The In/Visible City is developing at the threshold of two critical paradigms: The Visible City, which may be considered in terms of our visibly mediated and mediatized cityscape, transmitted on our urban screens and surfaces. Directly captured by lens-based technologies, such as video and photography, the urban landscape is also becoming increasingly visible as an image in our hands, on our screens, animated and manipulated on our mobile devices. We also need to consider a cultural behavior of ‘making oneself visible’ in the city, via instant capturing and posting of one’s presence on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – ‘I “snap” therefore I am.’ Artistic concerns relating to the Visible City have addressed among other issues the power and behavioral impact of the Spectacle, (alienation of) representation, and homogenization of place through visual development strategies. Aesthetic tactics have explored modes of resistance, of reclaiming urban screens, and various modes of subversive counter-visuals. Such tactics have also enabled us to navigate beyond visible sign systems, for example in sound art where sensing technologies can extend the exploration of the urban environment from the visible to other dimensions, including the range of soundscapes and ecologies of sound conceived as alternative ways of making sense of the city.
The Invisible City, on the other hand, we may associate with data-driven, structural, organizational complexes that we cannot see but that nonetheless make critical infrastructures and affect our behavioral patterns in the city. These operate by for example technologies for data-gathering about microtemporal dimensions of sensory experience, measuring locational and environmental conditions, or technologies for measuring and recording biometric data (heart rate, galvanic skin response, brain wave, and other internal data). These are technologies for gathering and processing information and generating complex data clouds that, when analyzed, sensed, detected and represented, might be applied to influence our experiences and choices, or take the place of consciousness as our channel for accessing bodily and environmental operations and thus mediate between us and our microscale. A point of concern relating to the Invisible City reflects skepticism towards algorithmic processes, designed and continuously fine-tuned by data to substitute our will and agencies through sensible effects on our perceptual system. Also, based on the capturing and processing of data, a concern for the generating of a politics of prediction; a technological vision that guides behavior towards (or to avoid) anticipated future scenarios. Aesthetic tactics in response to the Invisible City have sought to make visible the invisible “controls” of our everyday life behavior, for example via mapping that may visualize or provide a tangible presence to immaterial phenomena and substructures of urban life, by bringing semi-invisible entities to the foreground, or, for example, via data visualization, with aims of empowering citizens through creating awareness about the data of things.
In our current urban condition we find these two critical paradigms thriving side by side. Artistic concerns relating to both visible and invisible mediation in our cities have significantly related to control, surveillance and confinement. Aesthetic engagement with our In/Visible City concerns our human capacity of experiencing (perceive and understand) our reality better, and our awareness of its systems, forces, and hierarchies. It concerns our presence and sense of being in this reality with digital media technologies, and our agency and ways of acting.
If aesthetic tactics of visualization or counter-visualization in urban media art can lead to an increased sense of awareness in the critical conditions of today’s In/Visible City, then what are these approaches and tactics, and how may they help a transition from awareness into agency, thinking, behavior, opinion, action and/or change in the In/Visible City?
I was invited as moderator of the panel ‘From In/Visible City to Open Source City’ at the Connecting Cities Symposium in Brussels, March 11, 2016. The symposium offered an overview of previous activities dedicated to the curatorial topics of the Networked City 2013, the Participatory City 2014 and the In/Visible City 2015 that have been explored by artists and curators during the Connecting Cities project (2013-2016). The symposium focused on the past, present and future of media art environments in the public space, as well as the variety of forms they can assume, using Connecting Cities projects as practical examples.
Panelists: Loraine Furter, Nerea Calvillo and Darko Fritz.