FACS 1900 C
Arts and Ideas
Instructor: Robert Gill
Room: ACW 206 for lecture, ACE 006 for tutorial
Time: Friday 11:30 to 1:30 PM for lecture, 2:30 to 3:30 for tutorial
April 03, 2009
Today we’ll talk about urban space in reference to the article you read. I will also show
you some photographs I’ve taken in relation to urban space. We’ll end looking at
Dogtown, a film on skateboarding. I will keep moving today, give you a 5minutes break
only before the screening. Fairly lecture intensive today.
This article is extremely difficult, I am aware of that. We will just focus on as much of
that article as we can. It is very short, dense, condensed but short. One thing that is very
important when you start university is that you immerse yourself in new kinds of material
that may be way all over your head. The best thing you can do is to see what you can get
from it and you build on it the next time you go back.
Last time we began talking about discourse. Discourses allows us to see and understand
that meaning is not simply generated in small things, it is also generated on a large scale
and that we can identify patterns of meaning that emerge across various kinds of
institutions in society. The idea of race is something that we see emerging almost
universally now through colonization. An idea organized in a variety of institutions
across the world.
How we understand that discourse is very difficult. We have to look at it historically,
sociologically, bring as many resources to analyze discourse as we can. Last time we
looked at how images of Middle Eastern people are produced in art, in popular culture, in
the context of colonialism. An example where a discourse can be seen operating in a
number of different places.
Discourse is always produced in spaces. A space like a prison is not just a building, it
produces a discourse, an idea of imprisonment, something called the prisoner. A school, a
university, a school system, any kind of learning institution produces something called a
student. You didn’t start grade 1 knowing how to be a student, you had to become a
student. Education is something that is being produced.
Think about how urban space produces a certain kind of experiences. When I talk about
urban space I also talk about suburban space. Most of us got here on some kind of urban
infrastructure. Today we begin thinking how a city produces something called an urban
experience. You can see in this image. In the future we will look at a film Radiant City,
how suburban space produces a certain kind of life. This is a mass produced urban space,
these houses were built all at one go, like a factory. You can see here the front of the
1 building is always a garage. When the developers designed this, the car was the first thing
they thought of. The car is the centerpiece of the whole thing. There are no sidewalks, the
edge of the property hits the road. Each little pod directly references the automobile, not
walking. You could walk but you know that often walking is pointless as there is
nowhere to go. This kind of space produces a certain kind of experience, it’s rather
disconnected. You just drive past your neighbors in your way to your car-pod.
We will continue to develop the concept of discourse in relation to another article. We
want to begin to think about urban life as itself a discourse. The city is something that
shapes your experience, who you are and what you can do. This image, at the top of it
you see these figures sitting down, this is a row of people sitting on a bench looking
down into an architectural model of an urban space.
This image is an image of people who are attending the world’s fair in NY in the late 50s.
They’re looking at an ideal of what people at that time thought cities could look like. It
began in the 20s and continued in the 50s, the idea that by using technology like the car
or the sky scraper we can build these utopic spaces. The car and the highway is the spine
of the whole thing. Think of this as a machine. These boxes here, skyscrapers, are meant
to focus a lot of people into a space. At the time this was created, people were in awe of
this image, it was like science fiction. At the time the discourse of urban space being
activated was quite utopic. It’s a real spectacle. Can we build that?
Today this is a real photograph of a real urban space, the LA freeway. We know 50 years
later that this utopic idea of urban space is not working very well. You know how it feels
to be stuck in that car. It’s dystopia. You feel like you’re not in any space. You’re in your
car, listening to the radio and you’re stuck. The average North American commuter
spends two and a half hours a day commuting back and forth. You notice there are no
bodies in this image, we can’t see the people.
It’s an abstract image, the human beings have disappeared. You have to imagine what it’s
like to be in that space. This space is producing a certain kind of body. By extension or
by implication it is producing a body. We want to look at that body beginning today, in
some detail at the urban body and urban experience. How can we draw from everything
we’ve learned up to this point about language, esthetics, power, discourse, to develop a
way of thinking.
Another kind of urban space, much more intimate, you can see the bodies, they are very
much on the ground. This is Kensington market. Some folks are here and they
personalized the space. You have a very strong sense that they appropriated the space and
turned it into something of their own. We see them setting up this informal market.
These are photographs I’ve taken around Kensington market. See how things
spontaneously are designed in the vernacular design. It just happens. Accidentally people
design very interesting things. I’m interested in not only this kind of dystopic idea of the
city but also in looking for evidence of resistance. Sometimes things just spontaneously
happen in the city. Those are the kinds of things that Foucault asks us to value about
2 urban space. This is a little laneway downtown Toronto, at College and Bathurst. A
desirable, cool residential area.
Last term we looked at Orozco, a very significant artist for me personally. Orozco really
fits into this kind of way of thinking about the city. He talks about this idea that despite
the harshness of the city, the alienation of the city, the apparent indifference of the city,
he decides to be open. A process of becoming familiar with those things that are around
us. He uses this beautiful language. It’s like being available, being present or being open.
So things don’t simply move past us, we allow ourselves to experience them. There is a
wealth of things around us that we can care about. Orozco is inviting us to be a different
kind of person. To develop a different kind of relation to the world, a different kind of
subjectivity. To be creative in a different way, to practices our lives in a different way.
I am interested in giving you an idea of practice which is more intimate and more about
inquiry, opening yourself up to what is around you, thinking about it, understanding it
and making that understanding part of your practice.
Here is something else on College Street. A beautiful sculptural thing. You would never
see it if you didn’t have a camera in your hand. You are looking for things to take photos,
the camera becomes an excuse to look at things. It’s not just about making photographs,
these will never be in a gallery, but they connect to my experience of being an artist in
the past and of teaching.
What is a city? At the most banal level, a city is a place that organizes human life. It
focuses bodies in a space in a very intense way. It’s not simply a place, it’s an idea. The
city is an idea. It makes more sense to focus and gather people together in an urban space
for all kinds of reasons. It’s a good way of producing industry, industry means work.
London emerged as an indusial powerhouse in the 19 century, there was a population
explosion as people came to the city to find jobs. The city and capitalism are necessarily
connected. The city is a place of all kinds of imagination. What the city enables us to do
and think about what we might do. I talked about a discourse being an idea or a body of
ideas, a way of thinking about something that limits how you can think about it but is also
a place where you can begin to go beyond those limits.
You come in here today with an idea about how the city works and I hope you can
expand the boundaries around that. We’re not thinking about suburbia in a very good
way. Academics, architects have tended to have a very negative attitude about suburbia.
There are problems with suburbia but how can we think differently about it to reinvent it?
Specializing in culture and suburbia is an exploding thing. It’s a very rich area to go into.
As the car becomes more and more obsolete and gas and oil become less accessible the
more resources will need to be set up in suburbia. It’s good to think about suburbia as a
discourse. People had an idea of fleeing the city to go to the suburbia. How can suburban
space be activated in different kinds of ways? The city produces a certain kind of
3 Today I introduce another concept in this mix. Thinking about the city as a place that
produces difference. All kinds of differences already exist. But I want to look at how the
city takes difference and does something with it. Further down the road we will look at
the city in relation to new kinds of subjectivity, new ways of being gendered and sexual.
The city has proved to be a very interesting laboratory historically for creating new ideas
about what we can do and what we can be. How we want to think about the city in
relation to what it can do.
Now the tough part begins. Couz Venn references Foucault’s work quite nicely. Drawing
from Foucault Venn makes it clear to us that differences are things that become ordered
and classified. For example in the natural world when scientists set out in the 18 and 19 th
century to discover new areas of the world, they encountered new plants, new kinds of
animals. The first thing that they did was to start classifying them. What are the
interrelationships between these kinds of plants?
They also encountered diverse human beings. Edward Said talked about Napoleon
traveling into Egypt, into Algeria. Places that were new to the French. Napoleon took
biologists, botanists, historians, those people were set up to explain human diversity.
These people seem to be different from us, we will create some science to explain these
differences. The most basic thing is to notice that they had this idea people are different
from them, they needed to explain that. The idea of racial science came out of it. The idea
that people are fundamentally different from one another to the point that they become
separate human beings. When we encounter something that we think is different from
ourselves, we say it’s different, how it’s different. Rather than it appears it’s different but
how is it the same? I need to figure out how that’s not me!
Not only are we seeing difference, we’re actually creating difference, perceptions of
difference. Through this process of classification, of creating perceptions about the
differences about things and pe