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CONVEY: Photo Exhibition and Web Feature

This week, an essay and photography project that I have been working on is being featured in Places Journal.  Here’s a little sneak peak:

“In John Carpenter’s science fiction film They Live, the drifter hero walks through Downtown Los Angeles wearing sunglasses that allow him to see the world for what it is, a decaying society ruled by aliens in human disguise. With the glasses, he can read the subliminal messages transmitted by billboards: Stay Asleep. Watch TV. Consume. Obey.

I remembered that scene as I stood on the roof of a high-rise in Hong Kong, photographing a billboard that proclaimed one word: CONVEY. Inadvertently (or not), the billboard advertised its own purpose. That became the title image for an ongoing series of photographs examining the unanticipated tensions, interactions, and dialogues between commercial images and the landscapes they occupy, in Hong Kong, Mexico, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States.”

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This series was exhibited in November at the Mayor’s Gallery, Boston City Hall, made possible with a generous fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.  Later this month, I will be presenting selections of this work with New York-based photographer Anthony Hamboussi, whose La Petite Ceinture series explores the landscapes of a disused railway line in Paris.  Anthony is currently working on an MFA at Queens College, CUNY, where I am now working as an Assistant Professor of Urban Studies.  This exhibition will showcase the growing connections between the Urban Studies and Art departments at the college, thanks to the efforts of Jeff Maskovsky and Greg Sholette.

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Deconstructing the High Line: 3/5 Symposium and Book Project

Last June, I met Christoph Lindner (University of Amsterdam) and Joseph Heathcott (New School) in Paris at an authors’ conference for the forthcoming book Global Garbage: Urban Imaginaries of Waste, Excess, and Abandonment (Routledge). Over lunch one day, Lindner and I were chatting about the mutual constitution of urban infrastructure and ‘wastelands,’ and realized that we had mutual interest in writing about New York City’s The High Line. This sort of interaction is one of my favorite things about being an academic: the stimulation of speaking with people who share your (sometimes idiosyncratic or esoteric) interests with an equal level of enthusiasm. Or, in other words, people who like to nerd out on urbanism. It’s always hard to know which of these germinating conversations will become something more.

The High Line project is actually coming to fruition now: Lindner, Heathcott, and I will be hosting a colloquium at the New School in New York City which focuses on critical responses to the High Line. It will be held on March 5th, followed by a reception and short presentation to mark the publication of Lindner’s Imagining New York City: Literature, Urbanism and the Visual Arts (Oxford University Press, 2015). Panelists will include a number of authors who will be featured in the volume that Lindner and I are editing, Deconstructing the High Line: Essays on Postindustrial Urbanism (Rutgers University Press).

See below for more information!

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Venue: The New School, Wollman Hall, 66 W. 11th St., 5th Fl., NYC

The High Line, an innovative promenade created on a disused elevated railway in Manhattan, is widely recognized as among the most iconic urban landmarks of the 21st century. It has stimulated public interest in landscape design while simultaneously re-integrating an industrial relic into the everyday life of New York City. Since its opening in 2009, this unique greenway has exceeded expectations in terms of attracting visitors, investment, and property development to Manhattan’s West Side, and is widely celebrated as a monument to community-led activism, adaptive re-use of urban infrastructure, and innovative ecological design. It has also inspired a worldwide proliferation of similar proposals seeking to capitalize on the repurposing of disused urban infrastructure for postindustrial revitalization.

Providing a much-needed critical perspective, this interdisciplinary symposium will interrogate the High Line’s relation to public space, creative practice, neoliberal urban renewal, urban political ecology, and policy-led gentrification. The event brings together scholars from urban studies, geography, cultural analysis, art, and architecture, and is co-sponsored by the Milano School of International Affairs at The New School, the Department of Urban Studies at Queens College-CUNY and the Amsterdam Center for Globalisation Studies.

 

 

 

Creative City Limits

I’ve just recently finished editing my first audio piece. The recordings are from a bus tour of East London in the summer of 2011, organized by Andrew Harris and guided by artist Laura Oldfield Ford and architectural writer Douglas Murphy. If you listen closely you can also hear the voices of some of my intellectual role models, Peter Marcuse and the wunderkind Owen Hatherley. The itinerary focused on the history of redevelopment in various boroughs of the East End, particularly relating to critiques of current Olympic regeneration schemes. Interspersed with the guided tour are recordings of the various sites visited. Organized by Creative City Limits and the UCL Urban Laboratory, with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Thanks to Maria Agiomyrgiannaki for the help recording.

On a related note, I wasn’t familiar with Laura’s zine and book, Savage Messiah before the tour, but I really want to check it out. It seems to be a great mix of criticism, punk ethic and some really great illustrations.

Here’s the piece, it’s best with headphones.

Manchester: Excavating “The Original Modern”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently published a short piece in Issue 15 of the excellent Manchester fanzine, The Shrieking Violet. It’s about Manchester’s branding of itself as “The Original Modern,” and where we might find the real “original modern” within the built environment of the city.

Here’s a little excerpt:

Just as “Cottonopolis” was the first industrial city, and accordingly, for a moment, world’s most futuristic city, it was also one of the first ‘postindustrial’ cities. Since the 1970s, this city of red brick has become the master of municipal entrepreneurialism based on a sanitized industrial history—a new heritage industry emerged, repackaging the city in the sepia tones of nostalgia. Branding itself as “The Original Modern”, city boosters Marketing Manchester project an outward image as a risk-taking city that shirks convention and always has. After decades of embarrassment and disavowal of its industrial dowry, the city’s well-branded “urban renaissance” has been predicated on a reinvention that both conceals and reveals its cultural heritage, in an amalgam of selective memory and outright amnesia.

There’s some great stuff in this issue, and you can access the whole thing here.

Marketing Manchester has reappeared in the spotlight recently through the “I ♥ MCR” campaign, with its ubiquitous posters covering the city centre, particularly in the Northern Quarter. In the wake of the riots, these signs give the impression of some sort of heartwarming grassroots expression of civic pride. However, this programme was spearheaded by the agency, which is in charge of “developing the Manchester brand” and is funded by a number of public and business actors within the city region. I suggest the excellent analysis of this phenomenon from Richard Goulding of the Manchester Mule.

Article in Liminalities: The Journal of Performance Studies

“Jute”, the audiovisual project I worked on with Bradley L. Garrett and Jonathan Prior, has been published with an accompanying essay in the current issue of Liminalities. This is the first piece in an ongoing special section of the journal, The City, edited by Daniel Makagon. I’d suggest that any academics who are exploring cities with digital media check out their Call for Papers and Projects. It is one of the few peer-reviewed journals that accepts audio and video work, and is also completely open-access, much to the credit of the editors.

I have posted the video and some descriptions earlier so I won’t be redundant. If you would like to read the essay, “Jute: Excavating Material and Symbolic Surfaces”, you can find it here. It would be great to get any sort of feedback on the essay and/or the project itself.

Urban Transcripts: Rome, the accidental city

I’m excited to be involved with the planning of the second annual Urban Transcripts, a series of events focusing on “(re)discovering the exceptional oddities and alternative visions that make every city so different to every other.” It will be held in Rome in late December and consist of an exhibition, conference and workshop. Last year I proposed a participatory photography project for the first Urban Transcripts in Athens, but ended up not being able to attend. Yiorgos Papamanousakis approached me earlier this year to help curate project proposals and run a workshop. The structure is quite promising; the workshops will be led by two tutors, one of whom is familiar with the built environment and social context of Rome, and a guest who will focusing on experimental methodologies of interpreting and documenting “the accidental city.”

The Call for Projects is now up on the website, and more information about the workshops and other events will be added later. This is a collectively-run DIY project, so most of the events in Rome will be in free, while the workshops will only cost enough to pay for the expenses of the visiting tutors. Minimal fees are involved for submissions and participation, as everything is being done on a shoestring budget. If you’re interested in proposing a project or submitting work for the exhibition, it would be great to hear from you.

You can follow the progression of the project on Urban Transcripts’ Newsblog or Facebook page.

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Animation courtesy of Yiorgos Papamanousakis

The City as Continuous Edifice, Monument and Fortress

I just came across this video that Adam Ryder made in 2009.  It’s an excellent remix of nine science fiction films, fulfilling (and generating) tropes of dystopian urban futures. Also, excellent title.

In his words, “Overcrowded, overbuilt, and dystopic, these films offer us an extrapolation of today’s urban development problems if allowed to progress unchecked for hundreds of years.”

Funfair!

Here’s a little photographic slideshow with audio field recordings that Jonathan Prior and I put together from our wander around Leith, just outside of Edinburgh, Scotland.  The funfair was in a spillover car park for the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre shopping center in the partially-regenerated port area.  We were exploring the area last month when I visiting Jon and Ericka Duffy.  FUN FUN FUN.

The audio is best enjoyed with headphones, and you can make it full screen by clicking the icon in the Vimeo window.

Funfair from Jonathan Prior on Vimeo.

Stadtkolloquium

On March 29 and 30 I attended an excellent event at University College London called Stadtkolloquium, organized by Sandra Jasper, a PhD student at UCL’s Urban Laboratory.  The event was attended by over thirty postgraduate researchers and early-career academics from various fields within urban studies, and from a number of European institutions.  The University of Manchester was represented by myself, fellow PhD geographer Jana Wendler, and Leandro Minuchin, a lecturer at the Manchester Architectural Research Centre.

At the event, I presented a paper called “Infrastructure and Indeterminacy: The Production of Residual Space.”  This was a draft of an eventual book chapter that I am presenting at a The Anti-Landscape at the University of Southern Denmark. Basically, what I am trying to do is look at ways that socio-technical systems are theorized in the social sciences and connect these conceptualizations with the way that urban infrastructural spaces are imagined within the fields of urbanism (architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, planning).  Central to this is the imaginary of “left-over spaces”, “urban voids” and “no man’s lands”, using Manchester’s Victorian railway viaducts as an exemplar.  Honestly, this paper has been in the works for way too long, and I probably haven’t been very pragmatic in trying to undertake it during the short length of a PhD. This was all the more reason to sound some ideas and get some feedback.

I truly appreciated the opportunity to present this paper to a group of geographers, architectural historians and designers.  It’s rare to be in a room full of people who are so engaging, and whose work approaches urban space from a variety of perspectives and at different scales.  Everyone presented their research, collectively developed a critical dialogue about ontology, epistemology and method, and found commonalities among our research interests.  To my surprise, there were many overlaps with my areas of interest– a number of researchers presented work on infrastructural landscapes, cultural memory (and amnesia), visuality, modernity and postmodernity, and experimental research practice.

The whole event got me thinking about the different ways that researchers, especially when discussing theory and philosophy, mobilize certain metaphors.  Some were questioning the implications of thinking of their research as an “archive”, others were describing redundant infrastructure as “phantom limbs”, which draws from the historical reference to the city as alternatively a body and a machine (or, as others described it, a cyborg).

On the second day, we had a “method lab” (I don’t know why I was the only one that laughed at that).  After a somewhat contentious conversation about Actor-Network Theory, Matthew Gandy and Leandro Minuchin presented on historical research methods, and Andrew Harris presented on the role of audio-visual documentation in his research of the “vertical geographies” of Mumbai.  With his focus on the leftover spaces of infrastructure and his use of photography, audio and mapping, I realized that our work had a huge amount of commonalities.  Last was a presentation by Michal Murawski, a PhD anthropologist at Cambridge, which I found especially interesting and subversive.  Through an approach he described as “ethnographic conceptualism”, he uses agit-prop to approach the relationship between a particularly dominating building, The Palace of Culture and Science, and the city of Warsaw.  If you can read Polish, his blog looks interesting.

Thanks a lot to everyone who helped put this on, it was excellent.  I had more stimulating conversations about urban research than any other event I have attended so far as a PhD student.

Creative Practice Primer

The Experimental Research Network has just published a web-based Creative Practice Primer, which is the result (and archive) of a week-long workshop at Dundee Contemporary Arts in November of 2010.  This was the event where I worked on the Jute project with Jonathan Prior and Bradley Garrett, which I have posted previously.  The contents of the Primer are tips, reflections, and a showcase of collaborative research projects using audio, visual, and site-specific creative methods.  Aside from contributing to a reflective essay on the Jute project, I also write a guide outlining various techniques for taking photographs in low-light situations.

N.B.- There’s also a nice reflective piece by Bradley on the collaborative process of making Jute on the Creative Practice Primer site.