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Desert Hot Sprints Motel

Happy Slapping

Free Running

Grand Theft Auto

Urban Freestyle Soccer

Living Megastructures

Thursday 26 April 2007
This is a Simulation
Model cities, wish images and playgrounds

with Sabine Bitter & Helmut Weber, Helge Mooshammer, Sasha Pirker, Axel Stockburger

The dynamics of global urbanization has led to huge agglomerations and megacities, which expand tentacle-like throughout their regional surroundings. The planning and control fantasies of the governing central powers are receding in many areas, not only in the so-called Third World, and increasingly limit themselves to sealing off zones of economic prosperity using police techniques against the “planet of slums” (Mike Davis). Parallel to the real, chaotic proliferation of the cities, their imaginary image is often articulated as a playground, as the product of a simulation of what the surface of urbanity could be in the eyes of urban development and the cultural industry, if it were liberated from the actual proliferations. This kind of simulation of urban life always goes hand in hand with a reduction of what is to be simulated. This results in technical, in part playful visions of urbanity that regard the city as a touristic backdrop, not as a conflict-ridden arena of multifaceted encounters. The image and self-image of the city as a chimera of consumerism are historically exemplified in the planned city of the entertainment industry par excellence, in Las Vegas.

In her lecture, the artist and architectural theorist Sasha Pirker cast light on postmodernism's privileging of the emblematic rather than functional organization of space, as well as on aspects of the perception today of the relics of Californian modernism. Using the example of a video she produced in 2007 entitled John Lautner, The Desert Hot Springs Motel, Pirker documented how dependent our view is on different narratives of a seemingly dead architectural monument that was put into operation again in 2000 following a long hiatus. At first only random views of details appear in her video presenting this building; it is the reminiscences of the new owner, the author Steven Lowe, that first striate the proud, abstracted smoothness of the architecture with traces of life.

The architect and theorist Helge Mooshammer radicalizes the concept of a subjective inscription in an architectural form by construing the interpretation of an urban space as a principally performative act, in which not only the actors participate who are present in the concrete location, but also those linked to it through media. According to this understanding, city is a space that is constantly newly produced, contentious, and calibrated by media. This space is not only the material node of economic interests, but rather emerges, as Mooshammer says, “when we as human subjects come together in urban spaces in order to negotiate our own existence, our corporeality and sexuality. The emphasis on the physical inextricability of experiencing spatial conditions/situations/circumstances touches the dark side of the city, that which is dubious and dirty, mysterious and dangerous.”  Mooshammer demonstrated the urban amalgamation of corporeal experience, exhibitionism, and voyeurism under today's media conditions with the example of a new kind of phenomenon originating in Great Britain. According to Mooshammer, so-called “happy slapping”, the act of beating up random passers-by in front of a mobile phone camera, is first completed in the course of media recording and distribution. The blows are always already dealt for the forbidden and, in this sense, pornographic gaze of another, who may be standing physically alongside or could later be a witness via the networks of the violence kick that is in fact staged, despite all the realness of it: the city can become an adventure playground in this way too.

This is also the way the city (or rather its animated simulation) appears in various video and computer games, as Axel Stockburger explained In a lecture bolstered by numerous visual examples, the artist and academic associate of the Department of Fine Art and Digital Media at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna examined the forms of reduction that distinguish the calculated urban landscapes. Stockburger traced a development from a still “limited realism”, such as in Grand Theft Auto, to scenarios like those in the Chernobyl game Stalker, in which the urban environment itself becomes subject to virtual change by the gamer, and in this way it might also focus our view of the transformability and transience of architectural appearances. Given the incorporation of various neoliberal paradigms concerning economic growth and consumer culture such as seen in the example of the leisure dungeon Second Life that has meanwhile been hyped to death, it appears significant that the lines of conflict of identity politics and economic differences that segment the “real” city have been largely left out. Where the view of the real city overlaps with the virtual view, we find ourselves in the realm of 3D animations like those that can be experienced for instance in the city guide Virtual Berlin. According to Stockburger, the model-like character of these kinds of tours that influences reality is linked to the globalization of a touristic view of the world.

The artist duo Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber have designed a possible counter-model to the touristic standardization of differences. In the exhibition Recent Geographies the artists examined the later use of architecture that was created in the modernist bathos of progress and then degraded to ruins through the course of time – including the example of  Novi-Belgrade, an extension to the capital of former Yugoslavia. The question they raised was: How does grassroots appropriation respond to promises from power? In their video Living Megastructures, which they also presented, they documented the “transformative urbanism” of the lower classes of Caracas. These people respond to their marginalization with innovative forms of self-organization. A residential structure consisting of variously sized tower blocks was built between 1952 and 1958. When a national uprising ended the dictatorship in 1958, 4000 of the 9000 unfinished apartments were occupied by the poor. Later and partly in cooperation with the Chavez government, new forms of legality were developed for this urban space. Now this development is recommended for emulation through a video like Living Megastructures. This is no simulation!

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