Mapping the City and Urban Identity

Mapping the 'City' in a digitalised era by Eva Kekou/ Urban Cracks: Interstitial Spaces in the City by Elly Van Eeghem, Carlos Dekeyrel, Riet Steel, and Griet Verschelden/ Cityscapes – Exploring the spirit of urban identity by Richard Vickers and Francesco Proto/ [i-metro] universal access to information by Therese F Tierney and Vincent Velasco/ Cyvers City by Susana Sulic/ Large Screens and the Transnational Public Sphere by Cecelia Cmielewski
Wednesday, 21 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:45
Chair Person: 
Martha Radice
Eva Kekou
Elly Van Eeghem
Carlos Dekeyrel
Riet Steel
Griet Verschelden
Richard Vickers
Francesco Proto
Therese Tierney
Vincent Velasco
Cecelia Cmielewski
Susana Sulic

Mapping the 'City' in a digitalised era

by Eva Kekou

Today’s cities are no longer limited to the experience of physical spaces. Cities are now understood as ‘Cybercities’, ‘Sentient Cities’, or ‘Hybrid Cities’.The digitization of the city with technologies embedded into its streets and buildings and carried by people and vehicles has appended an informational membrane, hovering over the urban fabrics. The way citizens and visitors live and feel a city is beginning to be profoundly affected by this information layer. This transformation leads the “behavior” of the city to become as important as its physical aspects. For instance its 'networks', 'nodes' and 'connectivity’ are now made by the relationship between the city and its wireless infrastructures, mobile devices, social software and other sensor networks. Locative and mobile media can be seen as the interface between the digital domain and the city, bringing the digital world into the physical world, and at the same time uploading and sharing real world experiences back to the digital world.

The dissolution of information systems into the urban life creates opportunities for new kinds of interaction that must now be taken into account. Interactions are  informational traces left by people  generating a myriad of flows of data that move in and around the built fabric. This is a new kind of data, collective and individual, aggregated and discrete, open and closed, constantly logging impossibly detailed patterns of behavior, which they also have a potential physical presence when fed back to the benefits of citizens and systems that generate them.

In this paper I am going to investigate through a number of media art projects: How people deal with this emerging relation between digital technologies and the city? How is new cultural identity shaped through these projects?  Furthermore, I would like to study what are the useful concepts about the blurring/merging of physical and digital spaces. Play and interactivity are the main features of the media art projects chosen for this paper.

Urban Cracks: Interstitial Spaces in the City

by Elly Van Eeghem, Carlos Dekeyrel, Riet Steel, and Griet Verschelden

The growing number of neglected residual spaces are challenging the functioning of our cities. These interstitial spaces fall between the familiar boundaries of urban planning and are often labeled as wastelands, charactized by an apparent void. Urban cracks are conceptualised as in-between time spaces, where different logics meet and conflict.

Within the context of an ongoing interdisciplinary research project, studying the work of artists and social workers acting in urban cracks, this paper focuses on the research trajectory of visual artist Elly Van Eeghem.
This research project takes place in Muide-Meulestede-Afrikalaan, a neighbourhood situated in the northern dockland area of Ghent in Belgium. The area is surrounded by water and characterized by harbour activities, residential quarters, heavy traffic, open space, industry and companies. A part of the neighbourhood is currently subject of a large-scale urban renewal project.

Through her practice of video and intervention in public space, Van Eeghem reflects on the role of artists in re-shaping urban cracks and the influence of these spaces in re-thinking artistic practice. Digital maps and audiovisual chronicles create a layered analysis and dynamic narration of our changing urban condition.
Inspired by the concept of palimpsest, a layered reading of artistic practice in urban cracks is presented through video, photography and multimedia mapping.

Cityscapes – Exploring the spirit of urban identity

by Richard Vickers and Francesco Proto

We know a great deal about the problems of contemporary cities: their total lack of flexibility makes of them merely remnants of the very modernization they were meant to lead. However, there is precious little concern for those whom such spaces were built to serve. How do people experience the city? How do they cope with its complexity, size and, most poignantly, the isolation it engenders? This research is framed to uncover how people draw meanings from the built environment and how, in an act of reciprocity, the latter underpins their identity.

The goal is to develop an original analysis of the role of contemporary cities in shaping and supporting western democracies as achieved by means of an innovative interdisciplinary approach: the interpolation between cinema and architecture. A series of short films will be the final research output, shot in significant metropolitan areas around the world. The first case study is the city of Rome as reinterpreted in a trilogy of films exploring its outstanding relevance to the history of architecture and the contemporary debate.

This research is set to determine exactly what makes contemporary cities tick from the perspective of generic public engagement. The aims are to identify critical issue and illustrate them through visual means. 3 short films - “Consuming Culture” (20’), “Visual Noise” (20’) and “Historical Limbo” (20’) will be produced in order to investigate 3 different aspects inherent to the first city at issue – Rome, the issues being: mass tourism, surveillance/surveyance, the past/present continuum.

Tapping into the West’s highly sophisticated appreciation of visualization (i.e., the importance of images for mastering reality), architectural issues will be therefore interpolated with the most sophisticated visual means: cinema. This would not only break the impasse affecting current architectural debate, but also furnish new opportunities to study, understand and improve the complexity of everyday urban life. An innovative, multi-disciplinary approach has therefore been set in place in the form of experimental films, that will be shot in order to grasp and bring to the fore the overlapping between fantasy and reality in the beholder’s mind.

[i-metro] universal access to information

by Therese F Tierney and Vincent Velasco

 [i-metro] universal access to information 

Navigating through an unfamiliar city presents numerous logistical challenges.  For persons without an automobile -- for example new residents, job seekers, tourists, and students -- this becomes an even more onerous task.   Although many urban dwellers own cellphones, the majority lack mobile internet access due to its expense, thus making their wayfinding efforts even more challenging.   Increasingly, as more location-based information and services transfer online, wireless modes are becoming the accepted norm for information access and assistance.  However, while new mobile communication devices [blackberries, i-phone or droids] can provide travelers with services, maps and/or directions, thereby solving many logistical dilemmas, the purchase price and monthly service fees nevertheless prohibit individualized ownership for the majority of urban dwellers, effectively creating zones of information privilege, and excluding those who use public transport most.

This project takes the position that information, as both a resource and an integral component of the public sphere, should be equally available for all.  By addressing the problem of unequal information access, [i-metro] provides public locational information accessed through the Internet.   Location-based information, for example, Google Maps, Yelp, Foursquare or other such services, when added to a GPS-enabled smartphone, produce another city, a city of layered opportunities and data.   This particular type of information is often required “on the go” or in mobile environments -- in situations where directional coordinates are difficult or impossible to obtain from print media.  As an interactive information portal [i-metro] contributes to new forms of public engagement by creating socially rich glocal nodes for the public benefit.  Glocal information connects the global with the local through direct-networked communication systems by linking the scale of the webpage to the city in real time. 

Information is mediated through technology available today, utilizing modern motion sensing technology similar to Microsoft’s Kinect. This off-the-shelf, inexpensive solution does not require tactile input in a germ rich environment and will provide an unobtrusive, intuitive experience for everyone.

Cyvers City

by Susana Sulic

In a peculiar dynamic pixels melt in an hypothetic city : the cyvers city and the informational one…A particular idea of space-time is generated  by ‘strecthing’ the time. Movements of evolution and degradation merge from the text in un ambiguous and apparently linear space. At the first sight, the spectator does not recognize the place or view of the city. With the application of an algorithmic- poetical language, we reach the essential meaning of Cyvers…

The first sequences that become visible concern changes that man produces in the environment. The images’ mutation is related to the recent epidemics and environmental catastrophes that motives the scientific environment. After a while the signs and indications appear in a kind of loop, but in an extra-temporal text-space. By technological means I create a metaphor of living processes and represent the historical changes that men produced in the environnement.
In the project Cloning Shapes the images are born of a flux created by a particular program and algorithmic. The words are transformed into images letters, viruses and pixels generated by a genetic, unpredictable and evolutive algorithm. In the global era, cyvers is a synthesis of morphogenetics and physics contents, constructing a total art work.
It is in this way that I understand the peer to peer network, in the construction of a new poetical and intelligent environment. Poesis and techne synthesize the actual language of a digital civilisation. The general meaning of my project is that with cyvers :  poetry and techne we can change the world.

Large Screens and the Transnational Public Sphere

by Cecelia Cmielewski

The Large Screens and the Transnational Public Sphere research project explores the exchange of information and interactive content between cities identified as media ‘hubs’, and the impact on the formation of a regional public sphere. This project currently links screens between Federation Square, Melbourne and those managed by Art Center Nabi, Seoul.
Artists’ investigations, the changing role of the curator, interaction with audiences, the overcoming of technological differences and financial imperatives, will be described in the context of the issues faced in trying to generate a ‘sense of belonging’ in many contemporary civic public spaces.
Public screens could be sites that incubate innovative artistic and communication modes, revitalizing public space and public interaction. Networked public screens may also function as a nexus for new forms of cross-cultural exchange.  This potential to transmit artwork on a large screen in two cities with public interactive dimensions involves an innovative approach to curatorial techniques and artistic content, as well as a social and cultural valuing over commercialization of the screens and sites.

The research explores the capabilities of different art practices to inspire and bridge communities across these cities. The curator becomes a participant in the creative production and public interaction processes, requiring an awareness of the cultural and technical parameters of both sites so as to provoke a new transnational civic consciousness.
Research for Large Screens and the Transnational Public Sphere began in mid 2009 and will continue until mid 2013, developing interactive real-time artistic events between Melbourne and Seoul.  While our questions continue apace, this paper will describe the projects and some of our findings since 2009, and point to our future directions.

Our program of cross-cultural exchange (involving theorists, administrators, technicians, artists and curators) and empirical analysis of public interactions around large screens, aims to inform media, cultural and urban planning policy.  

Our culturally and organisationally diverse team members are from the Art Center Nabi, Seoul, South Korea, Australia Council for the Arts, Federation Square PL, University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney.