About the event
Implicit in artists’ and designers’ proposals for representing the mid-century city was the constructive possibility of disciplining audiences to adopt visual habits and finely tuned mental images that would impose a coherent order on the city. Subsequently, the impulse to image the environment, or to project an orderly system onto a disordered world, was criticized for substituting high modernist images for the facts. In opposition to earlier image-centered proposals, artists and designers aimed to “dead pan” (to borrow a term from Denise Scott Brown) or objectively represent the city. Yet, as air tight as these competing positions once seemed, we can now deduce more supple intersections where the city is irreducibly suspended between image and fact. As the first in a two-part panel discussion, this roundtable introduces examples from photography, film, advertising, and art that examine the city as a point of overlaps and interactions between imageability and facticity.
The talk includes a discussion with Amy Beste, director of public programming for the department of Film, Video, New Media, and Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Greg Foster-Rice, associate professor of photography at Columbia College Chicago; and Orit Halpern, Associate Professor of Strategic Hire in Interactive Design in the department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal. Moderating the discussion is Michael Golec, chair of the Art History, Theory, and Criticism department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Lauren Fulton: Welcome to "The City Between Image and Fact," the first talk of a two-part roundtable series at the MCA Chicago. My name is Lauren Fulton, and I'm a curatorial research fellow here at the museum. By way of introducing this event, let me begin by telling you that for the past six months I've been planning an exhibition on the development of conceptual photography, specifically focused on the work of Chicago-based photographer Kenneth Josephson. An artist who I'm sure many of you are familiar with, Josephson has been highly influential in shaping how we see our city, and has arguably had an aesthetic impact extending well beyond Chicago.
This forthcoming show will take place here at the museum as part of the Terra Foundation for American Arts' Citywide 2018 Chicago Art and Design Initiative, which this event tonight is in conjunction with. We would like to thank the Terra Foundation for this generous support, of this event, as well as part two, which I hope you'll also join us for on March 1. Central to that discussion, moderated by James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator Michael Darling will be the development of photo-conceptualism, and the contemporary photographic object. At that time, we'll hear from a panel of educators, historians, and photographers, including Josephson.
But anyway. Getting back to tonight. All four of our presenters engage with the variety of creative disciplines, exploring their intersection with design and technology and the effects presented for how we perceive the urban landscape. This opens up avenues for critical discussions about the representations of the cities we live in, the data communicated to us, and its truth and the evaluations we make regarding such truth. This evening we'll begin with presentations, then we'll move onto a short conversation, followed by questions. Following the event, there will be a reception here in Kanter, so please stick around afterward for bites and a glass of wine.
With us tonight we have Amy Beste, director of public programming for the department of film, video, new media, and animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she's also an instructor in the art history and film departments. Beste's research focuses on the relation between the city's independent filmmakers and the industrial, educational, and advertising moving image industry in Chicago. She curates the visiting artists and screening series conversations at The Edge, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and has organized moving image exhibitions for the MCA Chicago, Chicago Underground Film Festival, and Anthology Film Archives in New York, among other places.
Joining us we also have Greg Foster-Rice, associate professor of photography at Columbia College, Chicago. Foster-Rice cocurated the exhibition The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960 to 1980, held at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Princeton University Art Museum in 2014 and 2015. He contributed to an exhibition catalogue for the show, as well as the publication for Black Is, Black Ain't. He most recently coedited and coauthored an anthology titled Reframing the New Topographics, and is currently researching the Chicago collage artist Ralph Arnold for a forthcoming book and exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.
We are also happy to have Orit Halpern with us, who traveled here from Montreal, where she is associate professor of strategic hire and interactive design in the department of sociology and anthropology at Concordia University. Halpern's research explores a history of cybernetics and interactivity, the subject of her book Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945, which was released last year. In April, she will conduct a workshop on digital space at the Fifth International Forum for Sustainable Construction in Detroit.
And moderating the discussion this evening is Michael Golec, design historian and chair of the art history, theory, and criticism department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Researching the history of design, his work focuses on graphic visualization, technical images, and typography. His publications include Brillo Box Archive: Aesthetics, Design, and Art, and his coedited Re-Learning from Las Vegas. Right now he is busy working on two books: Pictographies: Anthropology, Statistics, and Graphic Visualization in the United States and Sense and Census: The Bio-Politics of the Visualization of Data in the Statistical Atlases of the United States.
So now, without further ado, please join me in welcoming our panelists.
Michael Golec: Thank you very much, and welcome, and thank all of you for coming out this evening. I'm going to make a rather speculative introduction. And our guests, Amy Beste, Greg Foster-Rice, and Orit Halpern will follow by making roughly 10- or 15-minute presentations. We'll then commence with a brief conversation, but then very quickly open up the discussion to questions from the audience.
In 1971, the Journal of Design Quarterly published a special issue entitled Making the City Observable, edited by Richard Saul Wurman. Wurman is now famous for having established the ubiquitous TED, or Technology, Entertainment, Design conferences. In 1971, Wurman was a designer just beginning to establish the field of information architecture. Wurman's issue of Design Quarterly is chockablock with models, maps, photographs, and other forms of graphic visualization. Each is an example of a technique for making comprehensible the complexities of urban environments.
As Wurman states in his introduction, when we refer to the city in the late 20th century, “we talk in numbers we can't comprehend, and about sizes we can't visualize." The contents of Making the City Observable are meant to demonstrate how information about cities could be made understandable to everyone, from city administrators, to urban planners, to everyday citizens. Crucial to Wurman's project are how the various techniques of visualization transform the city into, his words, “an environment of learning.”
One of his examples, and perhaps the most dramatic instance of visualization of numbers and sizes, is Wurman and Joseph Passanneau's Urban Atlas: 20 American Cities, a communications study notating selected urban data at a scale of one to 48,000 from 1968. A detail of New York City from the atlas features prominently. And I'm showing it to you here. It is the first example of visualization reproduced in the journal. The atlas itself, and this is an image from the atlas, is made up of a series of 20 maps that show relative and comparative population densities that are superimposed onto residential and commercial real estate and public and private green space.
The atlas is, in Wurman's words, “a visual summary of US census information for the purpose of American cities to describe themselves, and thereby make cities more observable, without having to appeal to a common perceptual reality.” Indeed, Wurman and Passanneau's maps proposed that the fact of urban population, highlighted in red, is uncommon to perception. For example, the map of New York City emphasizes population density, and attempts to picture the magnitude of the number of urban inhabitants in a relatively small space, particularly on the island of Manhattan.
Population is, as Tim Morton might argue, a hyper-object that, like weather, economic trends, or seismic patterns, occupies a high dimensional phase space. And makes it impossible to see its totality from the basis of a conventional three-dimensional human scale. In other words, urban population density defies direct observation. In order to contend with a phase like irreducibility of population, and the impossibility of its direct observation, the map works directly on the optic nerve, and the human field of vision.
Critics, actually, compared the design to the sensorial affects of op art, and the planner Denise Scott Brown went so far as to suggest that the atlas is, in her words, "a good buy for collectors of modern art." In its display of gradations of color, and its juxtapositions of graphic signs, the Urban Atlas map of New York City produces a flash of, or a shimmering insight, into the hyper-object of population. It achieves a shimmering insight through numerically derived optics of interwoven buildings, bodies, and green stuff.
It is as if the compilation of data sets make the city vibrate, and thus, in the vibrations of its abstract empiricism, the city describes itself. Putting this shimmering insight in terms of recent scholarship on the ontology of observation, Wurman and Passanneau's Urban Atlas makes available, to both the pedestrian and the planner, hyper-objects that are open to investigation, but do not correspond to objects of everyday perception.
Because the maps do not easily stand in for direct or unfiltered perceptions of the city, where look or where visual form of graphic representation correlates to actual visible objects, the maps extend observation beyond mere mechanical objectivity to light up a world of potential crisis. Repetition and circulation of its images of population density fabricate facts taken up and further extended in the late 1960s and early 1970s discourses on the crisis of population explosion, best exemplified by Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, also published in 1968, and the competing bio-political responses that ensued thereafter.
I present this example in order to pose questions to our panelists and to the audience. What can count as an observable image, and or fact of the city? And what forms of visualization are best suited to addressing the city as sometimes a scene of crisis, and other times a scene of celebration? As our panelist examples will show, making the city observable is an ongoing project, fraught with mutation and hybridization. Artists, designers, and filmmakers play a crucial role in the perceptual re-evaluation of the city.
So, first up will be Amy Beste, who will discuss mid-century filmmakers and designers associated with Chicago's Institute of Design, who produced experimental films that interrogate movement through day and night time moods, as in attunements and unfoldings that are differentially inflected through a range of infrastructural technical media ecologies that permeate the urban environment.
Next, Greg Foster-Rice asks what counts as objective images of urban environments, and where might these images fall within a spectrum of symbolic iconography and scientific data? His answer looks to artists and designers who confront, in his words, “the stubbornly symbolic slash referential character of photographic representation”—so-called street photography—and instead of direct reportage, explore the use of diagram montage and cinema to construct robust cinema of urban objectivity.
And, finally, Orit Halpern examines the role that sensing and visualization technologies inform the aesthetics of infrastructural disaster, focusing on computationally and digitally managed systems of “smart infrastructure,” she discusses images of massive urban crisis, and asks how these representations that shape the politics and ethics of how we envision and speculate on the future, how they are now regularly framed in apocalyptic terms. Amy?
Amy Beste: So thank you, Michael, thanks for inviting me to be a part of this. As Lauren and Michael said, I'm going to be talking about some films that are associated with the Institute of Design [ID], and I'm bringing this idea of the mid-century like to the beginning of the mid-century. So the two films I'm looking at are from 1953 and 1957. And the first is from 1952. It's called Chicago Morning. And the second is from 1957, and it's called Night Driving. So day and night. The first was produced by Boris Yakovlev, who was an instructor at the Institute of Design. He was also a commercial filmmaker who played a very important role in Chicago's commercial film industry, which was largely built around industrial and educational filmmaking.
And the second film is by Chicago designers Mort and Millie Goldsholl, who have—became very well known as being designers in films. They really established themselves as designers who also made campaigns in moving image.
Chicago Morning kind of catalogues the Chicago waking up from 4:30 to 9:30 in the morning, and Night Driving really uses the city's nighttime landscape as its kind of jumping off point. And it's really—I think of it as a catalogue of abstract optical effects and a portrait of mid-century's advertising on the built environment.
So I'm interested in talking about these two films because they don't only just represent the ideas about filmmaking and representation of the city that were being taught at the Institute of Design during this period, but they were also emblematic of the city's unique media ecology. Chicago was the center for industrial educational filmmaking and other kinds of films. And these films really permeated the urban environment. I'll talk a little more about what I mean by that. They weren't just shown in theaters, in neighborhoods, or in downtown. They were showing in screens like this, throughout the city.
So the makers of both Chicago Morning and Night Driving really documented and expressed Chicago's mid-century urban landscape, but they also capitalized on the myriad different contexts in which films circulated in Chicago, and that's really key, the idea that film doesn't have one particular meaning, but that it can have many, and its context really helps to determine that, and that's something these makers were really invested in exploring and capitalizing on in terms of circulating their films and thinking about representing the city and how they could convey these many different messages.
So I want to back up and begin by talking about the Institute of Design and actually I need to grab a water. Thank you.
Just to kind of set this up for you guys. So perhaps as many of you know, hopefully many of you know, the Institute of Design was founded here in 1937 by László Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian designer and artist and filmmaker. He was part of the German Bauhaus. He was invited here to start a Chicago iteration of the German Bauhaus. And so Moholy arrived here and decided to craft a curriculum that was really based around the German Bauhaus and this really emphasized a focus on discovering materials, really playing with and discovering the kind of formal qualities of materials, really getting into the sort of materialistic aspects of them. And film played a very central role in this curriculum. Moholy had been involved with or interested in film for a very long time, since at least the early 1920s, and he had begun experimenting with creating these sort of photo collaged film scripts in the early 1920s—this is an example.
And he had also moved into other kinds of explorations by the end of the 1920s. This is a film that's based on—these are stills of a film based on his light space modulator, his very famous light space modulator, in which he's modulating light in a room, and he created a film of this, which is further enhanced via kind of optical effects, superimposition, negative, and many other kinds of effects to create this kind of shimmering, moving landscape. And so he also wrote extensively about film, and he believed that film was kind of the perfect medium for expressing the modern moving city and that it was essential to really understanding—to understanding the urban environment, the contemporary urban environment, and it was essential to be literate in media, and that's why it was essential to also teach it here at the Bauhaus, or Chicago Bauhaus.
So Moholy—the way I've been thinking about it, Moholy's ideas about film really grew out of two interrelated ideas. One was that he viewed film as a medium of light, which we can see here as part of the sort of light-space modulator. And this is a photogram that he—of his. And so he viewed film as a medium of light. It's shared with all other kind of photochemical media. You need light to register images on photographic film or negatives, etcetera. But he also thought of film as something luminescent in and of itself. It was a medium that also threw light, and could change the perception and perceptual space, or perceptions of a space, via color, via the way it was cast on the wall, and so he was really interested in exploring all facets of film.
So, in terms of both capturing imagery via film, but then also using film as a kind of luminescent material in which he could sort of play with how people understood or perceived space itself. And so—this is again his light-space modulator. And so at ID he was really interested in coming to this city and establishing a kind of light laboratory, or a film laboratory for exploring all these different facets of cinematography and filmmaking. And he really also hoped that this could be a kind of vanguard laboratory for the industry, which he thought was kind of stagnating, which he believed was calling up too much from theater, was relying too heavily on convention and established kind of storylines, and that kind of thing.
So he was really hoping that this would be the place where students could come and experiment with the media and then take them back out into the industry of itself, and he thought of the industry quite largely—as both kind of Hollywood narrative films, but also as advertising films, industrial films, etcetera. And so at ID, film became a part of a curriculum that explored light and visual design, and this is kind of an overview of the early curriculum, and you can see that light, photography, film, and publicity are all kind of coalesced together.
So film really is part of this curriculum that teaches photography but also teaches visual design, this publicity aspect of it. Part of the reason he's interested in positioning it in this particular arena between both light and visual design is because the second aspect of film—that he thought was inherent to film—was the idea of assemblage, the idea of bringing multiple ideas, images, disparate parts together, into one kind of interrelation somehow or another.
So he had been experimenting with photomontages for a very long time, and with assemblage he's very well known for this work, and he thought of editing as being a real extension of this, as bringing all these different things into interrelation and creating new sets of ideas and associations via this kind of assemblage and montage. So these are two essential aspects of his filmmaking, his ideas about filmmaking, and how they kind of feed into the curriculum in ID. So light and montage or assemblage.
So like I said so then he positions film within this curriculum between light and the kind of film publicity or visual design, and students would experiment by creating their own kind of photo or their own light-space modulators out of paper, which they would then kind of examine how they were modulating the light. So this was one way of beginning to think about how light reflects and refracts off of objects. And again, thinking how this relates to photochemical kinds of media.
And students also played with building light-space modulators that actually threw light throughout the room, and then would photograph them or film them. And this is a film made by Nathan Lerner, and a very early light-space modulator from—I believe this is from 1941. So students would also experiment with montage and assemblage, bringing together different textures and form. Thinking about how one could create kind of associational images, different ways of looking at and understanding the world through this kind of montage of imagery, often culled from advertising or other kinds of images. So setting images in relation to each other, and thinking about them in extension, or as part of a larger set of images.
And this is actually—I wanted to include this because this is some assignments that Mort Goldsholl actually completed while he was studying at the Institute of Design in the mid-1940s. So Moholy dies in 1946. And this really changes a lot of the curriculum. And the school also undergoes a series of changes obviously with faculty. In 1949, it merges with IIT, the Illinois Institute of Technology. And through this period, and in the years after, filmmaking continued to kind of grow out of or be the sort of medial merge or bridge between visual design and photography, which was becoming much more well known during this period of time. In 1946, Arthur Siegel was hired by ID, and then Siegel hires Harry Callahan, who I believe is one of Josephson's teachers.
And so this is kind of the—this is the school that Josephson actually attended and grew out of. So talking to Lauren's ideas and interests, and the exhibit that will be here at the MCA later this year. So filmmaking continues to be this kind of bridge between visual design and photography. But it also becomes more influenced by and more a part of Chicago's filmmaking industry, the sort of particular filmmaking industry that's here.
And this is in part because Siegel, Arthur Siegel, is someone who he was trained very early on. He attended the Institute of Design, came back to teach there, but in the meantime he had worked as a commercial photographer, and he'd actually made industrial films, and he was interested in getting his students to be more a part of the actual world, to bring their experiments that they were working on at school into the world itself.
And so he was part of a team of people that was interested in hiring professional faculty, people who were making their living in Chicago's filmmaking industry. And he was also supported in this by the Institute of Design and—he leaves in 1949, but sort of this hiring process that he sets in motion is supported by IIT, which is very much invested in trying to develop a much more integrated relationship with the filmmaking industry that's happening here. The people that were involved at IIT were already developing—there were engineers who were already developing kinds of experiments in various kinds of film stock, film speed.
They were also interested in developing new kinds of television. The folks who were involved at IIT helped to establish WTTW, which was the then-educational film station, and now our public television station here. So they had a vested interest in trying to get their students to be a part of this kind of media ecology. And so, what ends up happening is that this curriculum goes from something that's very material oriented, very exploratory, to something that maintains that, to something that's enriched by a very sophisticated kind of film study and knowledge of the industry.
And so this is kind of a close up of a reading list for the summer of 1950 that was put together by one of the professional faculty members. And I want to point out that it includes both Sigmund Krakauer's From Caligari to Hitler, which is an overview of German expressionist film, a very early film history, classic film history—but it also includes Gloria Waldron's The Information Film from 1948. And this is a text that really analyzed the role of a very different kind of filmmaking, one that was essayistic, observational, had relationships to documentary, and that was often related to business or other kinds of sponsored films.
And this was—so they're bringing all of these kinds of texts interrelations. So you get something—you get a kind of curriculum that's really built around art, design, filmmaking, but also mass communication, a very sophisticated sense of mass communication.
So just to tell you a little bit more about what the Chicago industry means. So the Chicago filmmaking industry or ecology was incredibly unique. After WWII, Chicago became the center of what we now know or what we think of as educational, industrial, and sponsored films. And these are films that were really produced around the country, but Chicago became—with its sort of central location within the country, and being a central location for all kinds of industry, as well as all kinds of education, and educational kind of publishing industries—Chicago became the center for industrial and educational filmmaking, and it really out produced all other cities, including LA and Hollywood as well as New York.
And this image is from a 1957 educational screen, which reads, “The National Audio Visual Association Convention,” which was kind of like the conference of conferences for anyone who was involved in this kind of filmmaking from 1957, “all roads lead to Chicago,” and this isn't just like our conferences here in Chicago, but literally the entire industry leads to Chicago. So Chicago is like the Hollywood for this kind of filmmaking.
So companies that were here included Encyclopedia Britannica Films, which I hope some of you know, as well as maybe less-known companies like Wilding Picture Productions. And for those of you who live on the north side, say up by Argyle, Wilding Picture Productions was in the old Essanay Studios, and it had one of the largest outdoor photography lots in the world.
And so when you think about where these films circulated, because this is kind of the key here, what I really want to get at, these films were shown in classrooms; they were shown—a top image—I think I hit the button to make the microphone turn off. So they were shown in classrooms, they were shown in community centers. The top image is from a factory, where films were also shown in terms of safety. But more spectacularly, they were also shown in various expositions, trade shows, etcetera. So this is a very famous image of the Eames’s 1959 Images of the USA, which was installed in Moscow.
So this is the kind of range of work we're talking about. It's not just these didactic educational films, but it's also really spectacular, much more spectacular kind of industrial films that are creating different kinds of moods about the city, or advertising something else about say the makeup of the American population, or what it means to be America. And so these works were screened in classrooms and auditoriums like this. They were screened at point of sale, point of purchase, in like Macy's, so you'd actually get these small rear projector machines that would show these very shoot, looped films. So these films—I want us to kind of think that these films were everywhere. They literally permeated the environment. So it's not just like they were shown in various theaters, but they were rear projected in window displays.
So these films were also part of the landscape itself, so they were not just images of a landscape, but they were actually making an important kind of impression, and playing an important role in making up the landscape as well. And so—and this is an image from a Bell and Howell advertisement from 1957, which has all these different kinds of cameras and projector devices to really demonstrate the kind of range of possibilities there were for this work to be screened, and to be shown in various places.
So to get back to the films. 1953. The film Chicago Morning. It really grows out of this developing relation that ID is trying to create or trying to generate with Chicago's media industry. So this film is made by Boris Yakovlev. He's a filmmaker with extensive experience in the commercial and educational industry. It's made with 11 students from ID and also Yakovlev's industry associates. It was shot by these unnamed 11 students, we don't really know who they were, but when you study the film you can kind of get a sense of them all being photography students, possibly.
So it's shot in the early morning hours of April 17, 1952. The script was put together by Yakovlev's colleague and his fellow ID instructor Edwin Schonfield. It was narrated by Studs Terkel, who we all know now, but who at the time had become famous for his television show, Studs' Place, and it features a soundtrack of radio snippets, jazz drumming, and folk singer Win Stracke, who is one of the founders of the Old Town School of Folk Music, who is also a regular on Studs' Place, singing the 19th-century anthem, Illinois.
And Yakovlev had assigned this to his students because he wanted to bring documentary techniques to commercial enterprise. And what this really means is he was interested in using the camera as a tool for exploration and research, and that whatever the students found and brought back would drive the makeup of the film itself. It was a way to think about the city, to discover something about the city that perhaps they hadn't thought about before.
And this is in contra-distinction to most educational or industrial films, which, at this time, were made on very short timeframes. They were made very quickly, and so had to be very tightly directed, meaning that the person who was making the film already had an idea of what the film was about and would go out and shoot something that would fulfill that; whereas this is made in kind of the opposite way, as filmmaking as discovery.
And so the result is really this expressive impressionistic portrait that echoes the avant-garde city symphonies from the 1920s such as Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, and really blends this finely observed photography, this ID-trained photography, with rhythmic graphic and associational montage, which were all hallmarks of the program at ID.
And so the film is built around the concept of labor. And ties the city's geography, history, and people together through it. None of these shots are of people, but there's one. Shots of garbage collectors, ice deliverymen, street sweepers, train conductors, and commuters are cut together to emphasize the common experience of labor. And one of the most compelling sequences is actually the labor of getting to work, and we'll look at that briefly.
So the film is additionally—through its cutting and photography it also emphasizes motion, as we can see in that clip, the flow of people as they move through the city and the way the different people are connected through the city; so that in another sequence that follows the last one, we get Studs Terkel kind of orating about how people are together yet separable, that we're all part of this kind of interconnected whole.
“ . . . madness in our method. Get there on wheels, get there on feet. High-heeled feet with a click click. Work shoe feet with a clump clump. It takes all kind of feet to get a city to work.
Sun low, shadows long. Shadows of things to be made; to be operated, lifted, painted moved. Shadows of people; whole, separable, yet linked together. Linked together, yet whole, separable.
The rush hour, 9th wonder of the world. Invented by James Watt when he thought he was inventing a steam engine. Invented by Thomas Edison with an assist by [unintelligible].
[End of video excerpt]
So the film is really trying to bring different people together. It's discovered movement; it's discovered that everyone comes together with labor; it's interested in conveying these ideas. And so in its montage, it weaves together different races, people of different social and economic backgrounds, to make this kind of impressionistic argument about the necessity of interrelation of its populace. And this is part of where I want to get into what's actually being represented here.
Because I think in many ways that this film is actually answering a number of facts that are implicit, facts on the ground, from this period of time in Chicago. So, one is the city's struggle with race at this particular moment, post WWII. This is the second wave of the Great Migration, in which African Americans are moving from the South, moving back from having served in the war, looking for jobs, and many of them are not able to find them.
So there's this immense pressure on housing stock, which people who are attending IIT would be very familiar with, because this campus was set in the middle of the historic Bronzeville, and was attempting to revitalize it, so kind of raise the housing stock, and put up new, clean, urban buildings. And, of course, this has many problematic aspects to it. At the same time, 1951, just shortly before this film was kind of conceived of, we had the race riots in Cicero, as African Americans were attempting to move into this white neighborhood.
So there's this interesting aspect in which this film is going out and attempting to answer this issue of tension, of perhaps racial or social strife that's kind of roiling in the city. And that's actually percolating around IIT itself by talking about interrelation, the fact that we all work together, and that we're all necessary for the kind of creation of the city and the way that the city moves. So the films—so this is something that I think is kind of implicit in the way that the film is operating. But the film—Yakovlev was really interested in packaging this film in different ways to kind of highlight different aspects of its message.
So the first one was that he originally intended this film to be part of a series of television shows that he was trying to sell to educational TV stations around the country. The second—and this would be about the American public. The second was that he was trying to use it as publicity for IIT and IIT was trying to use it as publicity. And the third was that he was circulating it as an art film, so it played with Julius Caesar at the Gold Coast Theater in 1953.
So, how much? One minute. Okay. Okay.
So I will just show you what Night Driving looks like, briefly. So, Night Driving. The second film I wanted to talk about was Night Driving, which was made by Mort and Milly Goldsholl. Like I said, they were designers here in Chicago. They established a design practice in the 1940s. And they moved into filmmaking in 1957. They were heavily influenced by Moholy-Nagy, particularly his emphasis on light. And they really felt like light was something to explore in a lot of different ways. So that's Morton and Milly.
They were experimenting with light as early—this is from actually 1957, but much earlier. This is kind of back column in Print Magazine. And they would continue to explore it far into the 1970s. This is the campaign, See the Light, for 7-Up, from 1972.
So light was something they were very interested in exploring. This particular film explores—trains its camera on the night city and all these different kinds of lights, from automobile lights, to electric advertising, to the kind of electronic, the new kind of electronic landscape, and the automobile as made by the automobile.
And so this, from my perspective, this film is both a kind of meditation on this landscape, a kind of exploration, a cataloging of its kind of optical and photochemical effects. But it's also something that's very self-reflective. The Goldsholls were very much invested in thinking about how their industry was actually affecting the world around them. How these images were impacting people's kind of optics or sensorium. And so this film is something in which they're actually exploring this. And like Yakovlev, they also packaged this film in a variety of different ways to highlight different aspects of this film.
This film premiered at the Brussels World Fair, like the Eames’s Glimpses of the USA, in this kind of spectacular fashion, where it was seen by people who were associated with Life, who then hired them to do a series of films afterwards. They used clips from it throughout their kind of film production, and then they also even recut the film for to advertise a Phillips recording. And this played in theaters all over the country.
So I think what I was trying to do or what I wanted to kind of get at with the exploration of these two films and kind of thinking about where they're coming from is both the way that the training led them to capture the city and look at the city—these artists to capture and look at the city, and explore it, photographically, but also the way that these artists also then kind of capitalized on where these films would play, and how they would have different sort of contextual readings and meanings, based on that circulation.
Greg Foster-Rice: I'm going to try and get through this as quickly as possible, and without further ado. The epigraph to Jane Jacobs’s famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, from 1961, establishes a subtle but significant distinction between conventional illustration, which depicts a static and frequently presumptive set of urban conditions, and the importance of direct observation, which involves attentive and extended analysis of the city as a dynamic stage for social action.
The intellectual context for this emphasis on close looking was part of a broader shift in thinking about cities as complex, dynamic social systems during the 1960s and 1970s. The visual context for this interest in direct observation was a rejection of the conventional illustrative way of looking at the city in favor of methods that could represent and, in many cases, simulate or instigate social encounters in the city via complex formal vocabularies, unconventional methods of presentation, and direct engagement with the social fabric.
As a means for creating analogs of urban experience, photography and film came to dominate the imaging of the city, because on the one hand they appeared to have a continuous indexical relationship to reality, and on the other hand, their technological development paralleled and helped to shape the urbanization of modern society.
I began my essay for The City Lost and Found, my exhibition that I worked on, that I cocurated, with these two paragraphs that I just read you. I then continued to examine some of the strategies by which planners, artists, and activists expressed a sense of being in the city, this idea expressed by the Jane Jacobs quote. For today I'd like to expand briefly on a few key works, and address the question from a slightly different angle that relates to some of the questions that Michael had.
Why did conventional—and here's the question I want to address, is why did conventional still photography ultimately fail as a tool for both expressing a sense of being in the city, a la Jane Jacobs quote, and also as a scientific instrument for recording useful information for city planners?
So let me start with the case of Kevin Lynch, who was an MIT professor of urban planning, and an official advisor to the Chicago and Los Angeles city plans during the 1960s and seventies. In his famous 1960 book, The Image of the City, Lynch argued that the task of urban planners was not just demolishing and rebuilding, but also understanding and improving the visual legibility of urban space. The fact that his book was not illustrated with photographs seems a little bit strange, especially giving the impressive role that photographs played in the New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles plans that Lynch influenced. And here I have a picture from the New York City plan.
It's even more strange given the fact that Lynch completed an unpublished preliminary study to The Image of the City with the designer Gyorgy Kepes at MIT, and this was called The Perceptual Form of the City, and it was produced between 1954 and 1959, and included almost 2,000 photographs. According to Lynch, these photographs formed, and I quote, “a study of the sequence of impressions in a city, in particular how the thread of continuity and order is maintained during such a constantly shifting, sensuous experience.”
A typical sequence I'm showing you up here depicts various landmarks that played a role in the pedestrian navigation of the streetscape. If you're familiar with The Image of the City, oftentimes they're talking about nodes, landmarks, things like that, so you—a prominent flag and an intersection as examples of that.
Yet close analysis of the photographs points to the archive's inability to sustain Lynch's charge, at least that's my argument. And perhaps points to his move away from photography in The Image of the City as well as his later use of alternative methods of photography. Namely, while Lynch's early use of photography was highly factual, and here you can see it documented, the objects of the urban experience, and describe certain physical elements of that experience with clarity and precision, the photographs did not really convey a sense of rootedness within actual urban experience.
In The City Lost and Found, I described them as cold, quiet, and clinical in their detached mode of observation. But the more I look at them, I also realize that in addition to failing as representations of the dynamic mobility of urban life, they also suffer from a surfeit of detail, and an unintentional but unmistakable both noir and street photographic sensibility. Photographed by Nishan Bichajian, a photography instructor and assistant to Kepes and Lynch, many of the photographs appear to be following characters on the street and places in the position of a detective who almost must unravel a series of clues. As I'm showing you in some of the image I pull out here.
These clues might be of the urban landscape, in a Lynchian method, or some unintended but implied relationship between the figures in the image. And here I'm going to lean on John Szarkowski's astute observation that a key characteristic of photography is the tendency of the photographic frame to establish relationships via frozen juxtaposition, while, in reality, those figures may have been mere strangers passing in the night. The photographic frame in order—constructs a certain implied narrative where there may not have actually been any narrative or relationship.
The point is that the rich details in the photographs may actually distract from their value as factual depictions of urban experience, because they too frequently recall familiar, fictional representations of the city, or inspire narrative flights of fancy. Although I must say that this itself is a key trait of the literature on urban experience, from Edgar Allan Poe to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others, I don't think it was one of the intended uses of photography by Kevin Lynch, when you read his work.
So really what I'm talking about is how it failed Lynch's idea of what the photograph should do. I think they're very interesting in this sense about how they sort of play into the literature and tropes of urban experience. Likewise, his static depictions, taken at 50-foot intervals, they fail to express in more subjective but no less important ways the dynamic motion and fluidity of urban experience. Could these be some of the reasons why Lynch relied more heavily on interviews when—interviews with actual urban subjects for the final book, The Image of the City, rather than photographic surrogates for these experiences?
In thinking about the photographs this way, I was struck by a similar paradox in late 19th-century chronophotography. So if you're going to pardon, please, this very severe digression. In the 1870s, the French scientist Etienne Jules Marey sought a graphic method to represent motion. And he's a scientist like Lynch. In this case, he's studying physiology and motion and how animals and humans move. In the 1870s, he sought a graphic method to represent motion. He developed a number of tools, one of which you see here, but they required cumbersome equipment attached to the subject—pneumatic tubes to record when the horses' hooves hit the ground, etcetera.
Of course, we all know that in 1878 he discovered the American Eadweard Muybridge's use of photography to achieve similar ends, which was published in La Nature, so that Marey was able to see these images. And despite the obvious advantages to Muybridge's technique, here we have the recording apparatus was totally separate from the subject, thus unencumbering it and allowing for more sort of natural motion. Muybridge's technique nonetheless suffered from technical problems arising from the battery of triggers in cameras, which gave the impression of perfectly sequential records, but in actuality documented uneven intervals.
And here's just a quick diagram, if you're not familiar with it, for the process by which the horse would trot across, and sometimes it would pull the cables at the wrong time, so they weren't actually—they looked very scientific, but turned out not to be actually accurate depictions of how a horse ran.
Art historian Marta Braun has also convincingly argued that Muybridge's work failed as scientific data because they're highly detailed renderings of the subjects recalled and, I would say sometimes explicitly, iconographic and symbolic tropes from the history of images. That's interfering with their ability to present raw data about locomotion. And here I'm presenting you with images. This is actually Muybridge himself. He did a number of self-portraits and oftentimes he would show himself in heroic poses and talk about himself as like the god Vulcan working at his workshop and things like that.
So we know that he was heavily influenced, because there was a level of detail in the ability to record and play with tools and sort of act out roles, that that was somehow influencing how he depicted in particular Braun has analyzed men versus women differently, and that there's these different variables that affected the accuracy of the data.
So long story short, Marey saw an opportunity in the use of photography, but he also saw a significant challenge. He arrived at a different system, with a single camera, and a disk, and I'm showing you that here, that had slits in it, that rotated in front of a single plate. This allowed him to highly regulate the frame rate and capture the expression of movement on a single plate. And here's one of those examples. It emphasized kinesis rather than frozen gestures, and it also allowed him to avoid the symbolism that plagued Muybridge's images.
But these first experiments yielded images that were washed out and hard to read. And here I quote Braun: "For it was precisely the surfeit of detail, frozen by Marey's camera, that was obscuring what he wanted to see—the clear expression of movement. It was the camera's duplication of the seeming normalcy of vision that Marey had to supersede in order to find the vision beyond sight."
In order to focus on the key data points, Marey then, in subsequent versions of this, which you see on the bottom left corner here, draped his subjects in light absorbing dark velvet with pin striping to delineate their limbs and joints. So ironically, in order to yield more accurate information, Marey discovered that one had to first reduce both the camera's predilection for detail and the corresponding trap of aestheticism and symbolism that such detail inevitably lent to Muybridge's project.
Now, back to Lynch, and what I've identified as a problem of the surfeit of detail in the photographs from The Perceptual Form of the City. My contention seems to be supported by Lynch's subsequent shift to a new cinematic paradigm for his 1964 book, The View from the Road, coauthored with Donald Appleyard and John R. Meyer. For this book, Lynch and company used innovative film strips to convey the essentials of the major visual effects of this new kind of perception. And here I want to draw your attention to the emphasis on essentials of the major visual effects, rather than details, which seems to recognize that less information provided more accurate data, drawn in this case from individual cells of 24-frame-per-second 8 mm motion picture film.
And here again I quote, from Lynch, "The experience of a city is basically a moving view, and this is the view we must understand if we wish to reform the look of our cities." The style of The View from the Road's filmstrips, which were meant to be read from bottom to top, as you can see here, there's a little arrow there, does this have a laser pointer on it? Oh, yes. There you go, the little arrow that points you to go up.
The style of the filmstrips, which were meant to be read from bottom to top, as an approximation of how the human eye scans the field of vision, was then adopted by the vertically arranged photographs in the Los Angeles Department of Planning's 1971 book, The Visual Environment of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the designers for The Visual Environment of Los Angeles did not follow through with Lynch's use of genuine cinematic stills. And here's a subtle distinction. So consequently the LA images look more like conventional film stills.
So what you can see here is these are individual still images, rather than pulled frames from motion picture film, which is what Lynch had originally proposed here, and it wasn't followed through when this was brought up with The Visual Environment of Los Angeles.
It's a subtle distinction but one with significant implications, because in contrast to The View From the Road's direct observation, the camera is directly observing the environment, and then it's analyzed after the fact, the film stills in this book, The Visual Environment of Los Angeles, imply that Los Angeles is a set that comports itself to be photographed, or, at the very least, to be seen photographically.
Rather than an object of visual inquiry, then, the city in this scenario becomes an image to be seen. This subtle but significant distinction reverberated throughout the LA architecture and planning community, as evidenced by the emergence of companies like Environmental Communications, which produced photographic slides of Los Angeles for architects, planners, and university classrooms. And the founder of that company, David Greenberg, acknowledged the influence of Ed Ruscha's photographically inspired artwork on the perception of Los Angeles as a city, and especially its freeways as, and I'm quoting, “a giant sculpture or work of art that could best be apprehended through its photographic representation.”
The implication was that photography was not only a practical—sorry, there's an LA freeway—the implication was that photography was not only a practical intermediary, but also a necessary step towards the comprehension of the city of Los Angeles as an image in an ontological sense, with practical consequences for both planning and the lived social experience of the city. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this city as image sensibility lies in one of the most unusual passages and suggestions in The Visual Environment of Los Angeles, which called for the use of spectacular lighting effects at night—you can see here—to essentially make over the city into a cinematic mirage, in order to provide for more legible nodes and landmarks after dark.
In essence what they're doing is taking Lynch's ideas and then proposing that we're going to remake the city as an image of The Image of the City. Ironically, the resulting proposal looks like an attempt at making the city into a giant Ed Rushca painting, which is very ironic given that a lot of—I apologize for the quality of that image, the Ed Rushca should be a lot more beautiful, elegant, and orange than it's showing up on that screen.
So, in conclusion, I'd like to end with Ruscha's famous Every Building on the Sunset Strip from 1966. If we compare the Ruscha to Bichajian’s images for Lynch and Kepes, and if we keep in mind the distinction that Braun made between Muybridge and Marey, I think there's a very real possibility that Ruscha represents an abstracted but for that very reason a more accurate experience of the city. Firstly, like the city itself, one can hardly talk about the Ruscha without the object itself. And I'm sorry I don't have a copy to show you right now.
As Ken Allan has persuasively shown, and as the image of Ruscha playing with it down here is meant to show, the spatial temporal experience of this two-image book, one image for each side of the street, mimics our experience of the real street as something that cannot be framed or seen in a single glance. You have to sort of unfold this 26-foot-long book, and you can never really comprehend the whole thing, but you have a sense of its enormity and scale, much like you do when you're walking through an actual urban space. You only see the bit you're in front of, but you can have a sense that the street that you're on goes on and on and on.
Further, its stuttering and seemingly haphazard cutting off of cars at the expense of architectural contiguity begins to offer an experience of the tension between the fixity of the built environment, which blankets and deadens the actual topography of LA, the Sunset Strip sort of feels like a flat sort of plane, but in reality it's a sort of rolling, curving road. And then this contrast with the herky-jerky speed with which we navigate it. And I'm sorry it's probably a little bit hard to see in the images up here, but the cars, because of the way that Ruscha crops the images, as he's piloting his car down the road to take these photographs, he ends up cropping off some of the cars, so you get half cars appearing in the street.
And now, in other words, it may sound simple, but what artists like Ruscha, Robert Flick, Kenneth Josephson, and Gordon Matta-Clark—all artists who we included in The City Lost and Found—what they discovered was that any conventional still photographic image of the city, even one that's part of a 2,000 image archive, was less successful than their conceptual art strategies at providing a sense of what Lynch was seeking. And, again, to go back to that quote, which was a consciously shifting sensuous experience of the city. And I think I'll just conclude here with a hint of possibility, a shimmer of possibility, and a lot more questions than I have answers. Thank you.
Orit Halpern: I just want to start talking about what's at stake, and how we're imaging and experiencing contemporary urban environments, and also discuss a little bit in relationship to a contemporary zeal for high technology infrastructure as a solution to what we're seeing as largely apocalyptic or catastrophic events, whether security, environment, or economy. So, without further ado.
I'm just going to open with one of the more recent instantiations of the popular fetishization of end times scenario planning, the 2010 Rising Currents show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The show invited designers and architects to envision the future of New York, assuming its destruction, which is to say just assuming that global warming is inevitable, what will we do?
One of the most popular exhibitions suggested was Oyster-tecture, that you see here by SCAPE Studios, and it was—and actually this project is now—it was so popular in people's minds that the Rockefeller Foundation is now funding an actual oyster-scape off of Staten Island at the tune of $60 million. Anyway. The idea here was that these oysters would serve as living barriers, so like nature against nature, or reefs, life itself is being recruited here as infrastructure. And so this is beautifully rendered, these reefs defending this already washed out city.
The very recruitment of life itself, the oysters, not to mention our and other organisms' bodies for infrastructure, poses some serious questions about the new terms under which we're beginning to imagine our urban futures, majorly the language of management and resilience. And I want to talk about that.
It is my contention that more and more we're living in a state most known only to those closest to the point of infrastructural violence, the state of what Bruce Brown, in his recent work on New York City, calls the catacon, which is an existence within a state of permanent crisis management, or at least we perceive ourselves to always be living in a state of permanent crisis management, without hope or promise of future redemption, to which we turn to basically these constant strategies of technical management as well as language of resilience, to kind of manage the situation that we see as kind of an eternal crisis that's always going to come.
To this end, of course, life itself is being recruited, as with the oysters here, in Rising Currents, to be an infrastructure for real estate speculation. The irony of this entire project is that, despite all that money, the oysters themselves are going extinct as a result of being used under such dirty and inhospitable environments. The oysters are dying, basically, in this project. And the rising of city and temperature of the global warming that we now no longer even seek to forestall but simply just assume is coming.
So they're dying of their use, in short, for speculative capital. This death however, as you see in this image, is beautifully rendered in a way that embraces this terminal destruction as pleasureful for us and recruits us into embracing this destruction, basically, of New York City. I argue therefore that the stakes of such images are nothing short of how we wish to inhabit the earth, and that our very future imaginaries of design, technology, and urbanism, are still amenable to radical intervention through artistic practice.
I don't think this is an inevitable vision of the future. In this talk I will discuss this contemporary situation about how large scale infrastructures and cities are being visualized in these apocalyptic terms that continue to encourage a kind of hopeful speculation on the end. And then I'm going to turn to the American architect-theorist-artist Lebbeus Woods to think about maybe some of the alternatives or to at least pose a provocation about how do we induce a different type of imagination around time and territory in order that we may live differently.
So Rising Currents isn't the only place where we're speculating on the end. I'm going backwards. Okay. That's also in time.
So this is Songdo in South Korea. It's a place I've been working ethnographically over the last three years. This complex is considered a prototype or testbed. Or it's an Ubiquitous City, to use Korean parlance, which is to say there's a whole lot of bandwidth and fiber optic cables lying under here. And it's part of a new global infrastructure of territories, as part of—this is a utopia, no less, a free economic zone.
And it's also a site—this is the other part of that utopia, which is these major logistics, also how they computationally driven nodes, for the kind of movement of commodities and capital. And it's part of a new landscape of global smart—these are a whole series of greenfield cities, or what we call spatial products, being rolled out and produced by high tech companies, such as Cisco, in the case of Songdo, and these are all Cisco smart connected, and leveraged through finance capital ranging from India to Ecuador to Africa, and I don't need to say much, but you can kind of see these images of these things as these green verdant smooth spaces, if you will, that are going to buffer us.
And what's so curious about all the marketing in this is the way—how bandwidth, as in rates of information flowing over some fiber optic cable in a certain amount of time—this ubiquity—has now come to be equated with life itself. The sustainability, perhaps resilience of ourselves. Now, the automatic relationship between computing and life is not—should not be so natural, because we know that servers waste a lot of energy. But, nonetheless, this is the prevalent image we have, if you will, of the future.
And what's interesting is, of course, behind this greenness is also a kind of assumption of disaster. So Songdo itself is a result of the Asian currency crisis, the late 1990s, that is itself a disaster zone. But also of course there's an assumed environmental disaster that's coming to which these new high technology complexes are going to defend us or be as arks or defend only some of us, should I say, and the race-class-sex aspects of all these constructs are necessary. There's an entire labor feature, of course, that is almost absent from any of the promotion on these things. And of course there's also huge security questions—the other side of Songdo is North Korea and the whole question of like hacking and the infrastructure around computer systems.
But anyway. Songdo. So these complexes are not alone. We live in a really smart world where tons of highly stylized complexes are going to defend us from kind of secure data bank centers. This is Pionen, where WikiLeaks is housed. It's in a former nuclear bunker. It's got like cant chandeliers and it's hyper stylized. To logistical ports. This is Masdar, another high technology complex outside of Abu Dhabi that I work on. It's supposed to be a zero carbon footprint green city. It's designed by Norman Foster. You can see the kind of space-age appearance of this complex.
To seedbanks and kind of eco preserves—this is Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, another complex you might see in SAP ads throughout airports. Those are actually vents giving off heat. Basically none of these plants can live in Singapore, so it takes a huge amount of energy to preserve all these supposedly going-extinct plants by which—anyway, you're getting the point, but it's an amusement park, so it's great.
So we're kind of—this entire—all of these projects share in imagining the future in terms of catastrophic and devastating events. They inhabit, so to speak, the catacon, whether those events are of terror, informatica, or otherwise economy or environment. And they adorn this kind of end beautifully. This negative future of course being hyper speculative and of course many people have talked about disaster capitalism, but here we're seeing it enacted in these sort of images, if you will, of these urban spaces.
And within this smartness becomes the language for negotiating time and space into an immediate present. It's also an aesthetic, an affect of space, the space of managing our perceptions and sentiments along with our bodies. So what's interesting of course is about the abundant positivity.
Just to show another example, going back to MoMA's Current—I'm just going to run this while I talk so that—the show opened with this words—“MoMA and PS1 Contemporary Art Center joined forces to address one of the most urgent challenges facing the nation's largest city sea-level rise resulting from global climate change. Through the national debate on infrastructure is currently focused on shovel-ready projects that will stimulate the economy, we now have an important opportunity to foster new research and fresh thinking about the use of New York City's harbor and coastline. As in past economic recessions, construction has slowed dramatically in New York and much of the city's remarkable pool of architectural talent is available to focus on innovation.” So, yay, there's this economic—this is the best part—here comes the flooding, storm surge. Look at the quiet evacuation. Maybe you're getting taken to some like lovely island. It's wonderful. Anyway, I can't wait to inhabit that disaster.
So these kind of lovely, luminous—and of course this sort of look is accompanied, as you saw from the actual buildings at Songdo and in Masdar, with environments that are full of pervasive computing, touch-team immediate, these light buildings, etcetera. So the way we're building these things is also very much a physical and aesthetic project of organizing our bodies in space.
So if there's a feature that’s in this emerging landscape, it's that the sensorial element, disappearance if you will of figure ground relations, we're now immersed into these disasters, entire landscapes, either brought into buildings or literally resculpted as a massive scale spatial product, here is MVRDV, a famous Dutch firm, into maximum density construction, where here the environment is literally being brought into the city. These are projected plans for a Gwanggyo power center projection for South Korea, another smart city imaginary.
Again, in all these architectures that you see of pleasureful destruction, parametrically rendered to smooth away the capacity to encounter of course the impossibility of witnessing such a disaster. So we're moved away from the encounter with radical difference of the earth or the environment, or more critically, of the suffering of other beings and people that are making this pleasant space of capital possible—so of course this absolutely obscures the death of the oysters themselves—but in general, none of these images indicate any questions of labor or any of the other issues that make these things possible. In place of this we have design and immerse interactive environments that literally channel our attention into capital through the production of spaces that deliberately confuse interiority and exteriority, and make the world a sort of less flexible space, if you will, for global capital.
The question of these lively but simultaneously deadly images is that I guess that's left of how to inhabit a world. So one of the questions is can we change the tense of how we're envisioning the futurity of our urban life?
So how can we experience in some mode that's different in terms of transforming our modes of design and architecture, since it's almost like these kind of solutions are pretty ubiquitous right now in design practice. In order to be able to deal with both encountering difference and at the same time encountering the devastation of life at times and scales beyond or outside of human—of individual human apprehension. In order to think about some alternative possibilities, I want to turn now then to just like an alternative vision of all this, mainly the architect Lebbeus Woods's work on post-catastrophe.
And one of the things I find most interesting about Lebbeus Woods, and I just want to pause it, is what would it take for us to be able to shift our vision of urban futures and territories away from the idea of a catastrophe that has not yet happened, the idea that the catastrophe, perhaps, is already happening, and that we need to shift our question not to “how do we have to survive?” But, rather, “how would we like to live?”
And I say this because the assumption behind all the previous images we saw, this apocalyptic hopefulness that's currently preoccupying us, is that the idea is that the catastrophe is still to come, but in fact, as a number of people have noted, in many ways the catastrophe is already here. Most of the animals are already extinct, and most of the humanity lives in misery. So how do we think about encountering that, and how do we think about building and constructing for that? And that's sort of the ethical problem that I'm kind of trying to think about through this question of the image and the forms of facticity, also that these images then render and make real.
So Lebbeus Woods is quite famous as being the architect, if you will, of a post-catastrophic kind of situation, if you will, the imaginary. In his work, he provides vistas of rent territories, whether of geological events, wars, or simply fictive futures of post-catastrophic life. I turn to him now because he's among the most prominent to envision an already-destroyed world and to ask about its possible future. In the predictions, for example, here, of the future of a city destroyed by ethnic conflict, Woods envisioned spaces cut through vectors that will never obscure the path—there are wounds that do not really heal, but they do move, they facilitate new capacities and infrastructure, new directions and connections between space.
Woods also did a series of geological events. And so here's another example of this sort of the destruction initially of this electrical management building, and then his kind of re-envisioning it beneath it in Sarajevo. He also did a series of geological events. The San Francisco and Haiti quakes. In these, Woods suggests a sort of geo-technical approach, if you will, to thinking, within which earthquakes and faults are imagined in their constant movement as an architecture. For him, one of the problems is that architecture does not take the earth's mobility as part of its thinking.
Rather, in denying the restless of the earth, we create death. We must fight here against the Cartesian orthogonal plane of houses that makes them killers when of course an earthquake hits. And he envisions drawing another landscape. And in many ways these drawings are kind of diagrams of thought for how can we think these concepts even architecturally in order to introduce them. In his work he never separated between war, architecture, and nature. As he said on inspiration from a Japanese architect, and I quote, “earthquakes are like wars,” unquote, and architecture is war. It is a battle to reassert the human over nature. But the mandate he argued must be to change the terms of war. To think otherwise. To assume that no event is ever natural. He suggests architecture that is landscape in his words is a head-archy, grounded in quantum theory and cybernetics, a concept of self-organization, not the organization of the current smart developments, whose only temporality is that of anticipation for death, but rather that of vectors, of multiple temporalities, of reassemblage. In his terms, he used the term “reconstruction,” which he always used. He said reconstruction is neither construction nor conservation, to which we must think about the ways to kind of rebuild this world, of spaces, to create these free spaces, these vectors, these roaming global territories that do not instate a non-space, but create questions of affiliation between spaces and times.
In his work, he evinces a comprehension that disasters happen, but this is not the tabula rasa. So there's a kind of disaster that's occurred, but it's not the tabula rasa of modernity, to which we respond with a false optimism of progress, but rather a territory with a memory, as though a body, a wound, but one that also heals. He argues that most architects cannot think this way, they can't think otherwise than in this valorous mood, because in order to think otherwise demands a practice of gesture and the body to take drawing and image-making as material acts, just like pouring concrete.
Drawing is not a failure to build, he argued. It is the diagram of thought. And he wrote of drawing that it was not against practice. His sketches are rather the future tense of practice. And he actually said, “Drawing is the tool of the architect on the move, on the run, the architect who is first of all a citizen of the stricken city and a new dynamic instability.” And it's about transforming the model into thinking of the world as a constant site of instabilities.
And so in this sense his drawing is not about revelation, as in Trevor Paglen's work here, where we're kind of revealing dark territories, rather, it's about a kind of imagination in history. He's drawing on—drawing is the medium that is mobile. It is not analogous to creating blueprints and architecture. These are sketches, sketches that demonstrate impermanence and allow architectural concepts that are fluid in changing to emerge. The enactment of a possibility to be remade by an architect who is unstable, unclear of their perspectives. So a big part of this is transforming our perspective of control into another mode of being within the world.
Here landscape becomes a tool to reconfigure the hubris of technology conquering nature and rather opens to the body to the city, the person to time, and to the fact that these wounds are connections between all of us alive on earth, is connection, because in his words, within the destruction of war of environment, one injects, and he has this idea of kind of injecting these new structures into old ones where desires are dreams of architecture. This injection, this demonstration of the wounds, what he labels “scabs,” and he would call everything like a scab or a wound, of trauma renders spaces open vectors to other times to recall history. Not an attempt to resurrect or return to some mythic past, not to rebuild the old world, but to envision a new one to come, but without absolutely eviscerating the past.
For this reason, he insists on the idea of free space as producing vectors between sites to create a globalization that is insistent on the trauma of history, while equally insistent on the weak messianic possibility of the future. Woods was particularly shaped by the end of the Cold War and the subsequent civil war in the Balkans. And he spent some time in Zagreb and Sarajevo in the early 1990s and he opened his work on postwar Sarajevo with these quotes: “Every age has its own face; the face of ours is a savage one; delicate spirits cannot confront it; they swerve their eyes in terror; they invoke the ancient prototypes; they cannot look directly at the contemporary, prodigious, and dreadful spectacle of a world in painful birth.” And the second quote: “Sarajevo is the first city of the 21st century. The message we send back to you is not a happy one. But we are alive.” In Sarajevo, Woods argued one recognizes the loss of figure ground relations of losing identities, the inability to plan because of the constant shifts of terror, and in facing the destruction, the city and its constant impermanence, the architecture here must respond with new institutions. He imagined a new parliament, such as this one, made up of free spaces woven through the surviving in his words “Cartesian framework.”
There's a series of moments that I'm going to end on from his diaries that I worked with at the Getty Museum that perhaps best evoke this effort to think the unthought, to encounter the turbo-reality that is the fate of most of us on earth. In a series of letters to his imagined lover, perhaps his final partner, Aleksandra Wagner, I'm not really sure, he opens, I recall a summer, and I quote, “we had no names,” end quote. He implies no identities, no stable bodies, or conscious states. He writes about state change, and how seeing his lover sleeping, but thinking she was awake, and kissing her, accidentally waking her, bringing her to consciousness.
He writes these recollections or maybe fictions near drawings of topographies of mountains, landscapes that depict a nowhere, but at once familiar. Mountains that could be cities or perhaps bodies. And he writes this woman maybe real, maybe in a dream, “Finally I return. Finally, time and space compress between us, where are you? By compression, I do not mean they become less,” end quote. They're not less in the way that global capital makes time and space less. “Rather,” he wrote, “they become more, more intense, more piercing of my soul. We grow physically closer, yet every hour apart is a continent, each day a world,” end quote. Perhaps these continents and worlds evoked in his drawings are new forms of connection. And he continues: “By world I do not [mean to] refer to geography, unless it is the mapping of pain. Rather, I imagine now a matrix of fierce energy—the memories,” and words are blacked out here, his failure of expression, perhaps, to the opening, to the desire to draw, and still connect to this other body. So there's kind of a representational failure here.
“Each burning, completing itself, as though each point were incandescent, enough for an existence—itself,” end quote, enough to propel new forms of life. There's a drawing on the side of these images, though necessary flights beyond the page, perhaps to compensate for what cannot be written, or perhaps as a dialogue in search of connection between words and images between territories; between the bodies of lovers and energy. You see the drawing over there.
This is all done in a hotel room in London and it envisions a fragmented world perhaps one in time and space must be rethought. He draws to produce a diagram of potentials. “By enough,” he ends, “I do not imagine that desire can ever be satisfied. Where are you?” Another drawing. This statement, this turbulent geography that he's constant—of pain, a world without identities or spaces.
These notes from his diary then become the introduction to the opening passage of a text titled Architecture and War, and in the opening passages he says, “Architecture and war are not incompatible. Architecture is war. War is architecture. I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms. I am one of millions who do not fit in, who have no home . . . I am an architect, a constructor of worlds, a sensualist who worships the flesh, the melody. A silhouette against the darkening sky. I cannot know your name, nor can you know mine. Tomorrow we begin together the construction of a city.”
In the opening lines of his Architecture and War, he does not turn away from war, but rather recognizes there's no ethical action without the recognition that the earth is already in a state of destruction, there is no hope if we continue to fall to categories and identities, we must build new relations and new worlds, to both recognize violence and refuse its continuation, to think ecologically and to accept time and difference, to find new ways to love the world and each other to which the image is always the site of possibility and disaster. Our demand now is to envision a future that is not catastrophic, an image not of how we must survive, but how do we want to live, that still imagines there's a world to come that may be yet more diverse and loving than the one we now occupy. And I'll end with that.
MG: I think instead of asking my questions to the panel, I'm sure all of you have plenty of questions based on the presentations. So I think it might be best if we just open it up to the audience.
LF: Sure. Briefly, and we actually have to be out of here at 8 o’clock, so . . .
MG: We can do that for sure. Absolutely, right. Yeah. Questions from the audience, maybe?
Audience 1: This questions for you. In your rendering of what architecture and war is, you are proposing more surreal way of thinking about who we are and how we're looking at our existence, than what you’ve rejected as that ideal look of the future that's is being proposed let's say at MoMA, and how do you balance those two? You're not dealing with real spaces you can actually occupy, however . . . philosophically imaginable.
OH: It's a great question. I mean most of this talk was a provocation. I was originally going to talk about a whole series of other projects as well in between. But for me I think the interesting question is to kind of not oppose one to the other, that like ethics and politics—it's the neo-liberal term to envision something that's unbuildable or impossible is automatically against being able to take action in the present, and I believe we have to go and do both.
So for lack of time, I didn't manage to kind of put that middle strata, where we both have to negotiate the contemporary, of course, but at the same time I was trying to just make an intervention in the media room about the assumptions we're making about how we're rendering the future. And in the same way, the way we're rendering the future at MoMA is not surreal. It actually takes a kind of documentary sense of an immediate necessity that we must—that we have to build smart cities or we will die.
And so I want to make an intervention in that, but you bring up a very good point. Nor would I want to end only with Lebbeus Woods. So that idea, I think, is ethically and politically concerns individuals, I'm assuming, is to be able to maintain—is to not say that one has to oppose the other, but to say of course this would not be the only practice I would advocate. We could have a conversation with Greg about how different people are making urban interventions, how different activist groups are hacking or reworking or reusing infrastructures. I mean there's a lot of examples like that. And yeah. So I don't know if that answers your question, but . . .
Audience 2: I was going to say that I really appreciate that the presentations moved from modernism to Lebbeus Woods, and really made me think about this idea of these smart cities, and the seduction of technology right now, and when you first said film, there was a way in which I sort of had a static idea of film as being presented as objective, as Greg talked about, but really it was really experimental in the way it was being shown, right?
And then this failing of the smart city, and Revit and Grasshopper and whatever is being used to make these cities that are actually as unreal and un-occupiable as the Lebbeus Woods drawings, by the way, they look real, but they're not. You can't sustain in those things, right? So that's what's fed to students, that's what's fed to us, that's what fed to developers, as what Dubai needs to look like, and then in the failing of that, I love that you brought it to drawing.
So I'm wondering, right now, how is technology being used for representation in experimental ways? So I love that you showed the film, this idea of film as light, but also the film itself as lustrous, right, that the material itself, and I feel like that's a little bit of loss that I was trying to find new representations, and then at the end we have to go back 20-something years, you know what you were talking about is writing Lebbeus Woods, but you said . . .
So it's like that doesn't mean that—that this is where we have to stay, or that technology is bad, but I just feel like maybe there's a seductiveness of it that means we get stuck with trying to really find that future language that's not so compact and neat and make it look like oysters can sustain structures in earthquakes. So I don't know if that's—how you answer that question, but really I'm just thinking out loud about technology as a mode of representation, how maybe we're not experimenting enough with the way we saw in earlier times, you know, what you guys showed me
OH: I mean that's just like a communal challenge we have to embrace when we—link the studio to the historical and to all this stuff. I mean that's why I think there's a lot of places we have to do the work. Because right now the big interesting thing is there's a big push against representation, and a drive towards interactivity and immersion. So if you think about like your smart phone, it's a very—it's not—and the fact that we as designers and even often activists, the immediate thing is build an app, like add . . . like that will—go crowdsource and it will work.
And there's never—and then there's—and sort of and the question of how to envision a future that's not either ideal utopian, and homogenous, but still something outside or beyond the actual built thing you have in your hand and your immediate responsiveness is, I think, a real challenge to push to people, and I think it's a place where media archaeology can speak into the present. There's different ways to modify it, different ways to make people think about it, and then—I don't think there's one answer.
GFR: Yeah, I was struck with that in thinking of a parallel to the period I was talking about, something like Gordon Matta-Clark's interventions is similar. He's not building anything. The idea of Lebbeus Woods, the reconstruction, the way that he used that term. It's one way of possibly thinking about Gordon Matta-Clark's interventions into the urban landscape as a way of getting us to sort of think about the possibilities of the existing, rather than imagining a hypothetical future.
OH: There's also questions of temporality, I think, and how we're negotiating, and how we're fostering also different modes of political action. Like I think it is possible to have heterogeneous practices simultaneously, again, like not one or the other, like there are things you sometimes have to do immediately, because we're getting shot on the street, or something’s happening. But there's also a way that like that doesn't have to foreclose politics, or that occur at a different temporal scales. And so I think one of those challenges is also create spaces where there's lots of different practices going on . . . .
- MCA Talk:
Photoconceptualism–TalksFree With Admission
- Short Two sculptures, a bright pink rectangle and a turquoise circle, sit atop a reflective surface covered in geometric light and shadows.
- MCA Talk:
The City Between Image and Fact–TalksFree With Admission
- Short A black-and-white photo of the Chicago skyline from the north shore of Lake Michigan is overlaid with rectangular color image fragments of the same view. The color images add and subtract people from the lakefront view.