Category Archives: urban aesthetics

On a Glocal City

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

When we speak of the glocal character of something or someone, we refer on both the local and global qualities of it. It is an interesting portmanteau that probably academic Joshua Meyrowitz (among others) brought it in the academic discourse, when he begun to use such a concept in his talks (mid-1980’s) one of which was published later as ‘The Changing Global Landscape’ (1991) (see also Meyrowitz, 2005) . Throughout 20th century, it is the wave of history, the evolution of things and cultures that has gone from the local and the place-bounded to the global and the virtual. However, our everyday life is deeply interwoven with local and global threads; experienced in every possible sense, in various ways that we do not even notice it.

To echo Meyrowitz (2005), our experience of the city is local. Someone walks, senses through his/her body in a way that becomes a social agent that affects and is affected by a network of things. This emerging interaction with humans and non-humans inserts the walker into fused situations and ambiances, something that results into a whole spectrum of emotions for us. In other words, the walker is always a place-bounded figure, or maybe not? The globalized and urbanized shift on everyday life in the city has brought a huge wave of communication systems, technologies (embodied or not) – briefly described as everywhere-media. This has made apparent a shift with cultural, political, economic and even sensorial implications. City is not what we knew once upon a time, our physical experience is local but our perception has been extended in various parts of the globe at the same time (see also the 20th century huge impact of M. McLuhan’s on media extensions | McLuhan, 1964).

To describe glocality is to ‘be inside and outside at the same time‘ (Meyrowitz, 2005). We act in local ways but also influenced by global qualities. These global qualities refer to any television, internet or other communication system that surround and influence us via endless flows of visual information. Thus, even if we think that interactions happen into the everyday city and its physical space, they are also occur and being shaped in larger frameworks of online experience. The citizen in London, Athens, New York, Singapore, Sydney, Rio or Tokyo walks and in different physical settings but all have more things in common though such global interconnections. To alter Lefebvre’s (1991) social production of space, they all also contribute in a wider global production of space.

Arriving in what I could term “the glocal city” of the 21st century, the co-existence of both local and global aspects is encountered. The place-bounded character cannot be taken for granted, yet it is an acknowledgement of the oscillating character of a fused local and global, which makes apparent emerging glocalities. Maybe the way glocal comes into discussion renders it a third platform to release any tension between local/global dipole.

Bibliography

  • Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space, trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Meyrowitz, J. (2005). The rise of glocality: New senses of place and identity in the global village. In Nyiri, K. (ed.) A sense of place: The global and the local in mobile communication, Vienna: Passagen Verlag, pp. 21-31.
  • McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.
The Glocal Image Breeder [Artist:  Jer Thorp, 2008]

The Glocal Image Breeder [Artist: Jer Thorp, 2008]

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Initial reflections on a ‘Metamodern’ Flaneur

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Tendencies: The Modern and the Postmodern

Across cities, architecture, philosophy, arts, literature, politics, culture and economics; their approach has been part of wider theoretical frameworks – tendencies – what it is known as modernism and postmodernism. Modernism (19th-20th century) has been concerned with Reason, Science and the objective knowledge – the one universal truth – and in this way the Self is existent, coherent and independent of socio-cultural factors. On the other hand, Postmodernism was a reaction to Modernism and it aimed to challenge modernist views. For Postmodernism, Reason and Science are ideological – constructed by man. The universal and true feeling is not apparent on Postmodernism, as every truth exists within cultures. For Postmodernism, there is ‘no eternal truths, no universal human experience, no universal human rights, overriding narrative of human progress‘ (Faigley, 1992: 8). The postmodern way of thinking has been characterized by deconstruction, irony, subjectivism and relativism as the Modern “one” and “true” is always under suspicious lenses.

Acknowledging the oscillating: Towards Metamodernism

During 2008-2009, two young cultural theorists from Netherlands; Dr. Timotheus Vermeulen and Dr. Robin van den Akker proposed the term ‘metamodernism’, of which an influential paper entitled ‘Notes on Metamodernism‘ (2009) was published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture. The discourse on what’s next or what follows the Postmodern has been endless at least the last 10-15 years. Yet, what is the reason for discussing Metamodernism?  Metamodernism is the concept of the early 21st century which refers to the post-Postmodern era.  The prefix ‘meta’ stands for metaxy (Greek: μεταξύ) to describe the oscillation of things. Therefore, as Vermeulen and Van den Akker note, ‘the metamodernism oscillates, swings back and forth, between the global and the local, between the concept and material, between postmodern irony and a renewed modern enthusiasm. It yearns for a truth – but – it knows it may never find, it strives for sincerity without lacking humour – it engages precisely by embracing doubt‘ (Discussing Metamodernism exhibition text, online, 2012). To understand perhaps metamodernism, one should think of it as a pendulum – it oscillates between romanticism, sincerity, irony, enthusiasm – it is not utopian although it finds itself into a yearning for possible utopias. Following some recent clarifications of Vermeulen and Van den Akker (June 2015), it is easy to describe metamodernism as a movement, a philosophy or an aesthetic framework, but according to them it is not. Metamodernism seems to be something else; a structure of feeling. Raymond Williams (1977) first used the term ‘structure of feeling‘ to describe the lived experience of a quality of time at a particular time and place – a common platform of perceptions and values produced by a particular generation (also Bourne Taylor, 1997: online).

Berndnaut Smilde - Nimbus II (2012) ©

Berndnaut Smilde – Nimbus II (2012) ©

The hybrid nature of 21st century flaneur: Towards a Metamodern Flaneur?

Metamodernism combines both modern and postmodern bringing them into a third platform of oscillation. I have analyzed in previous posts (see also here) that the potential flanerie in the 21st century globalized city has gone hybrid through a number of performative “turns”: the spatial, the sensorial, the socio-technological (also Psarras, 2015). This is apparent in the walking-based artworks and practices of Francis Alys, Simon Pope, Christina Kubisch, Gordan Savicic, Christian Nold, Janet Cardiff among others (see also Walking Artists Network). Such artists have brought together poetic, metaphorical, political, sensory and technological threads of walking in the city. They cannot be labeled as flaneurs and flaneuses based on what the early 20th century flaneur was but their practices and intentions have gone hybrid – revealing emerging hybridities.

If I can argue for a 21st century flaneur/flaneuse, the concept has shifted from the traditional alienated persona of Benjamin – it has shifted from a mere spatial consumption of the city. On the contrary, hybrid flaneur/flaneuse has gone through an oscillating poetic and practical “orchestration” of co-walkers, technologies, objects and places – rendering him/her the initiator of hybrid poetics. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse has gone into an emerging sociality, not only walking into places but also with others, becoming an active ear and nose on foot – away from the visually-oriented consumption of the past. Drawing from the collective walks of Simon Pope, Francis Alys, Christina Kubisch and Christian Nold, the attentiveness on the social has made apparent a sensory attentiveness as well, what Myers (2010) calls a ‘sharing of viewpoints and earpoints‘. Hybrid flaneur has shown a spatial turn as well – a fruitful focus on the geographical features and qualities and their alteration through technological aspects of locative media (GPS) and experimental mapping as part of his/her poetics (see also Psarras, 2015).

Within the multiparametric environment of 21st century city, hybrid flaneur/flaneuse acknowledges the postmodern loss of public space, the sameness of things and the ironic image of the artist who goes walking in a city that has been overstimulated and under constraints and sterilities. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse does not stay in the car but also not only walks into – he/she integrates the multiple surfaces of the city by walking and riding the tube – setting his foot not only on the asphalt but on the escalators and terminals. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse seeks for a 21st century urban romanticism but not into his/her imagination. On the contrary there he/she inverts the irony and constraints of spaces as parts of his/her tactics. Hybrid flaneur does not seek for the romantic place-bounded belief into the globalized city – he knows won’t find it there. On the contrary, he/she sets his foot into the glocality (see also Meyrowitz, 2005) – acknowledging the 21st century city as a glocal fabric with new threads ready to be activated.

Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse oscillates between multiple platforms of sociality and solitude, sensory tactics and overstimulation, asphalt and immaterial layers, between his body and the technological extension of it. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse shows a metamodern orchestrator who has changed all the previous metaphors into altered versions of “botanizing”, “weaving”, “tuning” and “orchestrating”. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse is constantly oscillating between the romanticised view of early flaneur, the radical tactics and political implications of psychogeography and the performative/playful elements of Fluxus/Land Art eras. It is an oscillation augmented by technologies and socio-geographical sensitivities (also Psarras, 2015).

[reflections will be continued in next text]

Notes

I would like to thank Dr. Timotheus Vermeulen (University of Nijmegen, Netherlands, Director of the Centre for New Aesthetics) for our recent discussion

On a Hybrid Flaneur (Bill Psarras © 2015)

On a Hybrid Flaneur (Bill Psarras © 2015)

Bibliography

  • Bourne Taylor, J. (1997) ‘Structure of Feeling’ in Payne, M. (ed.) Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory, Blackwell Publishing – Blackwell Reference Online [link]
  • Faigley, L. (1992). Fragments of Rationality. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.
  • Meyrowitz, J. (2005). The rise of glocality: New senses of place and identity in the global village. In Nyiri, K. (ed.) A sense of place: The global and the local in mobile communication, Vienna: Passagen Verlag, pp. 21-31.
  • Myers, M. (2010). ‘Walk with me, talk with me: The art of conversive wayfinding’ Visual Studies, 25(1), pp. 59-68.
  • Psarras, V. (2015). Emotive Terrains: Exploring the emotional geographies of city through walking as art, senses and embodied technologies. PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths University of London.
  • Turner, L. (2015). ‘Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction’, Notes on Metamodernism, 12 January [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2010). ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, vol 2. [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2015). ‘Misunderstandings & Clarifications’ Notes on Metamodernism, 3 June [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2012). Discussing Metamodernism – Exhibition Press Release, Gallery Tanja Wagner, 17/3 – 21/4/2012 [link]
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On a philosophy of traffic lights

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Cities are being regulated by humans and non-humans, in ways able to facilitate various material and immaterial mobilities. One of such non-human regulators are the traffic lights which follow a global standard colour code: the green, the orange and the red. Traffic lights can be found at the intersections, crossroads and pavemenets – a mundane technical assemblage of our everyday lives. Yet, extending flanerie’s intellectual freedom into such things – what can traffic lights say to us?

Re-contextualizing the traffic lights

Traffic lights are comprised of a stable metallic body and three changing colours. They are static, fixed in the ground, observing abstract figures of the streets. They are part of the place. Simple light structures, yet there are three changing conditions in a loop of light, which continues showing itself not only in front of crowdy times and streets but also in the midst of an anonymous street in the middle of nowhere. Traffic lights are spatial signifiers of the transient both in literal and metaphorical way. The green shows the safety of things for the driver, a temporal light signal which re-brings the driver into the mobile condition. It shows the very first step into the potential – a synonym of re-entrance. The temporality of orange indicates an in-betweeness of movement – but it is a signal that asks for critical thinking. It is up to the driver’s decision to slow down, to think carefully of the next step. Then comes the red phase, a stopping signal that freezes the continuity of journey – a signal to think – a moment of re-calibration, of waiting.

Traffic light seems to hold a poetic – an almost spiritual – potential. If considering the journey and the street as an unfolding language through time – to echo Solnit (2001) – then the traffic light becomes a spatial semicolon of light. The unfolding condition of everyday life and the street is quite the same. Life and the street are not perfectly paved and articulated – they are full of contradictory moments of happiness, sadness, victories and failures. Within the buzz of everyday life, the challenges, the thoughts for the past, the present and the future – traffic lights are a moment of relief. During that minute (almost), such a waiting boring time becomes a phase for reflection, for re-consideration, for getting lost in thousand thoughts. It is a moment of re-enactment, traffic light invites us to think with it, to tag our thoughts in the change of its colours. It is strangely beautiful to observe all the drivers – stucked in traffic lights – as temporal thinkers and temporary enlivened arrows of potential. While music and the ambient noise of radio fill the air, others smile on their own, others silently cry and others just sit static – as they tune themselves in the staticness of the car, of the asphalt, of the whole scenery.

You will find traffic lights as unnoticed sculptures into the most crowdy streets of globalized cities. However, you will also find them as anonymous light corners in empty crossroads during a hot sunny noon or during a foggy evening. They are parts of both atmospheres and they contribute on the ambiance of each place. The multiple practical and poetic levels render them almost a part of a bigger installation artwork of which concept has been the everyday. Such inbetween feeling is born while watching the mixed media installation artwork Location I (1998) of Belgian artist Hans op de Beeck. It is an atmospheric crossroad of traffic lights – into a silence which is ready to shout loudly that something will happen. It is a celebration of what it means the concept of the moment to all of us – even unconsciously. It is such traffic light framework that gives them the potential to be poetic links for the intellectual mind – triggers of the unnoticed beauty – semicolons bounded to place but rites of passage for the next to happen. Traffic lights are the frozen incarnation of Hermes god – messengers and indicators of the transient.

Traffic Lights in Germanry - Wayne Pinkston ©

Traffic Lights in Germanry – Wayne Pinkston ©

Hans op de Beeck - Location I (1998) - mixed media 320 x 400 x 500 cm ©

Hans op de Beeck – Location I (1998) – mixed media 320 x 400 x 500 cm ©

Bibliography

  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Hans of de Beeck (1998). Location I, mixed media installation, 320 x 400 x 500 cm.
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The poetics of encounter: Humans, Minerals and Stars

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Magnifying the encounter for the hybrid flaneur: Collisions as sculptures  

We walk, we breathe – muscles become mobilized and a whole bio-activity takes place within us in real-time. Senses are activated; initiating a sensory melody with emotional implications, which is extended and is being shaped by everything. For the artist-flaneur not only for the 20th but also for the 21st century – what I call the hybrid flaneur/flaneuse, walking entails the element of encounter. The encounter in the city and its levels is poetic, political and metaphorically a geological process. I would like to bring into discussion the above image of a mineral – the fluorite – scientifically a mineral form of calcium fluoride which takes its name from the Latin ‘fluere’ – meaning ‘to flow’. Steps constitute the spatial and embodied medium that brings us into the encountering plateau. The sensory encounter is articulated between the walker and the streets, the humans – between enlivened and non-human elements. It is a whole world of visual stimuli, mixed temporal soundscapes, olfactory atmospheres and tactile encounters that changes and re-updates itself within milliseconds. If we imagine the process of encounter as a collision with various qualitative and quantitative parameters – in other words as a sculpture of interaction – then the produced reaction of the walker both intellectually and physically can be described as a temporal sculpture. In minerals like fluorite, the time scale goes back to almost 200 million years when hot water containing fluorine ‘was forced up from within the Earth‘. The encounter can be found when ‘the brine reached the calcium rich, limestone bedrock, fluorite crystals formed along the walls of fractures and voids in the rock‘ (Ilinois State Museum: online).

Borrowing from the filmic thinking, the encounter of the flaneur with the city in various levels can be frozen in time. It can be paused and reveal various poetics and affects; almost in a spiritual way as with the immersive video environments of Bill Viola. In his large scale video installation of multiple projections Five Angels for the Millennium (2001), a human figure enters in extreme slow motion in the water revealing an affective, aesthetic aspect of world’s unconscious – what Thrift (2004: 72) calls as ‘a mix of unnatural naturalism and magical realism‘. It is the magnification of that moment human figure approaches the surface of the water, showing a spatial, sensory and emotional space of encounter. It constitutes an action that will produce a re-action; a collision with strong implications of a constant inbetweeness. The encounter for the flaneur in the city resembles the formation of minerals millions of years ago – it resembles the approaching figure in Viola’s works and even the violent collision of stars out in the space. His/her walking style develops an intellectual, sensory and emotional friction with human and non-human elements within the urban landscape. Every moment – every single encounter with the next stimulus forms once again a metaphorical collision of stars, a formation of aesthetic minerals in the intellectual plateau of his/her exploration. Every time the walker/flaneur initiates a tactile friction with the asphalt, a whole new universe of potential encounters starts developing its aspects like branches in the becoming geography of everyday city (also Psarras, 2015). Learning from the formation of minerals, the intellectual geology becomes a filter for contemporary hybrid flaneur/flaneuse not only to observe distant formations but to go with others into fruitful collisions with the urban in order to give his/her sensory experience as significant element in the production of intellectual minerals. A collective urban mineralogy with not only poetic but also political implications.

Bibliography

  • Thrift, N. (2004). ‘Intensities of feeling: Towards a spatial politics of affect’ Geografiska Annaler, 86B(1), pp. 57–78.
  • Psarras, B. (2015) Emotive Terrains: Exploring the emotional geographies of city through walking as art, senses and embodied technologies, PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths University of London.
  • Ilinois State Museum – Gallery page – Fluorite formation (online)
Fluorite| Hardin Co., Illinois, USA © The Arkenstone [from Geologypage.com]

Fluorite| Hardin Co., Illinois, USA © The Arkenstone [from Geologypage.com]

Bill Viola - Five Angels for the Millennium: Ascending Angel ©

Bill Viola – Five Angels for the Millennium: Ascending Angel ©

Stars colliding in the milky way (Pic from internet ©)

Stars colliding in the milky way (Pic from internet ©)

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On Cities: We are Electricities

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Cities are made of humans, they surround us – yet they are within us – and in a way we are the city. Cities thus are a kind of knowledge to be obtained. They encapsulate our past halo of experience: errors, victories, uncertainties – yet they are an example of our future intention. Cities reflect our existence – they are animated examples of our minds and way of thinking. A city makes me stranger, anonymous however the next one makes me brighter and bold. Cities keep an account of our memories, yet this is not a list. It is presented in numerous entangled and poetic formations – brought to life through our sensory perception.

I grew up in a small town, yet my interest in cities and urban experience can be justified as a utopian need to touch the sublime of them. In other words, a need to see the city through holistic lenses – to bring the spiritual into the transient, the technological and the geographical. In smaller scale, going back to our places – our towns and streets – reveals an evolving experience made of many branches and layers. The focus on the intimate shows various topographic, geologic, cultural and everyday layers. Through such topographies, materialities and sensory layers we often understand that our people are almost interwoven in them. Memories come as a next layer to colorize such landscapes. Past versions of our lives have stayed there, under stones, near the sea, close to mountains, through paths and street corners. Walking through such micro-landscapes triggers unexpected playbacks of our memories – in a way as the surrounding place play itself in filmic and interactive ways.

A parallel city of memories comes to light while we traverse the intimacy of our real city. We are never strangers to this experience, yet we are moving terrains for unexpected shocks of happiness, neutrality and nostalgia to take place upon and within us. While accepting such metaphor for ourselves as animated terrains of experience, I do not refer to a passive terrain that memories meet. On the contrary, we are electricities, thousands of kilowatts under constant becoming. Walking or driving through such places, we are prepositions of potential; prepositions and links that history needs to have in order to become a massive entanglement of lives, materials, intentions, flows and emotions. We encounter cities – like our loved ones – that their material nature rise and gradually fall in decline. However, they are still there, they found the time to fool decline by passing in various ways into places, streets, paths, surfaces, materials, photographs and videos. They are not there to just tell/narrate the past experiences but – as Calvino (1974: 11) says – they contain it.

Space is freedom, but place is embodied experience, grounded to earth, articulated through repetition. And it is this repetitive action that brings us to familiar spatial and sensory motifs while re-entering in our city. The departure has always potential freedom and hope but also danger and sadness. We are micro-cities that leave a bigger geographical mother circle in search of experience. Yet, the experience of arriving in the city – of connecting our embodied cities to the familiar – reveals degrees of happiness, of achievement but also of neutrality. Cities around us are the instruments but we are chord-cities – we reverberate, we produce the melody – in a way each one of us constitute a range of melodies to be activated.

And yet it is this constant repetition of these verbal conjunctions. It is the yet or the however that makes cities and humans evolve – one more step to be taken.

Image: Robert Boesch/AP Images (©)

Image: Robert Boesch/AP Images (©)

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Skin and the street: Interrelations

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

French philosopher Michel Serres (1985: 3) describes the skin as the ‘variety of our mingled senses‘. Yet for him touch is quite significant as the linking sense with the world around us. Indeed, touch and the haptic experience (hands, feet) connects the subject with the surroundings, making apparent the very personal “I” from the exterior environment. Somewhere between philosophy and poetic approach, Serres claims that the location of the soul is not a specific one in the human body but ‘it flares whenever and wherever’ the body through hands, feet or other touch the world. The very essence of human resides on the dynamic intensities of senses – a constant dialogue between the skin and the world. Thus, the skin is the mutable terrain – the meeting point of a “becoming” soul.

I could argue that asphalt and the street is the “urban skin”; the meeting point of the flourishing everyday inter-sensory relations. Street and the asphalt become the public daguerrotype that accepts everything to be inscribed upon – a terrain for the hectic choreography of humans to be articulated. It is thus that the very beat of the city – a glimpse of the urban soul – resides on every touch with the city. Myriads of millions of touchings through walking activate every second the city. Rodaway (1994: 44) reminds us that the sense of touch is the very first one that human embryo develops. It is a thought that triggers an interconnection with the very first steps in an empty, mundane or crowded street. In other words, as with the birth – there is a “spatio-temporal birth” to be given by the walker.

Still from 'Urban Halo' (2013) - Bill Psarras ©

Still from ‘Urban Halo’ (2013) – Bill Psarras ©

Bibliography

  • Rodaway, P. (1994). Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Serres, M. (1985) [2008]. The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies, trans. Sankey, M. and Cowley, P., London; New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
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Taking a walk with Kandinsky: Street and Canvas

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

The last couple of days found me going back to Wassily Kandinsky and his influential book ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art‘ (originally publ. in 1910). It was a book that caught my interest during my BA years. It has been nice to go back in such texts and find intellectual links between painting and walking/flaneur. In this post, I intend to take an imaginary walk with Kandinsky. Interestingly he reflects on the character of canvas – just before the hand initiates a drawing trajectory:

Empty canvas. In appearance – really empty, silent, indifferent. Stunned, almost. In effect – full of tensions, with thousand subdued voices, heavy with expectations. A little frightened because it may be violated” (Kandinsky, 1910)

Street and Canvas: Hand and Foot [tactilities]

The connection between the empty canvas and the street / city just before the first step; is fruitful. Empty canvas is white and silent, yet it is full of potential tensions and creative frictions between the hand and the surface. The hand thinks of the next constellation of expression through colours and forms in the same way the feet and mind of the flaneur looks the street as the air runaway just before airplane departure. It is the material terrain that will elevate the expectations of the walker – it will constitute the common milieu that steps, imagination and encounters will meet to create what we know as lived experience. The empty street – just like the empty canvas – has potential and an evolving beauty: that of what will happen next. The colours and lines of the artist-painter are the steps, rhythms and conceptual intentions of the artist-flaneur. The traditional palette has shifted on a spatial level in the case of walker. The street reveals degrees of social coloring by being empty, mid- or heavy crowded. These degrees await to contribute to the spatial painting of flaneur – they remain in a promising level of intensity – ready to be traversed, lived and “orchestrated” by the artist-flaneur/flaneuse. The urban canvas for flaneur is there; awaiting to be filled with the internal truths and thoughts of the artist – something that reminds us that the act of walking is not only an everyday biological process but also a movement with great spiritual intensities. Like breathing, walking is one of the very main actions that interestingly keeps its poetic nature. To echo Solnit (2001), walking is at the same time the most obscure and clear thing in the world.

Bringing the spiritual in the everyday city

Kandinsky describes probably his first encounter with what he developed later as a spiritual abstraction – it was an afternoon when he returned home, lost in his thoughts of what he had painted a few hours earlier. Entering in his dark room, he saw something in the wall that made his mind been electrified – something that was entirely new with its forms full of potential. A few moments later, he understood that it was his painting hanged in the wall upside down. In a similar way I am arguing that the street and the walking are two elements embedded in the everyday subconscious, which has made them mundane and unnoticed. Yet, it is that moment that the street starts to become a shifting terrain of spatio-temporal relations, sensory encounters and fleeting emotions. The different rhythmicity of the walker, the repetition of body gestures, the focus on specific urban “threads”, co-walkers and technologies creates the potential of walking to raise questions within that space. It is the potential to express the artist’s inner landscape – to “weave” patterns of it upon the urban fabric – to merge the aesthetic, the emotional and the political – revealing thus the spiritual in the everyday.

Wassily Kandinsky: Composition

Wassily Kandinsky: Composition

Bibliography

  • Kandinsky, W. (1910) [2001]. Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. Sadler, M.T., London: Tate Publishing.
  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.
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The politics of speaking the asphalt

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

The political, symbolic and resisting quality of walking cannot be denied. To walk and protest is to initiate a kind of ritual. Feet come to be attuned with the frequency of the asphalt and street. People start to walk, step by step, protesting with steps, words and rhythms. The coming of all into a common terrain – the street – empowers the aim of such walking protest. Street becomes the very terrain of enunciation and walking the action for such process. Repetition in words – accompanied by certain objects of symbolic or practical significance – gives the protest a ritualistic character. Indeed, it is a spatial way of denoting the democratic and free voice of everyone. The potential exchange of sensory encounters with each other seems to impact on an emotional articulation while protesting. An articulation with heights and lows – “tunings” and “detunings” – what I could call symbolic temporalities.

Following Solnit (2001), there are notable examples of non-violent actions as for example – the walk in Buenos Aires from Mothers of the Disappeared (1977), the Selma to Montgomery march led by Martin Luther King (1965) or the Mahatma Gandhi collective Salt March (1930). Of course there are numerous other examples to refer on in contemporary cities such as London, Paris, Athens, Istanbul, Hong Kong, New York, Moscow e.t.c. Walking is political, it is an action through space and time with various poetic, symbolic and emotional intentions. Solnit (2001) had described a potential fear for the 21st century city following De Certeau’s description on walkers as writers of invisible spatial texts. For her, if we consider everyday walkers as writers of texts and the city as a language – then a 21st century city of constraints, zones and surveillance seems ready to become silent.

Departing from this possibility, it is clear why walking is creatively resisting, political and poetic (see also Pinder, 2011). A process of stamping out ourselves in the urban fabric while being regulated or facilitated by various layers/technologies of everyday city. Walking contributes to the rhythmicity of the city and walking protests re-vivify the public space – opening the potential for memory to be inscribed by citizens and not by zoning.

Bibliography

  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Pinder, D. (2011). ‘Errant paths: the poetics and politics of walking’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29(4), pp. 672-692
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On cities: We are all cities

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

City has been a notion approached by a huge number of intellectual voices across different eras. Thus, by starting such a post, it’s normal not being able to cover everything, yet I’d like to write down some reflections on the potential connections between city and human.

City Sillouettes - Jasper James ©

City Sillouettes – Jasper James ©

Histori-cities

The history of city extends across centuries and even millennia, from Babylon and the Ancient Greek cities (Athens) to other big urban spots of cultural, economic and political significance. The first idea of what a city is was addressed in ancient Athens through the Greek word ‘polis’ (πόλις). If I can reflect on the notion of city, it can be seen through multiple perspectives. In other words, the poetic, the material and the very everyday practical co-exist all together in multiple formations. To be reminded of Aristotle, he reflected on the city (polis) as ‘the only framework within which man can fully realise his/her spiritual, moral and intellectual capacities’ (Kitto, 1951: 36). It is thus these multiple perspectives and layers that a city brings together in different intensities, combinations and flows – creating ‘an evolving urban geology’ (Psarras, forthcoming paper). Cities have been given different characterizations by a number of poets, geographers, planners, philosophers and architects among others. During 19th and 20th centuries, cities became symbols of constant change and economic power. Their status was elevated bringing together different socio-cultural and political/economic forces that shaped its complexities. It is well accepted that the 20th century was ‘the century of urbanization‘ Harvey (2000: 7) as cities became globalized and interconnected cells.

City and Human: Multiple layers

City is thus a vast concept but I choose to describe it through the words of Lewis Mumford (sociologist/historian) as it illustrates city’s multiple facets and perspectives. In this way, it is what I could suggest as an interconnection between city’s and human’s multiple layers. To Mumford (1937: 92), the city is a ‘geographical plexus, an economic organisation, an institutional process, a theater of social action and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity‘. Extending my thought on his description, my argument will use the metaphor of tree as reflective lens. Let me think of the formation of city through a quite filmic way [use your imagination please].

City owns its initial generic shape on the geographical formations – a result of geological mobilities – a birth of landscapes given by the Earth. However, it is then the human factor that extends its branches through economic, political, social, aesthetic, sensory and emotional formations. City is a tree that its different branches and perspectives fit the different layers, experiences and needs of human. It is a tree that includes a parallel experience of it through different lenses. City can have potential, can be dreamy with a utopian sense and light but also a symbol of dystopia, fear, constraint and power-frictions. Humans resemble this description, they are lived examples of happiness, anger, failure, successes, potential and uncertainty. It is such oscillations that make them living evolving geographies. City’s streets can be at the same time mundane, static, vivid, noisy, optimistic, constrained – so the emotions and experiences of a human. Both city and human are layered – made of material/organic, cognitive, sensory and imaginative elements – formations that follow a resembling geological articulation. Cities as humans have similar neurons, channels of communication – or what we can describe as flows. Following Amin & Thrift (2002: 42), cities ‘are extraordinary agglomerations of flows‘. What can be the “flowing threads” of such agglomerations? Such flows are material, immaterial, emotional, economic, socio-cultural, technological, informational – entanglements and intensities that make a city a complex field – as Mumford (1937) described above.

The relationship between city and human is of an oscillating nature. City can be ‘the landscape of our confusions’ (Flanagan, in Lynch, 1960: 119) as we – humans – are like cities – made of both potential and uncertainty, fear and desires, asphalt and organs, traces and experiences, Thursday afternoon traffic tears and skin’s sweat. City different “threads” come to be attuned with human’s different “threads”. An everyday “weaver” that makes weaving an almost sublime process to answer his/her questions. In the words of Italo Calvino (1974 [1997]), ‘you take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours’.

City Sillouettes - Jasper James

City Sillouettes – Jasper James ©

Bibliography

  • Kitto, H.D. (1996). The Polis. In LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. (eds.) The City Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 32-36.
  • Harvey, D. (2000). Megacities Lecture 4: Possible Urban Worlds. Amersfoort: Twynstra Consultants.
  • Mumford, L. (1937). What is a City?, In LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. (eds.) The City Reader,Oxon: Routledge, pp. 91-96.
  • Lynch, K. (1960). The Image of the City. Cambridge: MA; London: The MIT Press.
  • Amin, A. and Thrift, N. (2002). Cities: Reimagining the Urban. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Calvino, I. (1974) [1997]. Invisible Cities. London: Vintage.
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On Streets

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

Street is of rich significance in the understanding and experience of the city. A terrain to celebrate the poetics of mundane. It contributes on the imagination of urban life. Streets are the surface upon which we all walk. All performing trajectories of different intensities, significance and with different potential on the emission of emotional qualities. Emotions are fused upon such a surface. Berman (1982) in his “All That is Solid Melts into Air” seminal book describes street as the prominent source of life. Indeed it is a ‘medium of both modern materiality and spiritual forces’ that incorporates oscillations of meetings, clashes, interfusions. Street is always there, maybe never erased in terms of how a building gets demolished. Street connects and brings together our urban consciousness; full of life, constraints, fear, happiness and banality. Street is maybe the human construction that indicates our primordial nature of constant movement of things in emotional, material and even geological terms. Street is articulated in front of us like a carpet, yet not just to be watched – as early the flaneur and intellectual voices did  – but it is unrolled in various ways; indicating the potential of life to be lived in an active ways. Streets form an heterogenous line of successes, failures, hopes and fears as I am also indicating in my walking-based performance of Urban Halo (2013). Following De Certeau (1984) in his ‘The Practice of Everyday Life‘ book, streets through the city are stories to be told – and indeed – the street often encapsulates the potential to be silent, noisy, dangerous, safe, transient or static. They form channels of urban flows in a material, immaterial, symbolic and imaginary level. Metaphorically speaking, street may be liquid; a tangible and imaginative terrain that indicates the flow of life – the city. It invites us to walk – a simple and honest invitation that no-one can deny.

Bibliography

  • Berman, M. (1982). All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. New York: Penguin Books.
  • De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California.
  • Bill Psarras (2013) Urban Halo. 5:59′ audiovisual performance. Commissioned by Onassis Cultural Foundation.
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