and similarities of the city's urban geography over time, but also the ever-changing social and economic realities written on the city itself. - Caitlin Jones



Image: Patrick Keiller, The City of the Future, 2007

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