The Art of Walking thru Geographic Space
> Von Bark
Part Four: Miscellanias
Regarding Toy cities and architectural models:
I have been fascinated by micro-representations of cityscapes for as long as I can remember, ever since playing with building blocks in my infancy.
1) Acropolis of Athens; Royal Ontario Museum: what makes the Acropolis so very cool? Natural Asymmetry! The architects who designed this Periclian masterpiece had the genius to follow the irregular flow of nature into a casual balance with constructed artiface. The best.
2) Toronto Downtown; Toronto New City Hall Lobby: Always worth a glance when you go in to pay the man. So what did Jesus say to Saint Peter when he was up on the cross? "I can see your house from here..."
3) Ridley's Inferno (L.A. 2019); Blade Runner opening credits: If you have seen the movie, this requires little explanation; Construction details in the book 'Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner'.
4) Europa; Anne and Patrick Poirier: If you have seen Blade Runner, you too can have an installation at the 5th Lyon Biennale; Not to be confused with a work of the same name by Hans Haake.
5) Another City; David Hoffos: I actually missed this installation at the A.G.O. last year, and based upon the fascinating descriptions I've heard, I have been kicking myself.
6) Paradise; Forced Entertainment: an enigmatic Jungian cityscape by a Suffolk arts collective which actually begins to penetrate the psychology of its theoretic inhabitants... but wait, they have a sample of it preserved online! Neato, Check it out...
7) SimCity; possibly one of the first widely successful non-competitive computer games released, and the ultimate po-mo set of kid's building blocks; subsequent versions displayed increasing levels of depth and detail, but at a loss of spontaneity (unless you like spending hours installing sewer lines). One rainy afternoon, someone who I, uh, know, designed a town based upon a series of swastika grids... its economy collapsed quickly.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino; The classic account of the idea of the city as a state of mind: a homesick Marco Polo entertains Kubla Khan with fantastic tales of various imaginary worlds, which all begin to reflect memories of his long lost hometown.
Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama; this isn't really about about cities in particular, but there are lots of perceptive anecdotes about how human beings relate to various environments.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs; a inspirational tale for urban planners, a definitive voice of sanity in a chaotic world of sprawl, widely influential but sadly unheeded around where I live these days.
'WayDownTown' is a movie by Gary Burns, which is distinctive in the manner in which the script articulates somewhat Debordian concepts regarding Capitalist alienation, whose characters express a cynical awareness of how the architectural structure of the environment they inhabit contributes to their despair. Like other movies of the same era such as American Beauty and Fight Club, the "take this job and shove it" ethos provides a simplified panacea to the inherent problems of consumer society.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand; upon first glance the perceptive may ask: is this a joke? I conceed: yes, it is: I highly recommend that any intelligent person avoid this skeweded interpretation of the career of the architect F.L.Wright unless they retain the critical f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s to separate thought from delusion. I merely present its inclusion as a nod to my previous Neil Peart reference; in his defence, I could cite an essay which defines his concerns with Rand as an ongoing process of subtle refutation...
I have asked for a few guest comments from the people at Omnitectural Forum; S.Russell at Thrillco sent me this:
Look over there! Where?
Travel writing is wooly-thoughted and checklist-obsessed. Even at its most self-absorbed it wouldn't be called psychogeographic. Yet turn travel writing slightly on its ear, and repatriate it into the writer's country and something we can call psychogeography certainly begins to appear. Thanks to familiar intramural rivalries between cities and regions, boosterisms and put-downs combine to form a pseudo-scientific mush that informs all debate.
In July 2003 a daily Toronto paper ran a full section detailing where different regions of Canada were best represented in Toronto. Food and drink were the foremost points of hopeful comparison chosen by most
writers. Matter-of-factly the writer looking for reminders of Quebec and Montreal in Toronto found nothing remotely close, nothing even interesting, and it left me with an awful ache: why can't this place be more like that one? Unusually, it was the hometown Toronto Star passing this bleak verdict.
Learning from Fear and Loathing
The same comparisons in another daily yield a different verdict (this time hometown Toronto wins). Globe And Mail columnist William Thorsell recently asked himself in two separate columns why Vancouver and Calgary
could not be more to his liking. The arguments were more high-concept, less tangible than missing food and thus were not as successful in producing that yearning ache of literal and figurative hunger. As thoughtful as any variation on "there's no place like home" may be, it's not very convincing to the other contestants of the intramural swan race.
When a city, or elements in a city, identify self-consciously with another city you can be sure the smaller the burg the more ardent the sell-up . Smooth Jazz, a radio format and music genre that evokes airport terminals, freeways and marinas from Miami to LA. has two notable Canadian outlets: "The Wave" in Hamilton and "Cool FM" in Winnipeg.
Writers and observers in and of the city of Buffalo are well equipped to tangle with real questions of place-crisis and identity-crisis. It is commonly allowed in the press, politics and everyday life that Buffalo is a shadow of itself. Local pride has certainly been stung, and yet the city has been infused and energized by a true realism: the city has shrunk but is far from dead and many great and small things can still be accomplished. News stories on Buffalo's prosperity, heritage or social life all contain a similar melancholy acknowledgment of former glories but most have an expression of optimism that it is people who create their places.
The Omnitectural Forum gets the big shout-out as the most innovative organ of cultural criticism I have seen since I last laid hands upon my copy of Psychotic Reactions and Carburator Dung. Where else can you see such dazzling similies tossed into the air and spun about with such aplumb than in their comparison of various New York Office Towers to their corresponding Spice Girls? Includes a quote from V-B somewhere which talks about metaphors without using any, almost.
Gene Threndyle once said: "If you say that you want to preserve a heritage building instead of tearing it down, the powers that be will call you a nut, or a delusional fanatic."
RDC is the driver.
Von Bark, while writing this article, has been described by a bag lady in Trinity Bellwoods Park as a "Capitalist Marionette Schieze Alcoholic". He once briefly edited the Journal of Stoner Architecture. He has recently posted an essay online about Baudelaire and Debord.
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"And we know... don't we?
And we'll dream... won't we?
Of Montague Terrace... in Blue..."
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