Avatar n. 6
Dislocazioni tra antropologia e comunicazione, n. 6, dicembre 2006
IN QUESTO NUMERO:
Fulvio Carmagnola: Design. Uno sguardo da fuori; Denis Santachiara: Nuovi destini del design; Kram e Weisshaar: Breeding Tables; Richard Coyne: Inflecting Space; Sérgio Bairon: Sound Textures and hypermediatic interactive environments; Aniko Meszaros: The Plant Anima Project: Biotechnology, Psychotechnology, and Aesthetics; Rene Peralta: Drag and Drop Urbanism: thoughts on the strategies of the generic; Coco Fusco: At your service: Latin Women in the Global Information Network; Fiamma Montezemolo: Eco fronteriza a Tijuana; Lorenzo Imbesi: Il design del s-oggetto; Flavio De Giovanni: Playing design 1.0; Daniela Ranieri: La plastica dell’esperienza; Francesco Warbear M. Palmieri: Indysign; Massimo Canevacci: Opus-design.
Drag and Drop Urbanism: Thoughts on the Strategies of the Generic.
Plug and Play
Currently the discussion concerning the legitimization of critical practice is a paramount issue in architecture today. Two paths demarcate the contemporary constraints of practice; one concerning a process of architecture for architecture’s sake, the other a redefinition of architecture toward a more glo-cal condition.
The 90’s brought about a cusp in critical practices in architecture that indulged in French theory by way of the diagram as a mechanism for the process of design. Many practices developed into a structuralist approach to the discipline without modernist social ideals, as well as separating themselves from Deconstruction and Pomo’s critique of modernism. Critical practices have a space of development, most often in a capitalistic environment enabling them to “research” techniques into novel modes of production. Technological advances in computer modeling and prototyping are a major influence within these types of practices and tend to be sometimes the primary concern, as described in their rhetoric. The instruments available for achieving critically are in some cases related to socio-economic systems that allow them to function as research laboratories separated from being prescriptive or socially applied ideas.
The instruments in some contexts are not readily available for the making of a critical practice, or in most cases, they are extremely different. Within this difference exists the necessity of reconfiguring practice to an “alternative” form, which enables technique and application to engender projects within a local system as well as reevaluating global conditions within that system. A “looping” practice that operates in and out of the realities of context and the perceptions of reality within academia. Take the history of American jazz for example with an origin situated between African drumbeats and European musical structures, two distinct and local manifestations. Later in the beep bop era becoming a highly articulate and experimental where a theoretical base began to emerge as musicians expanded the harmonic limits of past jazz styles. Players had to have a greater and immediate sense of chord recognition, as well as their extensions and possible substitutions (1). Its contemporary condition can be performed with highly specific addendums of interpretation, arranging variations according to local genres, hence soul jazz, Afro-Latin jazz, Brazilian jazz etc. A new generic structure yet with diverse grafting possibilities, a practice as a plug and play device.
The relationship of the concept of city and practice becomes again correlative. Alternative practices are in constant mutation becoming multidisciplinary, a kind of hypertext device referencing back and fourth into anthropological, artistic and other social conditions inherent within the political space of the city. Practice in this form becomes as much a project in itself, being responsive to the deterritorialization and reterritorialization of hybrid cultures. Therefore, practice takes another role in the interpretation of place - it measures associations. Changing the fundamental emphasis to flows, rather than to the spaces and structures (2)
Drag and Drop
In urban settings, a swap meet operates in and out specific urban conditions as a type of virtual device in which systems of exchange enable a series of informal ephemeral acts of assemblage, public space in a pure sense. Up or plugged into city infrastructure early mornings, to be later used, consumed and played with all day. This ephemeral spatial conglomerate is a type of plug in city, a meshwork of exchanges without architecture; it just needs four poles and a tent, a generic formal condition that enables a layering of spatial frames in a cinematic mode. As the despatializing of the local reinterprets the concept of the city, the notion of urban space is being restructured by global circumstances. As in many other urban conditions, the contemporary city is complex and unfathomable. Therefore, this network of exchanges predominates in some cases as a primordial diagram for a linear, radial, or organic city – or generically - swap meet urbanism.
Generic food, generic drugs and generic cities, what then constitute a generic space? There have been several definitions of the urban generic from a non-place envision by Marc Augé to the multi cultural mix described by Rem Koolhaas. Yet the generic city is as evasive as its name proclaims it to be. It is everything to everyone. The generic is a social form; social space that endures change from within and not just becomes an effect of global conditions. The generic functions in the threshold of stability and volatility; it is a “liminal” condition where the local coincides with the global (3). The generic can be highly specific and multiple and at the same moment able to be applied beyond its intimate location. Within this generic fabric, exists threads that interweave and coalesce into heterogeneous social forms.
Within these nodes, the possibility of other operational structure gives way to events, flows and structure. A good example would be to look at the city of Tijuana as a generic city. Since its conception, it has been operating within the threshold of global and local conditions. Its geographic location creates situations that translate into flows throughout the city. Instances of illegality have been a major drive forming its dystopian condition, a diagram of design. An illegality in form of land invasion, civil disobedience, and other forms of resistance. It is said that more than 50% of Tijuana’s development began as invasions of property (4). This illicit behavior has woven itself into multiple spaces, each with its distinct form of identity, that as of today has produced the most heterogeneous places within the city. Yet the conflict arises when these informal and rhizomatic systems of development are confronted with “designed” spaces promoting a solution to the impetus diagram of illegality. Serialized housing for hundreds of thousands of people, using methods of mass manufacturing that again produce mono-logical containers, a homogenous archipelago, where the pursuit of diversity is again an illicit endeavor. These communities where part of a drag and drop urbanism that after ten years have struggled to break away from totalitarian claws of urban planning and design rules. The spatial differences between both spaces vary in that one is capable of absorbing and constructing out individual perceptions of what constitutes a city, hence multiple images with plural interpretations. While “design” has brought about a condition of entropy within serialized communities and individual needs and wants have to be a form of resistance against conformity. Size, boundaries and the concept of ownership are part of the discrepancies found within both models. A typical serialized development is made up numerous enclaves, for example, the oldest developments of this kind are approximately composed of eight sections. Their limits are defined, yet the concept of ownership is redefined to systems of credit - you don’t own your land or your house. While in the informal communities, the city bureaucracy has not been able to “legalize” them because of their constant flux. In this case boundaries are negotiated between each member of the community, I take this much land but we share this much to have access to our homes. Ownership is achieved through a system of channels of communication. Therefore, the boundaries within informal developments change due to the constant reorganization of the area.
Tijuana is a generic playground because it does not have a past, a history, it is a true modern city without utopia, there is no image and there has never been one. It is this reason that image is a four letter word. If there is something critical of Tijuana is a crisis of identity in relationship to the urban, due to global phenomena. This specific condition which could be described or compared in universal terms with the predicament of generalizing certain conditions within context if we take a synthesis approach to urban issues. What is need is a quantum theory approach to urbanism. Practices in Tijuana are invalidated to become critical because the instruments for their endurance do not exist. An alternative must be negotiated, either through multidisciplinary approach, as others have been doing in South America, or through “looser” practices that shy away from a structuralist concerns and reintroduce mechanisms to make practice once again a cultural activity. Alternative practices must then renegotiate their relationship to the current critical discourse and the despatialization of place, and other conditions that disassociate objects with society
Save and Exit
While waiting in line to cross the border from Tijuana to San Diego I was gazing at the silly plaster figurines and all the other copyright infringed products sold at the “swap-meetesque” stands. I then immediately thought of the how the city, apart from being constructed of illegal acts of urbanism, is also made of copy/paste constructions.
La mona, la bola, las torres, colloquial names given to a series of pseudo monuments found in the urban landscape of Tijuana. Generic names for highly iconic objects that within other contexts have specific meaning, yet in Tijuana they have become blank canvass of assorted interpretation. As you drive by them you distinguish their freakish resemblance to other familiar icons sited somewhere in a modern metropolis, from NY to Sao Paulo. They belong to a family of imposter icons, such as the Bart Simpson, Incredible Hulk and Mickey Mouse, plaster statuettes sold to tourist waiting in line to cross the border. They represent artificiality at a grand scale, a need to embody a replicated communal narrative. Their generic description is a negation of their figurative representation making way to a sort of diagrammatic reading that enables a looping of diverse correlations.
In a series of paired black and white photographs, titled Mal-Hitos a well-known Tijuana artist juxtaposes the authentic against the forgery, in a mug shot format that exposes their culpability of stolen identity. Even though they impersonate monuments that through decades have acquired a deep-seated symbolism in their distinct cultural environment, they have become affirmations of the longing Tijuana has for a past and desire for urban artifacts. Their only crime, in their short and dislocated existence, is forming part of a simulated collective memory.
As I crossed into San Diego to teach my course on swap meet urbanism, teaching is part of my alternative practice as well as my alternative income, I realized I was crossing into a distinct generic condition, a hyper-designed generic of sameness due to an absence of myth and imagination. San Diego is the counter part of Tijuana - its anti-thesis, yet it is the reason why Tijuana exists. Its image has always included a symbiotic relationship with nature –a rural image. Its communities are isolated places of simulation. In the 1970’, Kevin Lynch made a study that addressed the both cities as a region in a report appropriately named Temporary Paradise, another simulation of homogenization. San Diego has become an earthly paradise yet with perimeter wall and militarized border.
As I left the checkpoint in San Ysidro, I become conscious I had to save my thoughts on the specificities of Tijuana as I exited into the vast and sublime space of the California interstate freeway.
1 William P. Gottlieb, “The Golden Age of Jazz: Text and Photographs”
Pomegranate Communications; California, 1st ed. edition, 1995
2. Arjun Appadurai, “The Right to Particpate in the Work of the Imagination”, in Transurbanism, Edited by Joke Brouwer, Arjen Mulder, Laura Martz. V2_Publishing/NAI Publishers, Rotterdam, 2002.
3. According to Victor Turner the liminal or liminality is a condition of being in between states. "Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial" Liminality is a form of anti-structure a catalyst for social change, liberation of the imagination from normative constraints
See, Turner, V. (1969). “The ritual process: structure and anti-structure”. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co.
4. Tito Alegría y Gerardo Ordóñez. “Legalizando la Ciudad: Asentamientos Informales y Procesos de Regularización en Tijuana”.
Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Tijuana, B.C. México,2005.
5. Mal-Hitos, 11x 17, black and white photographic prints. Artist: Melisa Arreola.
Exhibited during Foto-Septiembre at the Tijuana Cultural Center, September 2003.