Tag Archives: city

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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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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On Cities: We are Multiplicities

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Embryos under becoming

For a city it is not only the asphalt that makes it tangible. Similarly, in all of us it is not only the skin that renders us real. Both cities and humans are characterized by a multiple nature. We are dynamic constellations of flesh, emotions, thoughts, imagination, actions, sociality, stupidity and intellectualism. Yet, the constellation does not tell the truth – it does not exist without thought, intention and action. We are mobilized souls, creatures of interaction, wanderers and explorers always in search of the next step. It is such quality of this step that gives us the potential to transgress the thresholds of geographical, social and imaginative matrix. We are embryos in motion, based on a constant becoming. Likewise, cities are place-based embryos with architectural, social, technological, topographical, political and poetic potential.

The geography of human organs: Cities under flesh

Going deeper the city and the human body: the brain, the stomach, the pancreas, the liver, the heart, the genitalia, the muscles – all are little topographies of us defined by millions micro-mobilities and neuro-becomings. The Northern city – the brain – comes to define the core of our existence. Thousands of millions of neurons in complex, fragile and perfect formations define our understanding for ourselves and the world. Everything is there, which makes that city a crucial one, a powerful one – yet defined by every micro-city in the South, West and East of human body. Traversing the landscape, there is a city in the Central side of map: the heart. There someone encounters the very nexus of activity – a rhythmical city always in a mode of giving the tempo to our existence. Heart and Brain – The central/northern alliance which renders us available to exist. Lymph nodes, arteries and veins are cities always to serve transition. Everything finds itself in mobility there. Hypothetically, someone goes there with a destination somewhere else. It is not static but you go there to transfer, to be the messenger, a street of light data itself. While traversing the landscape almost in the central point of our maps, someone encounters two similar cities – almost mirror cities – the lungs. They are in constant connection with the outer – everything re-updates itself there with oxygen. Two cities always windy but (hopefully) with clear skies. As long you slow down, you can almost think that both of them protect the rhythmical city: the heart. They are there to almost define the map of ourselves. After them and a moving part of ‘earth’ (arms/hands), someone can possibly encounter the outside, the environment around us that presents itself like the sea – full of potential, risk, hope and desire. Going South, you encounter other smaller cities. Among them, the pancreas, the kidneys, the intestines, the stomach: extended cities of the South that digest or regulate our data – a landscape of slower rhythms but of big importance. Southern landscapes – the genitalia – invite fertility, desire and constitute a city of arousal, love and future. Taking an imaginative look through such landscapes, it seems that the sky is protected by a simple but perfect architecture. Sculptures that mysteriously reveal themselves in the sky: the bones – they are there to protect, to make the landscape stable. Taking a look from there someone sees two mirror mobile landscapes in the distant south. Two fleshy earths that extend themselves in the horizon in constant motion – the legs. Cities are generic formations of activity but to delve into them shows an experience of intense rhythms and exchanges. It shows (once more) the geological nature of the urban, which incorporates the material, the immaterial, the poetic and the mobilized.

We are multipli-cities

South is where we all are unconsciously attached, but North is a landscape to be explored.

Ed Fairburn - The Milky Way (© 2013)

Ed Fairburn – The Milky Way (© 2013)

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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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Metaphors for the flaneur: ‘Botanizing’

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Understanding metaphors

Metaphors have been used from an array of intellectual voices to describe the dynamic constellation of flaneur, city, walking and senses. Yet, before entering into such a constellation, I would like to describe what a metaphor really is. Metaphors are not just mere theoretical words. They describe practices and situations from everyday life, yet what is important is that they are actively derived from lived, embodied experience. Following Lakoff (1993: 203) and his analysis, metaphors are expressed through speech, however they are not located in language at all – but ‘in the ways we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another‘. In their seminal book, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) categorize metaphors as (i) structural ones (something is structured in terms of another), (ii) orientational ones (related to spatiality: up-down, in-out, on-off e.t.c.) among others. Yet, our everyday metaphorical system is central to the understanding of poetic metaphor.

But let’s return to my constellation of interest. Victor Fournel (19th), a French journalist and writer described Baudelaire’s artist-flaneur as a “walking daguerrotype” – using a state of the art technology on the photographic process of the 19th century – introduced by L. Daguerre in 1839 – as a metaphor for flaneur. It was a quite successful metaphor as it still describes the identity and the positionality of flaneur in that type of city. In other words, someone who was observing on the move – ‘a roving soul in search of a body‘ (Baudelaire 1869, in Benjamin, 1973: 55). One more metaphor of great interest was Walter Benjamin’s description on the flaneur as a ‘botanologist of the asphalt‘  (1973) – a metaphor that I further altered and reflected during my PhD thesis by bringing it into the 21st century city context (see also Psarras, 2014). What is more, walking has been metaphorically described as a ‘cultural constellation‘ (Solnit, 2001) and a ‘spatial acting out of place‘ (de Certeau, 1984) among other numerous descriptions.

Brief reflections on the metaphor of ‘botanizing

What does it mean for the flaneur to be a botanologist of the asphalt? First, I will alter Benjamin’s metaphor by referring to it as “botanizing” – a metaphor that I will examine through contemporaneous lenses. Walking through and sensing the urban landscape seems to have a connection with such metaphor as senses are activated while moving through the city. As Clark (2000: 13-17) also argues, both the flaneur and the naturalist enter the city or nature by sensing while moving. They experience and encounter an unfolding condition through senses. Both flaneur and the botanologist enact an observation, a listening, a haptic and smelling experience and even taste. They initiate a bodily experience by exploring what the city and the nature offers to them. Such a metaphor involves a connections to duration and repetition. The early or contemporary flaneur/flaneuse could conduct a “botanizing” for hours, days or even months. It is probably a metaphor with epistemological potential that also shows possible poetics on the move.

Towards new aspects of ‘botanizing

Bringing the metaphor in late 20th or 21st century walking art practices, “botanizing” shifts into further layers of the urban experience. I could argue that Francis Alys in his walks The Collector (1992) and Magnetic Shoes (1994) performs a “botanizing” on the urban materiality – on the mundane relics and the very core of streets: the asphalt. Thus, “botanizing” illustrates a gradual negotiation of the artist’s path into the city. The artist’s metallic toy or magnetic shoes constitute a tool which shapes his ambulatory method – they become a kind of curatorial wearable extensions that attract, record and save the encountered. In the same way, in my walking-based work Walking Portraits: Performing Asphalts (2012), I made a series of walking performances across 5 London Tube station areas – documented through video, sound and GPS. The mundane and unnoticed details of everyday life became the poetic layer where I walked and performed “botanizing” metaphor. While passing from the interior to the exterior of tube/train stations, I followed repetitively different asphalt patterns, signs and coloured lines. It was a tactic that initiated a sensory dialogue with such transient – and other times – constrained areas. The metaphor of “botanizing” shifts into more experimental ways while applying this to other walking-based and technologically mediated artworks – as on the ones of Christian Nold Bio Mapping – Emotion Mapping (2003-) and Gordan Savicic Constraint City (2008). Nold’s participatory walking reveals an artist who goes ‘botanizing on the collective emotion‘ (Psarras, 2015: 93) through wearable technologies of Galvanic Skin Response and GPS attached on co-walkers’ bodies in various cities. On the other hand, Gordan Savicic walks with an interactive metallic corset on his body which becomes sensitive with various Wi-Fi signals of the city – leaving thus scars on the artist’s body. Savicic conducts a botanizing on the invisible technological “smog” of contemporary metropolis (also Psarras, 2015). I could argue that the metaphor of “botanizing” shifts from the material level to the embodied, the tacit and the immaterial. The change of metaphor into more fruitful variations possibly illustrates the change of flaneur from an early distant aesthete to contemporary hybrid one characterized by sociality, sensory attentiveness and sophisticated technological integrations.

Walking Portraits: Performing Asphalts (2012) - Bill Psarras ©

Walking Portraits: Performing Asphalts (2012) – Bill Psarras ©

Magnetic Shoes (1994) - Francis Alys ©

Magnetic Shoes (1994) – Francis Alys ©

Emotion Mapping [Greenwich, London] - Christian Nold (c)

Emotion Mapping [Greenwich, London] – Christian Nold (c)

Constraint City (still from performance, 2008) - Gordan Savicic (c)

Constraint City (still from performance, 2008) – Gordan Savicic (c)

Bibliography

  • Benjamin, W. (1973). Walter Benjamin: Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Zohn H., London; New York: Verso.

  • Clark, N. (2000). ‘ ‘Botanizing on the Asphalt?’ The Complex Life of Cosmopolitan Bodies’ Body and Society, 6(3-4), pp. 12-33.

  • De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California.

  • Lakoff, G. (1993). The contemporary theory of metaphor. In Ortony, A. (ed.) Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge; New York; Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, pp. 202-251.

  • Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.

  • Psarras, B. (2015) Emotive Terrains: Exploring the emotional geographies of city through walking as art, senses and embodied technologies. PhD Thesis, 264 pages, Goldsmiths University of London.
  • Psarras, B. (2014). Altering the metaphor of ‘botanizing’ in the 21st century city. Conference talk at The British Sociological Association Annual Conference, Panel: Cities, Place, Mobilities, Space., April 2014, University of Leeds, UK.
  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.

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Towards an urban romanticism: The Antenna

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Everything is urban

I am urbanized. Possibly lots of us and numerous layers of our experience seem to have been urbanized. By this, I mean an entangled set of practices, situations and encounters that are not only characterized by the city but they also inform what we know as the urban condition. In other words, I am not referring on the the city as geographical/locative entity but as a way of understanding things – an urban way of perception. We use the term city to speak of cities but the scale, size and character of the city has already created conceptual stratifications defined by numbers of population: the city, the metropolis and the megalopolis.

Towards an Urban Romanticism

Going on the top of buildings, passing some time on the rooftops of city, the urban panorama seems to be similar to what the Romantic Caspar David Friedrich depicted on his famous painting ‘The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog‘ (1818). A man stands on a rocky corner of a mountain; starring towards a foggy horizon and landscape. In the same way, standing on the top of rooftops concrete and antennas and observing on the pulsating city of hopes and fears, reveals an emerging romanticism. Bringing together and entering this web of spatial formations, traffic rhythms, the surrounding concrete surfaces and the antennas and the changing sonic waves – reveals a resembling Situationist ‘situation’ on rooftops. However, by merging imagination, action and reality on the very core of now (the moment) gives us the opportunity to use as letters and sentences of our emotional vocabulary all these mundane, everyday but strange objects.

The Antenna and the Observer

In this way, antenna becomes a silent company for the observer – in front of the city. Antenna is part of his situation illustrating both the distant and the attentive – in other words: the artist. It is there as a receptor of signals from out of the urban, yet an indicator of existence with a metaphorical courage to stand our there in the name of the potential message, in the name of communication. Antenna seems melancholic, but this is not true – on the contrary, it is a strong indicator of life. Even within the multimedia city and the overstimulating everyday life – city panorama entails an urban romanticism – a condition that someone’s acknowledgement of it, is not distanced from reality but strongly political, poetic and active. [to be continued in future post]

Source: http://guinarona.com/ (copyright)

Source: http://guinarona.com/ (copyright)

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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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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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The poetics of Underground

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

..Tourists climb the Eiffel Tower to see Paris. Parisians know that to really see the city you must descend into the metro‘ (Augé, 2002)

Metro systems are rapid transit train systems that extend throughout a large number of cities around the world. London Underground is the oldest metro system in the world, along with the ones of Paris, Moscow, New York and Shanghai that constitute the busiest and longest ones. However, for the purposes of this post, I will use the British term of Underground when referring to such issues. Approaching Underground through metaphorical lenses, let me think of such transit system as a network of extending neurons throughout the urban skin. Lines of different colours are entangled; touching different areas of social, ethnic, historical and cultural hues. People – the passengers; the commuters – form the moving enlivened ingredients that set the city in motion each day. Indeed, if we think of London Underground, it is characterized by a cultural and historical significance after 150 years. A intermeshed network of lines and tunnels beneath London’s skin that has been used even during the World War. Such stations and lines have been inscribed upon the British urban. Underground means much more than the obvious – of moving someone from A to B. The use of underground contributes on the mobility of the contemporary city.

Unpacking the concept of metro (underground), Jensen (2008: 8) identifies 3 main aspects of it: i) the technical (trains, platforms, tickets), ii) the social (user groups, public experience of it) and iii) the aesthetic (art, signs, symbols, advertising). Stations are in-between spaces that bring together the surface with what is beneath it. The transient character in relation to the consumerism of such spaces makes them potential ‘non-places‘ (Augé, 1995) – namely spaces that do not hold any particular memory or history and their purpose is only to serve transition. A non-place is an ambiguous space that a person may feel self-suspended – a mixture of pleasure and uncertainty (Conley, in Augé, 2002: xviii). This concept is something I’ll go through details in future post.

Yet, the everyday layer of such spaces cannot just label them as ‘non-places’. On the other hand, the experience of riding the tube in another city may show a level of sameness and in-authenticity – what Relph (1976) calls ‘placelessness‘. So, the experience depends on the positionality of the person. Reflecting on this, the repetitive everyday use entails an emerging intimacy and attachment, which contributes to a certain level of ”insiderness‘ – to borrow Relph’s (1976) concept. Such insiderness can potentially magnify the poetics of mundane within such spaces. The repetition of patterns in advertisements, electronic voices, names, symbols, smells, colours and sits’ textures – seem to create a kind of poetics.

Underground and tube stations encompass hundreds of thousands (even millions) of anonymous mobile souls. Traveling minds in different combinations of clothes, colours and styles. Bodies and frictions that affect the emotional “ratio” of carriages and stations – transforming metro from a complex machinic assemblage to a pulsating mobile network. The maps of each metro reveal a different organism – a different potential system of neurons ready to be in motion. The transitional topographies that are interwoven in the urban consciousness. Riding the tube, changing lines and stations becomes a “weaving” of the (underground) everyday tissue. ‘In the subterranean experience of riding the tube through different lines as well as walking through stations’ spaces, the walking subject becomes a sensuous moving “terrain” always situated between arrival and departure poles‘ (Psarras, 2013: 420)

This version -  © Maxwell J. Roberts (2013)

This version – © Maxwell J. Roberts (2013)

Bibliography

  • Augé, M. (1995). Non-Places: An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso.
  • Augé, M. (2002). In the Metro. University of Minessotta Press.
  • Relph, E. (1976). Place and Placelessness. London: Pion Limited.
  • Jensen, O. B. (2008). ‘European Metroscapes’ Paper presented at Mobility, the City and STS workshop, 20-22 November, Copenhagen, The Technical University of Denmark, pp. 1-24.
  • Psarras, B. (2013). ‘Hybrid walking as art: Approaches and art practices on revealing the emotional geographies of Tube stations’ In Charitos, D. et al. (eds.) Proceedings of 2nd Hybrid City International Conference ‘Subtle Revolutions’, 23-25 May 2013, Athens, The University Research Institute of Applied Communication, pp. 415-422.
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Enlivened little earths: The geological thread

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

What geology does is to look deeper, explore and analyse the stratification of layered things. It is attentive to earth in order to reveal the histories of becoming – the underlying tensions and forces that contributed and shaped the landscapes we inhabit or traverse. We are all enlivened little earths. Layered bodies and souls defined by stratified experiences, memories, characteristics and future potential.

What I’d like to reflect on this post, is a common connecting “thread” across a geologist, a psychoanalyst and an artist-flaneur/flaneuse. While the geologist indicates someone who studies the past morphologies that constitute to what we encounter now as earth – the psychoanalyst direction is also an in-depth process. It is a process of opening “fissures” to go deeper into the subconscious and lived experiences that have shaped a layered human. The geologist will consider qualities of materials, chemical processes, time, stratifications – indeed it is a science, yet with potential poetics. It brings forward the buried past, the reasons and processes it has been shaped this way – and they can provide a glimpse of potential future. The psychoanalyst becomes attentive to the experiences, the habits, the patterns of thinking and the interconnection of inscribed memories. Such entanglements shape us, how we act and re-act and a psychoanalyst can see how someone can change perspectives in future encounters. Thus, a psychoanalyst could be described metaphorically as a geologist of the soul.

Be reminded of De Certeau’s (1984) observation on the myriads of walkers that compose their anonymous spatial stories in the city without knowing – this connects to what I described as “little earths”. In the framework of city, such layered enlivened earths (humans) interact with each other, co-produce, affect and transform things and situations. For the contemporary artist-flaneur/flaneuse (what I have called elsewhere as hybrid flaneur), it is these ambulatory layered enlivened earths that he/she may has to focus on (as in various contemporary examples of artists). The connecting “thread” becomes apparent. As the geologist and psychoanalyst enter into depth on the earth and the human soul/experience – the contemporary artist-flaneur/flaneuse has to enter in depth on the social/emotional layers of 21st century city and urban subjects. In this way, the contemporary artist-flaneur/flaneuse becomes an “ambulant geologist”, who develops an attentiveness to the entangled stratifications of humans and non-human elements (also Psarras, PhD © 2014). Following what Benjamin (1973) described for Baudelaire’s flaneur as a ‘connoisseur‘ of the urban details – it is in the same way a geological connoisseur how co-walkers/co-citizens impact on and are influenced by the city.

Humans and Platforms - Bill Psarras (©)

Humans and Platforms – Bill Psarras (©)

 

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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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Senses and walking: The metaphor of skin

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

Senses are everywhere. As David Howes (2005) also argues they ‘mediate between mind and body, idea and object, self and environment’. Walking is a multisensory process, it activates all the senses; initiating thus a dialogue of different intensities between the body and the surroundings. The sensing process produces knowledge, which the body considers and consequently acts. As senses form a connecting thread between walker’s body and the city, they connect it to the outer world – creating an emerging kind of sociality. Indeed, Howes (2005) among others has described ‘senses as social’ – but it is the walking process that creates an alignment between thinking, sensing and the world as Solnit (2001) also describes.

Walking in the city impacts on the formation of sensory and thus social relations, which initiate a series of felt emotional encounters of different intensities. ‘[…] Senses make place’ says Feld (1996, in Edensor: 2000: 121) and they create a connection, an attachment between the walker and the traversed place. The rhythmicity of the walk which is influenced by the material and immaterial encounters creates different sensory encounters. Thus, sensory experience is connected with the production of emotions and thus with our experience of a place. If we think of such experiences as sensory geographies, then they are closely connected to further emotional geographies (also Tuan, in Rodaway, 1994). Senses are both the medium and the message – to echo McLuhan – always under constant change while being on the move. Following Gibson (1968), senses are active systems – not passive receptors of information. Yet, let’s imagine the walker’s body in the city. Following the diagram of Skurnik & George (1967 in Rodaway, 1994: 27) ‘The range of senses’, sight and listening is the most distant senses while smell, touch and taste are more intimate. Indeed, (apart from the very personal taste), to smell or even touch something reveals degrees of intimacy, which if it is of duration, then it entails felt emotions and an attachment. Speaking of hapticity (i.e. touching or walking), I would like to address a metaphorical correlation.

Senses initiate from our skin. Can we also argue for the city as an urban skin? Following a philosophical reflection on the senses by M. Serres. Serres (1985: 3) describes skin as a ‘variety of our mingled senses’. In his words, human soul and the surrounding world celebrate their fusion upon the skin. Bringing my reflection in city terms, city’s skin (i.e. the street and public space / see also my previous post) becomes the mutual terrain that reveals every produced tension with social, cultural, political and emotional implications. If we accept human skin as something that is vivid with traces or scars of lived experience  – the urban skin becomes a surface of city’s experience, where the element of passing time is of great significance. Thus I could described it through geological lenses (Psarras, forthcoming paper) or through what Diaconu (2011: 28) mentioned as an ‘urban patina’.

© N. Charitonidou

Photo by N. Charitonidou ©

Bibliography

  • Howes, D. (2005). Architecture of the Senses. In Zardini, M. (ed.) Sense of the City, Montreal: Canadian Center for Architecture, pp. 322–331.
  • Edensor, T. (2000). Moving through the city. In Bell, D. and Haddour, A. (eds.) City Visions, Harlow: Pearsons Education Limited, pp. 121-140.
  • 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.
  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Diaconu, M. (2011b). Matter, Movement, Memory: Footnotes to an urban tactile design. In Diaconu, M., Heuberger, E., Berr-Mateus, R. and Vosicky Marcel, L. (eds.) Senses and the city: An interdisciplinary approach to urban sensescapes, Munich; Vienna: Lit Verlag, pp. 13-33.

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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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