How we look at the city or cities, as is the case with Maraya, is fundamental to how we go about living in them. The perspectives we bring to bear are crucial to understanding our role in an ongoing urban transformation. This was a key point in my “Maraya | Reflection” talk at North Island College (Oct. 27, 2011), part of the Speakers Series connected to the Emily Carr / NIC External BFA.
For background, I showed a short video introducing the Maraya project and Vancouver and Dubai nexus with which it engages. The video (linked below) features Stanley Kwok and Trevor Boddy, along with M. Simon Levin, Henry Tsang and I, and was made by grad students Alan Goldman and Ahmad Konash.
As this video suggests, Maraya attempts to engage (or gauge) a new form of urbanism. Architecture critic Trevor Body suggests that “Vancouverism,” as it is called, is a response to Manahattanism (Vancouver Sun article; see also Boddy’s exhibition website, which pushes noun to verb: Vancouverize).
This new urbanism, of which Vancouver’s False Creek North and the Dubai Marina are prime examples, uses urban density to attract offshore investors. In Vancouver and Dubai, and increasingly around the world, waterfront neighbourhoods are seen to provide the basis for new economic programs built on the development and marketing of luxury real estate abroad.
Capitalizing on earlier networks of transportation and trade, Vancouver and Dubai have transformed themselves from colonial outposts to global players. In these model cities, residential mega-projects are produced as nodes in international networks. Their uxury condos provide haven for well-heeled migrants, globally mobile elites, who may not be interested in settling in a new city per se, but who are keeping their options open while looking for safe places to park their money. One might think of the empty, uninhabited condos in these cities as safety deposit boxes in the sky.
Maraya began as a wager. As a research project, we wanted to assess the nature and depth of the connection between these sites in Vancouver and Dubai.
Lookinh at these cities together allowed us to think about 21st century urbanization in new and exciting ways. The problem, from an artistic or aesthetic point of view, had to do with how to represent these links and the larger patterns they signify. The branding of Vancouver and Dubai has been very successful and it is easy to get lured into certain ways of seeing.
Likewise critical response to the urban disparities underpinning both cities are important and have had significant sway internationally; it is difficult to think about the politics of Vancouver without violent images of the Downtown Eastside or of Dubai outside of photographs of exploited of migrant labourers.
These are important points of discussion and need careful consideration. However, there is a danger in recirculating imagery that seems to conform to a kind of stock image bank. The appropriation of particular images/ideas often accompanies a kind of knee-jerk criticality that functions to establish or sanctify the position of the artist/critic.
Understanding the these two cities are linked and that they are part of a global flow of ideas (good and bad) and capital, we felt we needed to take a different approach. Thinking about how cities are now built by flows of digital information (email, jpgs, quicktime movies, CAD drawings), and the fact that Vancouver’s Concord Pacfic Place was touted as one of the first fiber optic neighbourhoods in North American, we decided to look down and sought to glimpse the a metaphorical of flow of urban information beneath our feet.
Stopping people in their tracks as the jog, roller blade, dog walk around the seawall or marina walk was pleasing to us. Showing images of people along this global sea-walk who are all looking down was even better.
Strand and Rodchenko
This approach allowed us to draw a connection to the photos Paul Strand and Alexander Rodchenko, the great urban image-makers of the early 20th century. Strand’s photos of Manhattan and Rodchenko’s of Moscow have helped establish a powerful urban lexicon. Their images provide a visual counterpoint to de Certeau’s wandersmanner who walk the city like ants, or letters on a page, constantly rewriting an illegible urban script (to paraphrase de Certeau’s “Walking in the City”).
Shooting Down on the city allows us to view:
- Resist the normative horizontal axis of view used in real estate advertising and urban branding; glass and steal towers shimmering above an urban waterfront—Dubai Marina or False Creek— are becoming sine qua non of contemporary urban development and its affinity with leisure.
- The play between built environment and faceless individuals in these images creates an interesting dynamic that challenges humanistic representations of the city as the product of a rational order (human being).
- Otherwise invisible patterns of movement: the flow or paths of different groups suggests an energy or meshing of gears, and points to larger machinations of urban development and socio-political change.
- The street / seawall as a stage, and to focus on a salient feature of new developments and we believe a vital social space in the transition to new a new urban locus.
- Vantage point of a powerful, global elite: and to think about our relationship to these expensive boxes in the sky. Looking down, we get to see how we are seen from above and to think about who we might respond.