Friday, 19 June 2015

New WVC issue: Between Texts and Cities

Between Texts and Cities” was prompted by a suggestion by Grace Lees-Maffei that Michael Heilgemeir and I guest-edit an issue of Writing Visual Culture, the journal of the TVAD research group. The issue is part of our joint project Texts+Cities, an exploration of the relations between texts and urban spaces in contemporary societies. We both have a keen interest in contemporary cities and urban issues: Michael’s book The Nomadic Studio explores temporary artist-led spaces and their role within the redevelopment of cities, and my research is on urban regeneration, focusing on London Docklands and the Greenwich Peninsula.

Fig. 1: Michael Heilgemeir (2013): The Nomadic Studio.

Our first Texts+Cities activity was the seminar Texts/Cities: From the 1970s to the Present, which took place at the University of Hertfordshire in January 2014. In conceiving the seminar, Michael and I were guided by a number of questions:

·       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 Big Data, New Media, and Imaging Technologies influence understanding of, and policies within cities?

Poster for seminar Texts/Cities: From the 1970s to the Present, University of Hertfordshire, 2014. Poster design: Michael Heilgemeir; photograph: Hong Kong 2003 © Daniel Marques Sampaio.

The exploratory nature of the seminar enabled us to identify the central issues on which to focus, and the present issue of Writing Visual Culture springs from that process. Our call for papers for the issue produced responses from scholars within an interdisciplinary range of humanities, social sciences, art, design, and media practices.

Between Texts and Cities
 (WVC # 6) cover. Design and photograph © Michael Heilgemeir.

The seven contributions in “Between Texts and Cities” were selected from abstracts received from the UK, the USA, Belgium, Canada, Germany, India, Malaysia, Russia, and South Africa. Our imaginations were sparked by their themes: cityscapes of exclusion; liminal, interstitial spaces between city and country; places of refuge for sexual and racial minorities; modernist utopian designs ill-equipped to respond to the dynamics of contemporary Capitalism; imagined cities that amplified traits of existing ones to the point of entropy.

These all related to the concerns outlined in our call for papers. However, the variety of approaches and the specificities of some of their cultural and geographical settings required us to contextualise them very carefully in relation to our project. In this we benefited enormously from our conversations with Susan Parham, Head of Urbanism at the Centre for Sustainable Communities here at the University of Hertfordshire. Susan’s comments and advice were always given in a spirit of openness and generosity, and we enjoyed immensely working with her.

I invite readers (shameless plug alert!) to have a look at the Introduction to the issue, which sets out a context for the papers within the thematic scope of the Texts+Cities project. That context invokes the literal and metaphorical ruins of Modernism’s urban utopias, and the emergence of a new political and economic configuration in the wake of the structural crises of Capitalism of the 1970s. Naturally, such context, “narrative arc” even, is only one of many possible contexts, and we welcome debate on alternative ways of reading this issue.

A final note on the issue: there are two versions of “Between Texts and Cities” on the TVAD website. The first version follows the prevailing model of digital delivery in journal publishing, whereby journal articles within an issue can be accessed individually as pdfs. If you need to print an individual article, that’s the place to go (mind the trees!).

In addition to this, we have brought all the papers together in a single volume, soon to be uploaded on the WVC site. Michael designed and produced photographs for the volume, which is designed to be read/viewed/studied/devoured on screens/tablets. This second version aims to preserve the papers’ place in the wider context of the issue (that “narrative arc”), and emphasise the dialogue between the articles. We also intend it to explore a bit more the visual side we have always felt is a strong aspect of the Texts+Cities project, in an attractive publication that hopefully will help us communicate the project in future activities.

Daniel Marques Sampaio

1 comment:

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