Streetnotes is a peer-reviewed journal for the interdisciplinary study of the city, its lifeways and social relations, with a special concern for the cultural and aesthetic forms that arise through its traffic.
Volume 25, 2016
Public Space: Between Spectacle and Resistance
Streetnotes 25: Between Spectacle and Resistance
Table of Contents for Streetnotes 25
A privileged center for the sign, the media, and the code, the city is the place par excellence for visual consumption, providing a sense of simultaneity and global interconnectedness. This is particularly clear in times of mega-events (The World Soccer Cup, The Olympic Games, The World Youth Day), when host cities receive an extraordinary influx of foreign visitors and enter in a hyper-mediated trance with the spotlights of all the TV cameras of the world. In preparation for the 2014 and 2016 mega-events, the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has experienced a permanent shock of agenda, characterized by important, accelerated, urban renewal projects accompanied by population removal and slums pacification. With the official assertion of Rio as a global city for sports and other mega-events comes a hegemonic will to blend festive public space with advertising. Based on the works of Sharon Zukin and David Harvey on visual consumption and social control, I question the production of such model of the “festive” city. In Rio de Janeiro, non-stop partying provides a convenient escape from conflict, protest, and dissent.
This paper discusses the social experience of resistance to urban interventions in Morro da Providência (Providence Hill)—one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro—where the project Porto Maravilha was launched in 2009. According to this project, the port area of the City of Rio would be renovated. That would result in the displacement of 832 families from their homes. Without prior warning, their homes were marked for removal. A series of rights violations took place, triggering a strong public reaction, which resulted in a legal action that stopped the removal process. Some collective resistance movements in Providência worked in partnership with foreign artists to use art in the struggle for space. Chief among them was the Favelarte Institute. Founded by Maurício Hora, photographer and resident of Providência, the Institute has been developing artistic, cultural, and socio-educative activities since the 2000s. The results were critical and mobilizing interventions that gained high international exposure, thus taking resistance to a different level and becoming instrumental for the public struggle in Morro da Providência.
Religion and the Artification of Graffiti in the Olympic City : A Look at the Walls of Rio de Janeiro
This article aims to discuss the formation of a motivational landscape by looking at paintings; stencils; and religious and nonreligious graffiti in the city of Rio de Janeiro in the context of the 2016 Olympics. The process of artification at work in various expressions of so-called street arts is key for understanding the use that different social actors (young evangelicals or not, City Council, NGOs) make of this artistic expression. In this sense, the artistic interventions emerge as mediators of a citizen message, and/or an aesthetic one, and/or a religious one. Therefore, the purpose of the article is to present some advances in the analysis of speeches, images, and legislation regarding art and street interventions, in the city’s specific socio-political context. The empirical data that supports these analyzes are currently being undertaken in the survey “Street Art and Religion: A Study on Citizenship Productions and City Projects Through Graffiti in Rio de Janeiro,” and were structured by conducting interviews with graffiti artists and City Council representatives and drawing a map of artistic interventions, mainly in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro. This is justified by the importance that the South Zone has in the imaginary formation of what it means to be “Carioca”—a resident of Rio— today, and in the external projection that the “spirit of the city” has gained since Rio won the rights to host the 2016 Olympics.
Nearly a million tourists travel to Rio de Janeiro each February toview the spectacular Escola da Sambas—the heart and soul ofCarnival—parading in the Sambadrome. By examining modern dayCarnival's cultural roots, this photo essay illustrates the passionatecelebration and protest Brazilians exhibit during this raucousweek-long event.
The purpose of this essay is to present the Praia da Estação (“Beach Station”) movement—an important occupation of public space in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais State, Brazil. A joyful protest, Praia da Estação was created in a decentralized and peaceful manner, in response to the top-down regulation set up by Mayor Márcio Lacerda in 2009, to regulate the use of Praça da Estação (“Square Station”). The idea of creating a beach in an inland city, where people would protest in swimsuits, asserts the peaceful and irreverent character of the demonstrations. Thus, Praia da Estação is considered one of the first in a series of actions in Belo Horizonte dedicated to defending the use of public space and (re)gaining control over it.
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This is a digital panorama-mosaic of drawings and paintings made by the 19th century travelers to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Bay of Guanabara is a focal point in their representations, as are the vessels, which help unravel the narrative of the digital panorama, recalling not only different visions, views, and painting techniques, but also re-activating a certain social memory of Rio.
Resisting Invisibility: The Strength and Pride of African Women in Angèle Etoundi Essamba’s Photography
This is a review of the recent retrospective exhibition Strength & Pride: 30 Years of Photographing the African Woman, by Angèle Etoundi Essamba, in the Musée Théodore Monod (18 Feb-30 Mar, 2016), in Dakar, Senegal.
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The idea of representing a city in 10 word descriptions comes from a writing workshop that I led in the Senegalese capital of Dakar in 2015, on the invitation of the Dakar Women’s Group. The pairing of the ideal 10 word descriptions with the ideal 10 images developed as a result of multiple revisions for various occasions, over the course of a year. I hope that the selection here gives a glimpse into but also a feel of a place rich with color, vibrancy, hospitality, and contradiction.
An impression of the West African vendors at the Tuileries.
The Brooklyn Hi-Art Machine! is a socially engaged art project in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, created by two mothers, Mildred Beltré and Oasa Duverney, who are also artists, Caribbean-Americans, and native New Yorkers, and who have been residents in the same building in Crown Heights for the past sixteen years.
This is a photo essay about Halloween, wearing masks and costumes, and the im/possibility of showing one’s true identity.
Orality and Memory in the Carnival of Cádiz, Spain: Identity, Urban Space, and Socio-Political Transgression
Cádiz is a city in the southernmost region of Andalucía (Spain) famous for its annual carnival in February—a time when Cádiz’ historical center undergoes a radical transformation. Each year various groups of friends, neighbors, and colleagues create costumes, lyrics, and music independently from officially programmed acts. These “illegal” street performers—or carnavalescas callejera —create original comical acts based on recurrent themes and rhythms that come to life as they directly interact with thousands of people throughout all hours of the day and night. We use ethnographic data to examine the aesthetic, socio-political, economic, and symbolic dimensions of these massive street performances. Carnavalescas callejeras orally transmit social satires and ingenious political transgression based on sociocultural references that are very much anchored in local memory and identity. In this respect, we also reflect upon the significance of this massive performance as citizens autonomously transform urban spaces through their words and actions. As we argue, performers and carnival-goers partake in a singular ritual that contests social order, ridicules what is “politically correct,” and resists homogenizing cultural trends by affirming their identity.
In this series of photographs, I document, juxtapose, and recontextualize graffiti, signage, and written messages found in Toronto’s downtown core through 2013 and 2014. I approach each image, each captured inscription, through the political and ethical demands of the trace and as communicative of other traces. Photographs in this series are meant to stand alone, but are also recontextualized through their associative connections to a larger and continuously expanding narrative that conveys marks of socio- economic inequality, difference, and privilege in times of austerity. In this sense, each photograph expresses an imminent ethical demand through the traces of unknown others. This series ultimately aims to identify existing conditions for potential collective struggle through aesthetics of the other’s inscription as a political proposition. These images stage an affective and aesthetic encounter with the language of the other and the traces of that language, encouraging the viewer’s engagement with possibility and difference beyond dominant ideological actualizations that unevenly distribute power and privilege in contemporary life.
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In May 2013, Stockholm was shaken by six days of riots that started in one of its Northern suburbs, Husby, but soon spread to other parts of the city and country. This essay reports on a field trip to Stockholm and sets the riots within the Swedish urban context.
This paper explores the evolution of parading in civic space in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I draw upon previous ethnographic study of the Twaddell Avenue protest camp as an example of spectacle and resistance in public space. This camp, sometimes referred to as a 'civil rights camp' or 'protest camp', is the product of ethnosectarian division and ongoing contestation around space in Northern Ireland. This camp, and the act of parading around which it revolves, appropriates public space as an expression of identity, territory, and collective memory. It also provides a lens with which to examine broader social, political and economic issues facing post-ceasefire, post-industrial Belfast.
Our Home(s) and/on Native Land: Spectacular Re-Visions and Refusals at Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games
In this essay I examine how Indigenous artists and performers leveraged Indigenous inclusion in Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games to refuse conditions that spectacularize Indigeneity for the consumptive appetite of settler-spectators. Their refusals, I suggest, called upon settler-spectators to reorient their placement on Indigenous land: to move from understanding themselves as citizens of a postcolonial nation-state celebrated through Olympic (inter)nationalism, to settlers (still) occupying unceded Indigenous territory. I critique how settler subjectivity and settler colonial relations have historically been produced through non-Indigenous people engaging with Indigenous people and political expression as spectators, enjoying the privilege and presumption of consuming and looking at Indigenous people and art. To be called into a different relation by Indigenous art and performance that refuses our spectatorship, we are called upon to relinquish our position as spectators, to identify ourselves as settlers, and to reorient ourselves temporally, spatially, and politically to Indigenous peoples and land. The positioning of Indigenous art and performance as refusals within and against the Olympics, the ultimate spectacle of statehood and inclusion, intensified their potency. Refusing and revising the spectacle, they playfully and powerfully unsettled settler-spectators and settler colonial conditions.
This essay explores engagement with postindustrial landscapes and conceptions of nature at Hunters Point, a formerly vacant waterfront site in Queens, New York City. Chronicling and documenting a number of appropriations and transgressive practices at this postindustrial site, it argues for the necessity of vacant spaces within dense contemporary cities, like New York. Vacant or marginal spaces, particularly those on the water's edge, offer opportunities for environmental engagement that are not available in traditional or emerging parks and public spaces, and speak to basic human impulses or needs to convene with the natural environment in which we live.
This paper looks at modern gentrification from the perspective of art, artists, and artistry, and attempts to connect society's politics with its behaviours.
Lost Caller is a photo essay presenting excerpts from an ongoing collection of cellphone photographs I have taken of broken & abandoned public telephone sites. This collection began serendipitously in 2013 through correspondence.
Urban sociologists have studied how people interact in public spaces, but there has been little study of how changing technology has impacted how people relate to one another in these spaces. We conducted an observational study of people in Bryant Park in New York City to find out how electronic devices impact social contact in a small public park that normally would be conducive to interacting with others. We sought to understand how visitors to this urban park have evolved, how they engage with each other and with personal technology in the park, and how they relate to the surrounding urban space. We found that electronic communication devices can either isolate city dwellers or bring them closer together, depending on personal and environmental factors.
Tokyo is a boundless synthesis of many cities and villages. In this and in many other respects, Tokyo is a celebration of motion. And with motion comes rapid change. Today, the metropolis thrives on this almost ritualistic phenomenon of destruction and rebuilding. This is a city of no beginning and no end, where stories are spliced together and juxtaposed, sometimes in harmony, but more frequently in chaos. How can one possibly begin to conceive of urban space in the midst of all this apparent confusion? How can one claim to hold memories of Tokyo when the locus and language by which they are painted are in perpetual flux? The question must involve a rigorous redefinition of Western notions of space and its representation. Ever so slowly, amidst the clutter emerges an immutable harmony that, like almost everything about Tokyo, spurns words for the silences in between—a naked urban haiku that washes transparent dreams over this jungle of concrete, this tangle of time. Space seems to merge with its representations, buildings shed their facades and forms jut into a skyline of multifarious screens and resplendent banners. And so we ask, how does Tokyo rewrite our memories? What is the nature of memory in a city that so swiftly assimilates into its mutable aesthetic all inscriptions of the previous, the already, the long ago?
This is a small selection from the innumerable photographs that I have taken in the streets of New York in the past 20 years, while attempting to grasp subjects and their feelings.
A poem exploring issues of identity lost and found, and self-love, in the age of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
From transforming fire-hydrants, to public snow-sculpting, to growing "mini-gardens," Swiss cities and towns are undertaking initiatives to re-imagine the urban experience, in order to make it more pleasant, memorable, and relevant, for its residents. Here, I share several art projects that I have been involved in first-hand over the past several years, starting in the 1980s in the town of St. Gallen and in the village Braunwald, Switzerland, demonstrating how: a) through the re-painting of fire-hydrants as dwarfs, fairytales come alive in urban places, which re-energizes public places in rather unpredictable ways; b) through public snow-sculpting using scratched ice from a local ice-rink, discarded material is put into new, creative, and decorative use; and c. through guerilla gardening in public places, locals take care for a “mini-garden” set by the council in a wooden frame, creating a shared experience that will culminate in having a meal together, cooked from the vegetables grown in the mini-garden, and shared on the street, where the mini-garden is located.
There are some stories that a city can tell better than its people. They are hidden in urban scenes, signs, and symbols; in messages on the walls, sculptures, architecture, and cultural landscape.
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The Philadelphia School Closing Photo Collective: Photography as Documentation, Public Participation, and Community Resistance
The Philadelphia School Closing Photo Collective came into existence in response to a wave of public school closures in Philadelphia in 2013. This photo essay examines the birth and photographic work of this group and situates it within a larger framework of democratic participation and civic engagement.
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Revitalization of the Fresno, CA Fulton Mall serves as an anthropological case study centering around a discussion of changing urban forms. The creation and maintenance of community as it pertains to open urban space is central to my argument that context and placemaking matter when confronting urban change at the street level, querying the role public space plays in 21st Century urban areas. I ask what do preservation efforts really seek to save in a rapidly changing region like California's greater Central Valley? What do such preservation efforts say about the role of citizens in their community at the local level and how their participation in the urban revitalization process include hidden transcripts (Scott, 1990) of cultural meaning that reinforce and counter the discourse of a dominant local planning regime? Through ethnographic research and an intimate and empirically-grounded understanding of place, I showcase the different negotiations of space and self that community groups and local government entities develop, even as they seek to both revitalize and preserve the character of the Fulton Mall through political dialogue and community mobilization.
By comparing and contrasting two panoramic projects of Versailles, one being a painted panorama by John Vanderlyn (1775-1852) completed in 1819 and the other, part of Google’s World Wonders Project launched in 2012, this paper will examine the notion of heritage as a tangible entity, experiential consumable, and identity maker, and show how heritage sites and the panorama (both painted and digital) act as a spectacle that seeks to fulfill the needs and desires of its visitors to consume past and present cultural landscapes.
The Idea of the Common: A Pedagogical Assessment of a Graduate Architecture Seminar in Dublin, Ireland
Public space—its history, uses and especially design—lies at the heart of the architectural curriculum. Yet defining this term can be a slippery task: what are we alluding to, specifically, when we speak of public space? Is it an idea, a phenomenon, a distinct place that can be drawn, measured and plotted? In the formal academic discipline of architecture, we freely use and apply this expression and its cognates to a multitude of situations, but we seldom pause to consider, much less scrutinize, its underlying meaning. This essay explores the conundrum of “concretizing” public space through the lens of a graduate seminar. The seminar aims to develop a series of lucid and balanced dialogues pertaining to commonality in the city.
My project examines a series of local initiatives in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where residents exercise their will and power to reshape the city according to their own needs.
When Argul Weave officially opened in Bursa, Turkey, in the Fall of 2014, it became the first structure of its kind in the region: master- minded by architect Burak Pekoglu, it combines complex geometry with local labor and building materials—Patara beige natural stone for the façade, from Burdur, and dark-red Aegean marble for the plinth, from the Aegean area—to make a bold aesthetic statement in Yildirim, Bursa—the textile industry hub of Turkey—a complex geometry can be scaled down to a buildable design here, by the locals. This article examines some of the forces that helped shape Argul Weave into one coherent, and visionary, composition: from theories of modern architecture to practical knowledge of local customs, and ponders the importance of the structure in summoning the varied resources of Turkey’s Hinterland while also facilitating the creative synergy among the locals (workers, residents, users).
This essay details the founding, early stages, and recent projects of BINAA (Building, INnovation, Art, and Architecture)—a forum for collaborative architecture practices.