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Category Archives: New Media

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?”


Black Cloud: A Case Study on Data and Empowerment

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.


September 25, 2014
Sensing San Leandro: Capturing Cityscapes Through Sensors
Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice) and Ron Rael (Architecture and Art Practice)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Niemeyer and Rael discussed how using sensors to collect data allow “reality-based” decisions about places to be made, using projects that they and their students have undertaken in San Leandro as examples.


by Will Payne

Professors Niemeyer and Rael are engaged in a project in collaboration with the City of San Leandro that aims to bring low-cost sensors into the urban setting, collecting data about city life and making it publicly accessible. As a participant in this class myself, I have been able to grapple with many of the issues this project raises around surveillance, monitoring, data collection, and urban citizenship. Niemeyer and Rael are pushing for an approach to data collection and interpretation that involves the community, is open and transparent, and creates the possibility for real change.

One thing that Professor Niemeyer didn’t mention in his talk that in a way served as a key prototype for the San Leandro project is his “Black Cloud Citizen Science League” project in Los Angeles in 2008 (see graphic below).


Photo credit: The Vigorous North


In this project, students in South Central LA were given mysterious devices that they carried around their neighborhoods and reacted with lights, only later figuring out what they were measuring: volatile organic compound (VOC) pollutants in the air. In a surprising twist (reported on by Planetizen in greater depth), the most polluted places the students found were their own classrooms, because of the harsh chemicals the cleaning staff used to remove marker graffiti, and the lack of suitable ventilation in the rooms, some of which lacked windows at all.

The outcome of the Black Cloud project was a greater environmental awareness on the part of the students, and demands for better ventilation of classrooms, which the LA Unified School District has addressed. Not every story will have such a fairy-tale ending, but this demonstration of possibility and empowerment in data is what drives the San Leandro project to come up with new ways to collect, represent, and mobilize urban data. Whatever comes of this new experiment, the project is a valuable case study of the kind of work that can be done at the intersection of technology, design, and civic engagement, and the challenges that face such collaboration.

Will Payne is a graduate student in the Geography Department at UC Berkeley.


An Example of Data Reshaping Daily Life in China

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.


September 25, 2014
Sensing San Leandro: Capturing Cityscapes Through Sensors
Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice) and Ron Rael (Architecture and Art Practice)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Niemeyer and Rael discussed how using sensors to collect data allow “reality-based” decisions about places to be made, using projects that they and their students have undertaken in San Leandro as examples.


by Mengyuan Jin

At a time of increasing data–orientation, Greg Niemeyer and Ronald Rael brought us a great lecture to rethink building the city based on data collection and use. The system they proposed for data collection and amendment as a way to sense and “upload” the city inspires me a lot and reminds me of the concept of “collective intelligence,” which is shared intelligence resulting from collective effects and appears in consensus decision making.



Research groups at MIT describe collective intelligence in today’s terms.
https://thoughtblox.com/bloc/195/collective-intelligence-for-social-good/public/?TBD4PU


As they mentioned in the lecture, the data collected from citizens can help cities, counties, developers and designers to figure out priorities and understand how citizens want to use the place.  This data can present not only efficient customer feedback, since the citizens are the users of the city, but also a significant collection of social knowledge. If the system achieves maturity, the way we plan and design the cityscape, with more citizen involvement, will change a lot.

There is an interesting city phenomenon which is actually a new order happening in China based on public scrutiny from review websites. There was a big demand for basic goods and services when China’s economic reform began in 1978. In that period, business success meant imitating western countries by importing goods and services, which caused low quality-of-life services in China. People were so “hungry” to grab things for their homes that even they had no time to complain about the poor quality of services. What changes the situation now is that apps and websites used by people when rating a restaurant or something else in China are platforms that bring a huge group of people’s feedback together and create a new user-driven standard for the market.



Greg Niemeyer, Black Cloud, 2008
http://lunch-bytes.com/artists-experts/Niemeyer-greg/


This is a clear example of how people evolving with data technology can ‘reshape’ their daily lives. So, the method Greg talks about in his art project the Black Cloud (2008) inspires me a lot. Black Cloud helped high school students sense air quality and take actions to benefit indoor air quality. Also, this series of methods could be an effective way to collect citizens’ group wisdom and use the data to improve and reform the city. However, some problems deserve much research work such as how to quantify data on human behavior.

Mengyuan Jin is a student in the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design.


Using Sensors to Feel, Then Decide

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.


September 25, 2014
Sensing San Leandro: Capturing Cityscapes Through Sensors
Greg Niemeyer (Art Practice) and Ron Rael (Architecture and Art Practice)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Niemeyer and Rael discussed how using sensors to collect data allow “reality-based” decisions about places to be made, using projects that they and their students have undertaken in San Leandro as examples.


by Faith Hutchinson

"Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Professor Greg Niemeyer describes two frameworks of data collection: "hard eyes" and "soft eyes." The former is closer to the scientific method, relating information back to an explicit hypothesis and emphasizing focus over risk. On the other hand, "soft eyes" invoke the approach of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who proposed that nature must be appreciated with a transparent eye; that is to say, we become more connected to the significance of our world by seeing it and not looking for it.

In common practice, data science is a pursuit of quantified evidence in support of a hypothesis: the domain of hard-eyes. To be sure, many purposes can be served with a focused, solution-oriented approach. Companies like The Climate Corporation and Propeller Health enable citizens to protect their natural and bodily resources by retrieving organized environmental data. Rather than collecting information for the sake of later analysis, Professors Niemeyer and Rael utilize sensors to promote action in the present. Sensors tend not to visually announce their affordances, but these sensors emerge in the city of San Leandro housed in colorful casings, a presentation that requires curiosity and direct, tangible interactions from passersby.



It is also significant that these sensors, via placement and record, are vested in the public. Were the "Hi" sensor featured in a gallery instead of in public at transit stops, the attending audience would reflect a specific type of resident, and their reactions or data would not necessarily be representative of the broader community. Niemeyer describes data as a means to "feel all the people walking across the city," a statement which beckons back to the previous lecture in which Georgina Kleege compared her walking stick to long fingers that skirt over the surface of the world. This similarity in Niemeyer and Kleege's description of experiencing a city implies greater intimacy results from using the scope of human senses to read beyond the visual record.

Faith Hutchinson is a candidate for the Master of Information Management and Systems degree at the UC Berkeley School of Information.