talking about radical / political visual communication we cannot hide from
the urban landscape, it's impacting spatial concerns and their overall effect
on everyday society. This may be seen in the form of architecture, advertising
and everyday graphic design, or in more abstract notions as we move and
are directed through an urban landscape. Increasingly
we are lost or feel lost, meandering in familiar spaces but are no longer
sure that our maps are still correct, as a metaphor this fits all too well
into many aspects of modern living, and it is perhaps here that new ideas
about the social in visual communication should be sought.
With a long history of interesting political investigation from Constant's 'Unitary Urbanism' to texts by Michel de Certeau and Mike Davis, the urban landscape provides the direct contact between public spaces and the audiences of visual culture, especially the more dominant kind. Art and design in general still tend to see itself divorced from this world, but increasingly cannot avoid it.
(Front of poster (screenprinted) 4 colour designed by Felix Janssens and Daniel van der Velden, inspired by their resent visit to the ex-nuclear power plant 'Kernwasser Wunderland'.)
spaces - Jurgen Albrecht, Leipzig, Germany
It was not far from the apartment of my parents, maybe as far as I can throw a stone. It was not very big, «soccer-field-big», but it was our own empire, with our own laws - the laws of children. This place served also as a short cut to school. Actually we were not allowed to play there but no one was able to inspect this area from the outside. It was a place adults would be reluctant to enter, such a dirty unused place with all sorts of pests like snakes, lizards, insects with unappealing growing vegetation. Suddenly, there was this fence, a huge fence, a building site fence, made out of planks, opaque, impenetrable. They came with excavators and builders, to build a place of community and communication. They built a church with a youth-club. This wasn't all so bad, if there hadn't have appeared, by the end of the construction, this special type of a human being.
There came - what is called - «landscape-designers», «city-gardeners»? No, these names are too kind. Instead they should be named: «terminators of all life» or «killers of the empty spaces». This history of my «empty space» is not an isolated case. There are many examples. The reason why I remembered it and started to think about it, has something to do with Leipzig and with my having moved there. During the second World War and the years since in East Germany, a lot of such «empty spaces» have appeared. At some of these places, you can still even see the traces of the War. At first they were not perceptible until they started to build fences and started «landscaping». It also became clear to me that in all west European cities, almost all these places have been destroyed.
The problem with this development is the destruction of the information of the landscape. Children understand the language of the «natural vegetation». They can read the vegetation, if they can play undisturbed, climb over the fence, make a small fire. Each city needs places without laws from outside. Such «empty places» have completely their own laws. Vegetation is information. Gardening is the ordering of this vegetation and consequently the destruction of it, by making the responsibility, the property-situations invisible. The city-gardener fights against such information producing weeds. They operate with flowers and with lawns in a manner as if they have to imitate modern agriculture: they maximise the profits with the same methods as the farmer (e.g. fertilise) but then they throw the profits away unused.
Miss-planning and speculation, especially on the outskirts, will always create new empty spaces and areas with spontaneous vegetation. There are ruins of buildings, land for building is advertised as terrain, that still has no owner, and speculative overestimated properties that lie around unsold. It is therefore not bizarre to claim that «natural nature» temporarily needs these «empty spaces» to survive. This spontaneous vegetation, the so called weed, is a biological reserve with which we can later populate the destroyed agricultural areas. Crazy, but if you think about it, these miss-plannings and speculations contribute to the actual protection of nature. But then... Then they come again... those city-gardeners, those «killers of empty spaces».
They declare everything dirty; they mow, pave and plant in zones where children and teenagers played before. These landscape-designers have this idea that «gardening» and the utilisation of these «empty spaces» will make their city appear greener and more attractive. And furthermore, this «beautiful» green will not be destroyed by use, they pave the paths and put up signs saying: «no entrance!». In this case naturalness seems to be understood as «unused-ness»: an unending green of grass and roses, always jammed in similar pots of cement and framed with absolutely straight paved paths, tarred without any fantasy or mystery. Landscape, now not in the sense of our tourist but in the context of urban space, leans not on ecology but on aesthetics. It is therefore not a miracle how we handle, practice and operate with the idea of «public space» today. In the German language there is a term that is used in the fine arts and in design-teaching. It is the term «nichtgemeinter Raum» (I think in English is it called: negative space).
In typography, for example, that is not the letter, it is the space, the white around the letter. This space is crucial because the human eye doesn't see the figure, the «gemeinter Raum/positive space», but the white, the «nichtgemeinter Raum /negative space» around it. In fine arts and in design, this «nichtgemeinter Raum/negative space» is very important but supposedly not in city-planning, in the context of a city as a «Gesamtkunstwerk». I mean this space between the buildings, the space in which the city happens: «the city happens between the buildings». The «empty space» is a fragment of the city, and especially one of these «nichtgemeinten RS umen/negative spaces» - in the truest sense of the term, the space that nobody has an interest in - of course, except the children and the city-gardeners. City-planners and architects don't think about this space between the houses, and if then they do, still only as an unessential matter. (This is a severely edited version of a lecture; for the original full copy contact 'Debate')
Psychotopology of everyday life - Temporary Autonomous Zone, Hakim Bey.
Nationality is the highest principle of world governance - not one speck of rock in the South Seas can be left open, not one remote valley, not even the moon and planets. This is the apotheosis of 'territorial gangsterism.' Not one square inch of the earth goes unpoliced or untaxed... in theory. The 'map' is a political abstract grid, a gigantic con enforced by the carrot/stick conditioning of the expert state, until for most of us the map becomes the territory - no longer Turtle island but the USA. And yet because the map is an abstraction it cannot cover earth with 1:1 accuracy. Within the fractal complexities of actual geography the map can see only dimensional grids. Hidden enfolded immensities escape the measuring rod.
The map is not accurate; the map cannot be accurate. And - the map is closed, but the autonomous one is open. Metaphorically it unfolds within the fractal dimensions invisible to the cartography of control. And here we should introduce the concept of psychtopology and topography as an alternative 'science.' Only psychotopolography can draw 1:1 maps of reality because only the human mind provides sufficient complexity to model the real. But a 1:1 map cannot control it's territory because it is virtually identical. It can only be used to suggest, in a sense gesture towards, certain features. We are looking for spaces (geographical, social, cultural, imaginal) with potential to flower as autonomous zones - and we are looking for times in which these spaces are relatively open, either through neglect by the state or because they have somehow escaped notice by the mapmakers.
Psychotopology is the art of dowsing for potential TAZ's. Vital in shaping TAZ reality is the concept of 'psychic nomadism' Aspects of this have been discussed by Deleuze and Guattari in 'Nomadology and the war machine', by Lyotard in 'Driftworks' and by various authors in 'Semiotext(e)'. Nomads chart their courses by strange stars, which might be luminous clusters of data in cyberspace, or perhaps hallucinations. Lay down a map of the land; over that set a map of political change; over that a map of the Net, especially the counter-Net with it's emphasis on clandestine information flow and logistics - and finally over all; the 1:1 map of the creative imagination, aesthetics, values.The resultant grid comes to life, animated by unexpected eddies and surges of energy, coagulations of light, surprises...N©
From the intro of 'Transgressions - a journal of urban exploration' issue 2. Unchartered zones: A market dominated society offers pre-formed commodities which map out our careers as consumers. It is the task of the new explorers to destabilise such fantasies and open up passages to unfamiliar pleasures and forms of community. Socialist adventurers are required to exhibit in themselves, and inculcate in others, a strange yearning for what we may, if only for strategic reasons choose to mythologise as the 'blank parts of the map', the 'unchartered zones'. Here we may expect to find new rituals of identity and rationality. But it is not the content of these regions that matters so much as the restless and revolutionary spirit that drives the dissatisfied off-spring of bureaucracy ever onwards. The central irony of such voyaging is that these 'new' and 'unchartered' destinations already haunt the imagination of daily life. We must grasp the complexity of, and latent desires at work within the apparently monotonous and work-a-day culture that surrounds us.
Politicising daily life: The city squirms with a kind of deranged hope... the principles, ideas, and practices of socialist change already exist within both its past and present. The new explorers do not desire to impose the avant-garde fantasies of a few ho-bo geniuses, but to seek out and identify already existing non-authoritarian and properly democratic moments of urban living. These moments may be brief, banal and tantalising ephemeral; the worn-out dog-eared cliches of the street; the line of trespass etched across the corporation's fields... or they may exist at the level of what we might call the 'cryptic imaginary', games played with and on the fantasies of the ruling class, pungent items nosed up from their strangest ceremonies and memories. Alternatively of course, such moments may be substantial and self-conscious: workers co-ops, communes, so-called liberated zones... Each moment will be full of contradictions, open to different forms of political appropriation. It is not the task of the urban explorer to go all gooey and start celebrating every last instance of human kindness. Her or his ambition must be to identify contradictions whilst exposing and identifying existing communistic dynamics.
Linkages: Just drifting isn't enough anymore. It merely replicates the bored passivity of the ideal consumer. The new urban explorers aren't lefty flaneurs, twiddling their dandy canes at every moment of degenerate surprise. Instead they seek to make links and alliances between the different moments of socialist revolution they identify.