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Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Exhibit(ion)s and Publications

Posted on by Genise Choy

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and websites on participatory urbanisms (focusing on São Paulo and New Delhi) and urban pilgrimage were unveiled.

by Will Payne

Susan Moffat, Project Director of Berkeley’s Global Urban Humanities Initiative, kicked off a short session showcasing hybrid approaches to cities with faculty from different departments teaching together, weaving together different methods and bringing together students from different disciplines. First, Berkeley professors Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Winnie Wong (Rhetoric), accompanied by graduate student members of the studio José Figueroa and Valentina Rozas-Krause, came up to introduce the exhibition that came out of their Mellon-funded studio course in the spring semester of 2015, Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta. The group visited a number of villages where art is produced and documented them, producing a complex, multimedia exhibition over the summer, with many hours put in by visiting scholar Ettore Santi. Their website (artvillage.city) is “the story of the pedagogical journey of the studio,” and all drawings were done by Figueroa during the class.

 


Image courtesy of Genise Choy

 

Next up were Jonathan Crisman, project director for the Urban Humanities initiative at UCLA and Dana Cuff, UCLA Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning, to present the Now Shanghai project, also funded by a Mellon Foundation grant. According to Cuff, Now Shanghai is a cross-disciplinary urban methodological investigation wrapped around ideas of film, thick mapping, and experiential ethnography, made up of a group of 24 students incorporating films made in Shanghai about urbanism across many genres, from documentary to fable and travelogue. Crisman described the way in which the project drew on anthropologist Clifford Geert’s idea of “thickness,” as the group explored a wide range of media "that could embed this polyvocality, multiple voices that are often conflicting” occupying the same space.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Crisman and Cuff were followed by UC Berkeley graduate students Kirsten Larson (Architecture/City Planning) and Karin Shankar (Performance Studies), to present their coauthored journal and website, P[art]icipatory Urbanisms, a project that came about due to a “blind date” meeting through the Global Urban Humanities Initiative. Larson described how bracketing the [art] in ‘participation’ also suggests a blurring of the conventional separation between the aesthetic and the political dimensions of urban participation. She offered that urban practices, from spontaneous protests, to organized claims on urban space, are as aesthetic as they are political since they "entail a re-ordering of the field of urban experience and perception." The publication has two main components, a bilingual website (www.part-urbs.com) with interviews in English and Portuguese with community activists, artists, and other groups involved in participatory urban processes in Sao Paolo and New Delhi, and a peer-reviewed publication of articles by scholars across disciplines taking on the subjects of participatory practices in art and planning. Shankar outlined their hope that this intervention can help spark conversation and collaboration, and to “assess the radical promise and the potential pitfalls of participation in both urban politics and art today.”

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Finally, Berkeley graduate students Mia Narell (Architecture) and Lawrence Yang (East Asian Languages + Cultures) presented Urban Pilgrimage, a special issue of Berkeley’s Room One Thousand student-edited journal on architecture. Narell, who serves on the publication’s editorial board, talked about how pleased she was to be partnering with the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and read a statement on behalf of Padma Maitland, co-editor of the publication. Maitland and Yang were drawn to the project of “rethinking pilgrimage in the modern urban context” beyond merely religious travel. There were print copies of the journal available for sale at the symposium, but the whole project is also available on their website (www.roomonethousand.com), providing a diverse collection of answers to the question: “What draws and moves us towards and through cities?”


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.