Saturday, 21 December 2013

TEXTS / CITIES - TVAD in partnership with Photography UH - Thursday 23rd January, 2014

TEXTS / CITIEs: from the 1970s to the present

TVAD Research Group in partnership with Photography UH, University of Hertfordshire

Thursday January 23rd, 2014
B03 FMM Building, College Lane Campus, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AB.

Convened by Dr Daniel Marques Sampaio and Michael Heilgemeir, University of Hertfordshire

Attendance is free, but delegates must register in advance by emailing or with the following information: Name; Affiliation/Institution/Role; Email address; Any special dietary requirements; Any special access requirements.

Cities have often been compared to palimpsests, their streets, buildings, and subways pleated, crumpled, written and rewritten over and over again: as material texts, poïesis. What is at stake in this conflation of city and text? Can the city be read, does it indeed operate like a text? How do urban spaces relate to artistic, political, or economic texts and ideologies, and vice versa? What transformations occur between the designing and imaging of urban spaces, and the building and eventual inhabiting of those spaces? How do the technologies employed in designing and imaging architectural and urban spaces (computer modelling and simulation, CGI renderings of future buildings, etc.) contribute to the ‘idea’ or representations of a city? In what ways can data and imaging influence understanding of, and policies within cities?

This seminar brings together scholars within an interdisciplinary range of art, design, and media practices to examine, analyse and interpret the complex relationships between texts and urban spaces in contemporary culture and society.


10 am: Arrival, FMM Building
10.40 am: Introduction, DMS & MH
11 am: Dr Erica Liu (University of Hertfordshire): “Rebranding Cities, using narratives to transform city image through the Olympic Games”
11.40 am: Carl Fraser (University of Sheffield): “Public realm, critical spatial practices”
12.20 pm: Dr Barbara Brownie (University of Hertfordshire): “Words Within Worlds: Kinetic and typographic cityscapes in television idents and credit sequences”
1 pm: Lunch, FMM foyer
2 pm: Dr Rebecca Thomas (University of Hertfordshire): “A city in pieces”
2.40 pm: Dr Marta Rabikowska (University of Hertfordshire): “Urban narrative through the lens of the camera”
3.20 pm: Jaspar Joseph Lester (Royal College of Art) and Julie Wesserman (Sheffield Hallam University): “Tegel: Speculations and Propositions”
4 pm: DMS & MH, response and closing remarks, followed by group discussion
4.20 pm: Coffee and tea, FMM foyer
5 pm: Close.

Dr Erica Liu (University of Hertfordshire): “Rebranding Cities, using narratives to transform city image through the Olympic Games”
Cities create compelling narratives of themselves to bid for the hosting of mega events such as the Olympic Games.  The winning city often needs to undertake drastic changes in cityscape and sometimes the city’s image in order to materialise these compelling narratives.  These narratives are more than text, graphics, photographs and videos; they are visions and inspirations of a country propagated from specific social and political contexts.  Cities have identifiable images, for instance, Paris is perceived for romance, Milan for style, New York for diversity and dynamics, Washington for power, and Tokyo for modernity. The objectives of rebranding a city sometimes challenges these established images; especially when the images carry negative connotations.  Former Axis power countries have hosted Olympic Games to signify conciliation and rehabilitation – Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Munich 1972.  The 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa and the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France signified social changes and a symbolic unity in dividing communities.  The narratives used captivated the emotion of the global communities; and transpired into a unique branding experience that became legacy.  Through rebranding during mega events, cities expressed the way they inspired to be, and the way they wished to be perceived by global audiences.  The agility and longevity of the outcomes, however, depends on variable factors such as the persistence of marketing campaign and the consistency of policy making and implementation. Olympic Game host cities such as London and Beijing will be used as case studies.
Carl Fraser (University of Sheffield): “Public realm, critical spatial practices”
The public realm of London has been transformed since the 1970s, politically, economically and socially. We now live in a completely redefined set of shared public spaces to those which existed previously. Most significantly the relationship between spaces, their occupation and the notion of ownership and disruption have entered into a new phase.
This paper will work with the themes which are explored in my PhD, the understanding of public realm protest as a spatial strategy of disruption whose narrative can be read as an indicator of the changing relationship between citizens, their representatives and powerful institutions, drawing on the protests which occurred in London between 2010 and 2012 as examples of this shifting relationship, and asking questions over the efficacy of public space as a concept and a field of practice. The paper will develop the notion of protest as a critical spatial practice. Critical… “an evaluative attitude towards reality” (Peter Marcuse); spatial… “the space of social practice, the space occupied by sensory phenomena, including products of the imagination such as projections, symbols and utopias” (Henri Lefebvre); practice… “transverse tactics do not obey the law of the place, for they are not defined or identified by it… one can distinguish ‘ways of operating’ – ways of walking, reading, producing, speaking, etc” (Michel de Certeau).
Through this theoretical understanding of physical public space I aim to compile a series of ‘situated knowledges’ (Donna Haraway) around the contemporary production of protest within public territories of action.
Dr Barbara Brownie (University of Hertfordshire): “Words Within Worlds: Kinetic and typographic cityscapes in television idents and credit sequences”
In fluid typography, letterforms emerge from apparently abstract or pictorial arrangements, challenging viewer’s assumptions about the nature and meaning of on-screen objects.  Increasingly in film credit sequences and television idents, this fluidity occurs in architectural environments. Computer-generated cityscapes, which initially present themselves as architectural, become typographic as letters and words emerge from the scene.
Directly-filmed and CGI models of cities can be treated as navigable environments, containing verbal meaning which may be revealed through kineticism or parallax. MPC’s Channel 4 idents (2004-2013), in which the figure ‘4’ emerges from computer-generated architectural environments, and the opening credits for Sin City (2005), in which an aerial view of skyscrapers reveals them to be arranged as a collection of letters, initially present architectural landscapes. In spectacles comparable to theatrical illusion, viewers are invited to seek out verbal meaning within these cityscapes.
This paper will apply Eduardo Kac’s discussions of ‘fluid signs’ (originally applied to holographic poetry) in the reading of credit sequences and idents. Fluid events will be compared to theatrical illusion, in which the illusionsit’s tools – the ‘city’ – are shown capable of spectacular and unexpected transformation. The emergence of letterforms from these scenes will be explored as a paradigm shift, from city to text.

Dr Rebecca Thomas (University of Hertfordshire): “A city in pieces”

This presentation will examine the curiously overlain city of Nicosia (Cyprus), especially in relation to a recent visit there (June 2013), and the potential narratives to be generated from that trip. Although one might claim that all cities are by definition layered with numerous histories, constructions and erasures, in the case of Nicosia the layering is particularly acute. As with Berlin in an important period of its history, and Jerusalem even today, Nicosia is a city whose territory is penetrated by a wall. This border turns the city into a kind of force-field of opposing energies and points of view, creating immense tensions between the separate segments, but also a heightened sense of political and personal identity and engagement. The existence of the wall, and the visitor’s awareness of the Turkish zone (which it is forbidden to enter) may repel the outsider, but at the same time it morbidly acts as a means of attraction. Wandering about the city, one is constantly reminded of its partitioned, traumatic nature, a “coherent” geographical location simultaneously fissured, rife with the potential for further conflict and division.

T S Eliot’s phrase “Unreal city” (from The Waste Land, 1922) feels very relevant. Its “unreality” comes from the on-going territorial and cultural clashes, but also from the posters and graffiti used to express these differences, deployed in texts and images found throughout Nicosia but especially in the areas close to the barricade. Visiting Nicosia brought home the power and importance of graffiti and other unofficial forms of communication as ways to “give voice” to otherwise unrepresented ideas. One reason for my visit, to be discussed in my paper, was to contribute to an international conference on typography at the city’s university, a discussion theme of great relevance in such a place of repressed but proliferating voices.   

Dr Marta Rabikowska (University of Hertfordshire): “Urban narrative through the lens of the camera”

In this argument a visual narrative of one south-eastern suburb of London will be analysed, while the context of performativity of urban ethnography will be critiqued and philosophized in light of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and Michail Bakhtin’s theory of polyphony. The city and its polyphonic fabric are represented here in an observational documentary produced by the author.  Her footage will undergo a detailed analysis in parallel to her self-reflection on the processes of research. Methodologically, polyphonic narrative, as identified by Bakhtin in Dostoyevsky’s novels, will allow for an insight into the fragmented identity of an urban community. The aim of analysing the film footage is to observe what the camera ‘sees’ and how the city narrative is affected by perception. The city is regarded as ‘being’ which cannot be separated from the observer, and which unfolds performatively to the camera, if prompted by an act of filming. Through a close analysis of the video representation of the metropolis’ suburb, the author tries to ‘see’ through the politics of belonging, which governs the narrative of exclusion and inclusion.

Jaspar Joseph Lester (Royal College of Art) and Julie Wesserman (Sheffield Hallam University): “Tegel: Speculations and Propositions”

Tegel: Speculations and Propositions a culmination of our interest in the way collaboration, interdisciplinary research, and experimentation can produce new spatial knowledge. Over a period of eighteen months, a selected group of international artists and writers focused their attention on Tegel airport, they observed how it is used, they engaged in new activities and imagined how the building might function in the future. This book and DVD is the outcome of what might be described as an open-ended enquiry and, as such, embodies new perspectives on, and approaches to, urban renewal, regeneration, social organisation, mobility and the legacy of modernist architecture. This approach to site is central to imagining how art practice can slow down, re-orientate and redefine the successive cycles of master plans and regeneration schemes so that we can begin to consider what is at stake in the spaces we occupy. The paper interrogates the ethos embodied in the utopian design and the legacy that it leaves. The paper explores the influence of an architecture that embodies an age and an ideal, and reflects the politics of the city.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Looking Good? Aesthetics and Iconicity in Design History

9th January 2014, 3-5 pm, Aud 4, Eilert Sundts Hus, University of Oslo.
In this lecture, part of the University of Oslo's Estetisk Seminar, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, Reader in Design History and TVAD Research Group Leader, will discuss what iconicity means in the context of design and how it relates to aesthetics.

If Kant associated aesthetics with the senses, and the scholarship of aesthetics has foregrounded taste and value, or beauty, then an aesthetic approach to design history can be understood as privileging the visual. The history of design is rich in examples of work which may be harnessed to a view of design practice as an aesthetic enterprise. This is particularly foregrounded in an approach that equates the history of design with a history of styles in which, for example, neoclassicism is followed by Gothic, or Gothick, and then a flurry of Victorian eclecticism including Gothic revival, Neo-Gothic, and the Arts and Crafts Movement and its variation, followed by the various modern ‘isms’.

However, it is also seen in the recent fashion for icon design in mass and popular consumer culture. By no means reserved for design, today the terms ‘icon’ and ‘iconic’ are applied remarkably liberally to describe a surprisingly wide range of things, from the music of Beethoven’s 5th symphony to the fragrance of Chanel No. 5. Both of these things—a symphony and a scent—may be described, to some extent, as designed, but iconicity is perceived not only in objects, images, sounds and scents which are manufactured. It is a status also accorded to natural phenomena, such as the pumpkin, which are rendered iconic not through designers’ intentions, but through their consumption (both literal and symbolic) and mediation.

Anyone wishing to understand the iconic by looking at the various phenomena to which the label is applied would have difficulty finding some common characteristics in their physical properties, although it is instructive to consider some shared formal properties of design icons and it is possible to understand more about iconicity, the quality of being iconic, by referring to the history of icons. This lecture briefly reviews the roots of iconicity in design and then proposes the identifying characteristics shared by religious icons and design icons alike as functions of reception: representativeness, recognition and reverence. It explores the words ‘icon’ and ‘iconic’ and the processes of iconization by which iconicity in design is conferred before examining some case studies of iconic design which are representative of wider issues in design discourse, taken from Lees-Maffei's forthcoming edited book Iconic Designs: 50 Stories about 50 Things (Bloomsbury Academic, April 2014) and her essay 'Design History and Theory' forthcoming in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, second edition, edited by Michael Kelly, and forthcoming from Oxford University Press in the summer of 2014.

Dr Grace Lees-Maffei's research centres upon mediation as a focus in design history. Her work is available in Design at Home: Domestic Advice Literature in the UK and the US since 1945 (Routledge, 2013), Made in Italy: Rethinking a Century of Italian Design co-edited with Kjetil Fallan (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), Writing Design: Words and Objects (Berg, 2011) and The Design History Reader, co-edited with Rebecca Houze (Berg, 2010) and in journals including Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, Women's History Review, Modern Italy and the Journal of Design History. Forthcoming titles include Iconic Designs: 50 Stories about 50 Things (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), Reading Graphic Design in Cultural Context: An Introduction, co-authored with Nicolas P. Maffei (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) and Designing Worlds: National Design Histories in an Age of Globalization, co-edited with Kjetil Fallan (Berghahn, 2016). Dr Lees-Maffei is Managing Editor of the Journal of Design History, a member of the Peer Review College of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Advisory Board member for The Poster.