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A Field Guide to Exit Zero: Urban Landscape Essay Films, 1921 till Now

  • Author(s): Landberg, S Topiary
  • Advisor(s): Kahana, Jonathan
  • Prelinger, Richard
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-ND' version 4.0 license
Abstract

This hybrid theory-practice dissertation advocates for a landscape mode of documentary media-making. Providing case studies from the history of non-narrative city filmmaking, this work breaks new ground by locating this form in the context of environmentalist and social justice concerns. Having been guided by two central questions: what is the subjectivity of a landscape, and what does it mean to say that a landscape has subjectivity?, this research provides an historical overview of non-narrative methodologies for representing urban nature as a collective subject and a collaborative agent. Foregrounding the function of musical and temporal structures, the use of improvisational techniques, and highlights queer strategies of representation, this dissertation expands considerations of the city symphony genre to attend to jazz, feminist, postmodern and environmentalist developments of form. It also considers the lyric role of the acousmatic (off-screen) voice in relationship to the visual landscape and explores how the spoken word inspires productive forms of identification and dis-identification with the visual environment. The practice-based component of the research is Exit Zero: An Atlas of One City Block through Time, is an interactive documentary of a single city block located in central San Francisco. This web-based media artwork presents a long-view of the processes of gentrification and urban transformation. As a synecdoche for the hyper-gentrification of San Francisco, Exit Zero provides a poetic framework in which to explore the multiple dramatic metamorphoses of the city block made famous by Hayes Valley Farm, the temporary community garden built on top of a former freeway exit. Using the interaction metaphors of the compass and the timeline, this work juxtaposes the impacts of government policy and public infrastructure against the forces of anti-freeway activism and community social practice. Visitors are rewarded for their curiosity and encouraged to explore the various states of development and transformation of this block in a non-linear fashion, enacting a collaborative and improvisational relationship to the project’s content and enabling the discovery of uncanny interconnections and poetic rhymes between seemingly disparate time periods.

In arguing for the urgency of validating a landscape mode of media-making that instigates collective forms of identification, this practice-theory dissertation catalyzes a new understanding of landscape as both a collective subject and an collaborative orientation to media-making.

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