Moral borders Second round
Work title: The Subconscious Theater & the Urban Drawing Machine (0001001450)
The Subconscious Theater and the Urban Drawing Machine : Expressing Anger in the City
‘The objects of desire, whose absence is most violently resented, are nowadays many and varied – and their numbers, as well as the temptation to have them, grow by the day. And so grows the wrath, humiliation, spite and grudge aroused by not having them – as well as the urge to destroy what have you can’t.’ _ [Zygmunt Bauman]
In his book, The Fall of Public Man, Richard Sennett describes a condition in which people no longer use public space to share emotions or express anger. Even when around others, people retreat to the safety of intimate and private space as a way of protecting against showing vulnerability, weakness and imperfection.
This retreat from public debate has resulted in the inability for people to express their frustrations with conditions around them. Recent riots in London, New York and Vancouver are emblematic of this development as youth [subject] are attempting to communicate frustration with their economic and social condition. While their message is perhaps not lucidly defined, these events bring to light collective feelings of rage, despair and alienation. The events communicate the power of physical presence and crowds to express frustration. While digital technology was used for organization and communication in those cases, it was ultimately the presence of large crowds of people in places of everyday life that had a powerful effect.
In addition to the death of public debate that Sennett outlines, the networked nature of power in today’s city also contributes to the lack of public protest. Kazys Varnelis describes that those in power no longer need to communicate their stature through grand architectural symbols as network culture has proliferated all aspects of the city. [Kazys Varnelis _ Network Publics] Without a physical location or a focused element to oppose, the protests can be portrayed as meaningless destruction deflating the frustration of those involved and minimizing the inequalities they are trying to communicate.
Already charged with social conflict, the neighborhoods around London agitated by the protests [place of inhabitation] present the most advantageous ground to articulate a project on urban protest. Utilizing the contradictions and complexity of this condition, this project creates a series of fictional events. The two main physical components [a. the subconscious theater and b. the urban drawing machine] create an environment for play in the city as a way to allow people to overcome psychological and social barriers to self-expression.
‘The adult at play need not engage in play as an alternative world; the same symbols and meanings of symbols in the non-play world can remain, but they are subject to a process of redefinition so that their effects are different.’ _ [Richard Sennett _ Fall of Public Man]
In the beginning . . .
Soon after the initial protest in the summer of 2011, it becomes clear that the social and economic conflicts that had fueled the events were not going to be addressed. Any kind of a message of the protestors is lost as those involved are portrayed as aimless youth without any meaningful motivation. The authorities want to quickly rebuild the damaged areas as a way to minimize the memory of what had happened and return to a stable state in the city.
Feeling the same frustrations as before, youth around Tottenham nevertheless still feel the need for a place to express their anger and find commonalities with other in that dissatisfaction. In early June, several of them assemble in a small square and began constructing an environment within the street for that purpose.
Partially a kind of improv theater and partially a place to play, the ''subconscious theater'' creates a temporal escape from the city while still engaging its underlying systems. The aim of the theater is to overcome psychological and social barriers to self-expression in public space. The physical components of this environment [the fog machine and affect sensors], which had always existed packed away in corners, alleyways and abandoned lots, are brought together and assembled.
Attaching to underground water lines, the ''fog machines'' function to visually distort the environment of the event. This helps to liberate those involved from the perceived judgment of others and to allow them to distance themselves from their fears. This liberates participants and allows for greater experimentation and risk-taking in expression. The fog also acts to loosely define the site while also announcing its presence at the larger city scale.
‘To play requires a freedom from the self; but his freedom can be
created only by rules which will establish the fiction of initial equality in power between the players.’ _ [Richard Sennett _ Fall of Public Man]
Reenactments, conversation and art pieces dealing with the conflicts of daily life are performed as a way to awake and engage people’s frustrations. Initiated by a few, eventually more and more people participated eventually proliferating the ideas and issues of the events. Roles between performers and spectators revolve and are further diluted as people gain greater freedom in expression. Initially, some people wear masks before slowly losing their inhibitions and feel comfortable without them. The ultimate goal is to proliferate creativity and not to perform to a specific plot or finale.
The ''affect sensors'' read and record the emotions agitated in the participants through their participation. The tentacle-like sensors are distributed around the psychological theater allowing one to constantly touch and brush against them. The ''affect sensors'' translate the participants’ emotions into tangible physical material. Collected from all participants, the data is abstracted into a digital code that controls the ''urban drawing machines.''
The ''urban drawing machines'' begin accumulating physical material around different points in the city. Data from the ''affect sensors'' determine the path, geometry and the amount of material resulting in varied aggregates. Since the aggregates are never really completed, the ''urban drawing machines'' move slowly around the city precariously balancing on adjacent buildings. Their crude construction results in varied mechanical noises which eventually become a constant hum in the city.
As the aggregates reach a critical mass, they serve as new types of spaces in the city. Distributed around London, their material and method of construction are a physical manifestation of the alternative storylines existing beneath the surface of the city.