12 August 2008

I live(d) in Blade Runner

Nothing special for the photograph today, but it gestures at something so central to my mythology of the City. For six months 06/07 I lived in Clerkenwell (aka sexy warehouse architect land) in a big council highrise full of more yuppies than council tenants. The area was... odd, actually, despite the hype. It was a little lacking in basic necessities such as a decent supermarket, hell, even just a newsagent open when I wanted the Sunday papers. A little too quiet after hours; it had City looks, but not City buzz. It didn't really feel homely, but nor did it feel anything else.

But one thing made up for all that. Up on the sixth floor balcony, walking towards my flat's front door, I had this view - the Barbican towers, their dark jagged concrete forms disjunct on the skyline. Not so close (about a kilometre away) and, on a sunny day, not so foreboding - but still a gift because they let me pretend, just for a few seconds as I walked towards the door, that I was living in Blade Runner. In my heart, that is what the City is about.

The City is Bananas

Today I finally caught up with my friend Astrid. We found some coffee then went hunting for banana skins - no really. Astrid runs London Bananas, a photoblog dedicated to the urban banana. A new(ish) resident of the City, she writes:

"When I arrived I noticed something straight away: there's a lot of banana skins around.
I see them everywhere. They're languishing on doorsteps, hanging out in the middle of the road, dangling off street signs, peeking out of piles of garbage, reclining in the middle of the sidewalk, riding the bus for free....
Eventually I managed to get a camera and started documenting these bananas in situ, partially because I thought it was funny and partially to assure myself that I wasn't making it up."

Here's one of her photos:

Why's this belong here? Because, like people on BoingBoing, I'm loving the game of 'guess where?' these photos inspire. Taken at banana-height perspective often without much background context, these pictures challenge my micro-knowledge of the City. I know where Astrid lives, works, goes drinking - but have I been concentrating? Can I place that shopfront, those railings, that advertising hoarding? I want to be able to do so: I want to know my City intimately, not (just) as theoretical structures and systems but like the palm of my hand. (Like my own body...)

And simultaneously London Bananas also functions as a guide to someone else's City, her paths and the traces these leave in her mind; a little awareness of the things she sees that I never do, that is, banana skins.

7 August 2008

Decorating the City

I love my shitty motorola camera-phone - sometimes it chooses to focus on things, sometimes it chooses not to. We shall pretend, please, that this random variation makes my photos on this blog more artistic, and that it's nothing to do with being too slothful to find/carry/use a proper camera!

By Old Street tube, 4 Aug 08. The tag -ACK (the first letter was damaged) made out of the genius new medium of plastic cups stuffed into wire net fencing.

20 Apr 08, probably East London. Stencilism by now outweighs spray-can graffiti, or at least the good stuff - wonder who to blame for that?! It still looks great, but yet is something of the soft & easy option, I think...

29 Jan 08 - pure Dada.

Gower Street, 28 Feb 08

Foucault wept.

Tate Modern 'Global Cities' exhibition

The Global Cities exhibition at the Tate Modern last summer was not a raving success. Rem Koolhaas talked bollocks about slum dwellers being 'more free' in their architectural choices because they weren't constrained by Evil Conservative Planners - the fact that they're constrained by lack of money and materials, which likewise generates stylistic uniformity, didn't seem to occur to him. Graphs appeared without scales or quantification, statistics without context and sometimes flat out wrong (a 10 km square is not the same as 10 square km, oh innumerate curator). And most of the video works were vague, uncontextualised, and a bit dull.

But I found some pictures on my phone of the cool stuff, so I thought I'd post them:

Nigel Coates (2007) Mixtacity
An artistic reading of urban planning for the Thames Gateway - brilliant because at first the only weirdness seemed to be that the buildings were made of biscuits & rolls of thread; then, as you looked further east, the buildings themselves got stranger and stranger, but so gradually that it all seemed plausible.

A plywood model of the residential density of a city, possibly Mumbia. Pretty but essentially meaningless, given that there's no scale attached. And can the city's borders really be so sharply defined, moing from ultra-dense to barely populated in the space of a kilometre or less? I doubt it. So what's the point of such an impressionistic rendering?

Not sure who this was - Planet of Slums is a Mike Davis phrase, but he wasn't a contributor. But as a signpost of increasing class segregation in the city, it's apt - makes me think of the vitriolic battles over hipster appropriation of Brooklyn, New York.