Blog

Category Archives: Journalism

Mapping as Research with Trevor Paglen

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu
Filed under: Art, Journalism

From the Arts Research Center blog: http://arts.berkeley.edu/mapping-as-research-with-trevor-paglen/
By Laura Belik (GUH Graduate Certificate Student and instructor of the Fall 2018 Colloquium: The City and its People)
April 24, 2018

Trevor Paglen’s work and interpretation of space are great examples of the association between art and research. Blending photography, installation, investigative journalism and science, Paglen’s approach reveals that there is always more to an image than what we anticipate, and that these perceptions announce strong political meanings as well.

Paglen’s background and professional life include being a musician and composer in the punk-scene; doing an MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago; and later receiving his PhD in Geography at UC Berkeley. “You are creating your own space”, reflected ARC Director Julia Bryan-Wilson, in conversation with the photographer. We can see how this is reflected in the images he produced especially when it comes to his series of photos of official places/objects that “don’t exist”; that are a political secret. “Open Hangar, Cactus Flats, NV, Distance ~ 18 miles, 10:04 a.m” (2007) exposes classified military bases and installations located in remote areas. The photo taken from a distance, combined with the heat waves and extended exposure time looks like a blurred landscape. The dichotomy of what you can and what you can’t see; what we know and what is hidden from us, is precisely a conversation the artist is trying to have. Parallels to a criticism on the “war of terror” and the military hidden agenda are addressed revealing the physical aspect to these ideas, and at the same time, how they continue to be obscured from us.

The artist sees both the landscape and the act of seeing and understanding it as a performance: “It is not just about making images of this space, but a performance of someone trying to make the image of that space.” Paglen talks about the aesthetics of these acts, and how they are an example of the tension between what is seen and not seen. Beyond the final image, we ought to remember that there is a political performance happening behind those lenses as well. Images become allegorical for Paglen in that sense, and photography in this case, is understood as a platform in direct connection to the history of survey, fear, borders, etc.

Other topics present in Paglen’s images are addressing artificial intelligence, and figures created only through algorithm representing a space, which leads to conversations on the role of the machine as the curator; on another project, similarly to the one on classified military spaces, Paglen offers a closer look to our sky, tracing airplanes, drones and secret satellites once again confronting people about the things we don’t know, bringing to light hidden images. The latter ultimately evolved into the project the artist is currently working on of his own satellite to be launched within the next few months. His goal with this new proposal is to launch something that has no specific purpose other than its aesthetics, as a purely artistic gesture of a giant mirror that reflects light down on earth. Although understanding this object as a very contradictory one, the artist also argues that by doing this experiment, for the first time one will be detaching the history of the satellite from a military one, therefore he names this as an “impossible object”.

About the writer and ARC event: 

Laura Belik (PhD Student, Architecture) reviewed the Arts Research Center Event: Mapping as Research: Trevor Paglen in conversation with Julia Bryan-Wilson on April 24, 2018. To celebrate his first comprehensive artist monograph, Trevor Paglen (UC Berkeley Geography PhD and 2017 MacArthur “genius” fellow) discussed his work with ARC Director Julia Bryan-Wilson. Paglen’s work relentlessly pursues what he calls the “unseeable and undocumentable” in contemporary society. Blending photography, installation, investigative journalism, and science, Paglen explores the clandestine activity of government and intelligence agencies, using high-grade equipment to document their movements and reveal their hidden inner workings. The new publication includes a survey text by Bryan-Wilson and presents over two decades of Paglen’s groundbreaking work, making visible the structures and technologies that impact our lives.


Urban Ap(ART)heid: Who and Who Defines Citizenship?

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 2, 2014
Experiments in Online and Print Journals on Cities: Urban Pilgrimage and pARTicipatory Urbanisms
Padma Maitland (Architecture and South and Southeast Asian Studies), Lawrence Yang (East Asian Languages and Cultures), Karin Shankar (Performance Studies), and Kirsten Larson (City and Regional Planning and Architecture)

Presentations available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Padma, Lawrence, Karin, and Kirsten shared reflections on their research and the process of curating their respective publications coming out in Spring 2015.


by Brandon Harrell

Karin Shankar and Kirsten Larson seek to discover the various participatory processes that unfold, or don’t unfold, when New Delhi and São Paulo grassroots community organizations attempt to manifest their dreams for social change. During several interviews they each identified 10 organizations that consider themselves to be “participatory”- asking them questions such as, "What is urban citizenship? What does taking part in the city look like? Do you participate?" After their interviews are translated and transcribed into English, results will be posted on the diptych-style website and hopefully used as a resource for international community-based organizations to share participatory practices.

In my opinion, the most important information came during Kirsten and Karin’s description of the "ART" in "pARTicipatory" and its place in the formation of not only the city, but its citizens. Quoting Clare Bishop, Karin says:

The artist is no longer the sole creator,
The audience is no longer the passive spectator,
The object, is not an object, but a process.

What we find is that these diverse organizations not only engage with their goals for enacting community transformation on a daily basis, but also grapple with the meaning and social process of forming the “citizen.” Classically, citizenship involves adopting a set of rights and privileges in exchange for other freedoms as defined by statutory law. Citizenship then, by default, inherits a notion of belonging to, or being welcomed into, a group or larger body of fellow citizens. This two-fold definition, one being a strict political procedure and the other involving a more esoteric formation, is at the heart of pARTicipatory Urbanisms. Chintan, an informal waste workers collective in New Delhi states that an urban citizen should have a basic standard of living and access to the city. Cia Antropofágica, a street theatre collective from São Paulo, did not claim to have a political stance or assertion on the topic but did state quite emphatically that, "We do not have direct politics, but if a politician wanted to become a magician, and didn't, isn't that political?"

In both cases we were challenged to consider the periphery of urban environments, the social periphery and geographic periphery, or the peri-urban. The peri-urban is home to the most rapidly growing population of working class citizens, immigrants and urban poor in major metropolises worldwide. These urban environments are often reflective of apathetic, remiss governments whose relationship with their citizens is akin to that of an absent, negligent, and sometimes blatantly abusive, parent. Basic services and access to a dignified way of life are not promised. As we may come to discover, the formation of the “citizen,” an oftentimes politically empowered character, is not what we find. Instead, a new definition of “citizen” may be more appropriate.

As previously mentioned, art and politics do not seem like the most similar of traditions, however, both have intermingled since their earliest conceptions. From the brazen street installations of Banksy to the behind-the-scenes conversations with Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, art and collective voice have been exercised to reject cultural assimilation, subvert hegemony, and to assert oneself into and onto the urban landscape.



Banksy installation
http://www.streetartutopia.com/?p=14145


Thomas Brothers writes in Louis Armstrong's New Orleans that Louis Armstrong's disinterest in cultural assimilation was "an indication of psychological security and confidence... It may also be taken as a political stance. To insist on the value of vernacular culture and to reject assimilation was not an idle position to take," and still isn't to this day. Perhaps the essence of citizenship, then, is the psychological security and confidence expressed by those participatory organizations on the periphery, the outliers engaged in vernacular culture. Via participatory processes citizen groups acknowledge and engage with their commonalities, their common work and common struggle in the city in which they dwell, and recognize that by virtue of existing, that the “belonging” one feels as an attribute of citizenship is the blood, the beating pulse of what it means to be a citizen. As for the aforementioned “politically empowered character,” well, I'd say that is a matter of perspective.



http://www.openculture.com/2013/07/louis-armstrong-plays-trumpet-at-the-egyptian-pyramids-dizzy-gillespie-charms-a-snake-in-pakistan.html


Our bustling metropolises are not only synonymous with the often political contestation of physical space and geographic place, but are now (one could say “still”) the epicenters of where the evolving nature of what it means to be a “citizen” is challenged. pARTicipatory Urbanisms will surely take our understanding of participation and citizenship to new progressions and more importantly serve as a positive, transformative tool for international grassroots organizing.

Brandon Harrell is a graduate student in the Master of City Planning program at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design.


Publications of Access and Agency

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 2, 2014
Experiments in Online and Print Journals on Cities: Urban Pilgrimage and pARTicipatory Urbanisms
Padma Maitland (Architecture and South and Southeast Asian Studies), Lawrence Yang (East Asian Languages and Cultures), Karin Shankar (Performance Studies), and Kirsten Larson (City and Regional Planning and Architecture)

Presentations available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Padma, Lawrence, Karin, and Kirsten shared reflections on their research and the process of curating their respective publications coming out in Spring 2015.


by Alana MacWhorter

While the ‘ivory tower’ complex in academia is still very much alive and well today, there will always be the courageous few who challenge this normative stance and take great leaps to give life to their subject of study. Urban Pilgrimage editors Padma Maitland and Lawrence Yang, and pARTicipatory Urbanisms creators Karin Shankar and Kirsten Larson have endeavored to do just that and ensure their research serves as a catalyst for others’ critical investigations into global urban humanities.



Urban Pilgrimage, Room One Thousand, UC Berkeley


Both student-led research projects and respective culminating publications explore the power of interactive academic collaboration through the compilation of diverse narratives on urban art, politics and the collective consciousness of place. pARTicipatory Urbanisms’ work critically deconstructs the traditional positions of art, artist and audience by crafting a dialogue between São Paulo and New Delhi activists and their political processes, while the gentlemen of Urban Pilgrimage depict their publication as an online and print interface interweaving stories of transcendence and everyday life within contemporary urban fabrics.



Ciclistas Bonequeiros São Paulo, Brazil


The colloquium opened with an intriguing pairing of concepts this week: motion and juxtaposition. These concepts, when considered within the dynamic framework of motion and space, illuminate the breadth of urban issues engaged in the projects of Urban Pilgrimage and pARTicipatory Urbanisms. In retrospect, I believe the complementary projects can be distilled into yet another pairing of concepts: access and agency. The journals provide a space for one to access a global discourse on urbanism, and to gain agency by being a part of these narratives and ultimately identifying as a part of this collective consciousness. Urban Pilgrimage and pARTicipatory Urbanisms have been exemplary in crafting these transformative platforms by engaging diverse audiences into a complex, global discourse, which inherently through its means of creation deconstructs traditional power structures and bolsters a contemporary stream of empowered narratives and urban memory.

Please refer to the Global Urban Humanities publication page to find more information on these projects and their upcoming release dates.

Alana MacWhorter is a graduate student at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design working toward a joint degree in Landscape Architecture and Urban Design.