Tag Archives: walking

From the Archives #4: What (Where) Is An Unmediated Space? (November 2007)

The Cruise

The Cruise

In the spirit of reflection that often accompanies the turn to the new year, I’ve decided to cannibalize my blog and repost several writings—one from each year beginning in 2004. I created my first website with a blog just as I was finishing my graduate thesis

 in the fall of 2002. The fourth writing I’ve selected, titled “What (Where) Is An Unmediated Space?”, was posted on November 12, 2007, and was written during my first semester teaching at The University of the Arts. At the time, I was teaching a web design studio and assignment the students to explore the urban environment and translate that experience into a web-based project. The film referenced in the post has been a key prompt for getting students to think about their relationship to urban space.

We know this to be the case: “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation” (Debord, The Society of the Spectacle).

I recently watched The Cruise again, the near perfect showing of a nearly unmediated (yet crafted, I think) experience of New York City as performed by Timothy “Speed” Levitch. Then, I watched it again (twice, for good measure). In one particular scene, Speed embraces — unfolds himself upon — one of the great stone piers of the Brooklyn Bridge, gently patting it, touching his forehead to it, communing with it. (Years ago we talked about licking buildings in architecture school. I think Hillary actually did it.) There’s something about the way he settles into the city, the restless comfort, the awkward sensuality, that confounds a mediated relationship to his world. Watching it now, I feel that that moment must have passed and he can no longer relate to the place in that way.

Aaron (aka Director of the Dept. for the Investigation of ReHumanization) has described his experience as a soldier in the Iraq war as being unmediated — or at least as close to unmediated as he has ever witnessed. It follows, then, that the shock and stress (often diagnosed as PTSD) which soldiers feel upon their return home has everything to do with the transition back into the mediated existence of our “civilization.”

Is mediation a buffer from trauma? Is mediation a barrier to being fully human? I’m curious about the relationship between mediation and dehumanization. Here’s Paulo Freire in the opening chapter of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as a historical reality. And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history, in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion.

Mediation implies a distance, the “separation” that Debord finds perfected in modern industrialized societies. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.There must be gradations embedded in this notion of mediation. Can a distinction between mediation (ontological) and media (technological) be discerned? Does the latter necessarily determine the former? Is there any essential difference between a jug and a handheld computer, both technologies of utility which mediate our experience of the world? Gradations and scale (hello McCluhan) present complications…

Is there a post-spectacle society? Within this paradigm, are we unable to imagine something beyond Debord’s critique? And to what degree is Debord’s critique dependent on teleological, historically and technologically determined trajectories of human evolution? Is there a post-mediated existence? (Is there a proto-mediated existence, for that matter?) Not an existence without mediation, but an existence absorbed fully by mediation? Such a prediction feels apocalyptic, dystopian. It suggests a time of post-feeling, post-human, a world populated by cyborgs whose dreams are filled with memories of archived material pulled from the master database of text, images, sounds, and videos that we are now building on the Net.

The image of Speed Levitch persists: he hurriedly crosses a street and enters an urban plaza space. He spins around several times, arms outstretched until dizzy. He lies down on his back, equidistant between the two World Trade Center towers, and carefully extends his right leg up and out, as if maintaining equilbirium between himself and the buildings. “The buildings look like they’re falling down,” he muses. (A few years later, they would say that watching the towers implode and collapse was like watching a movie.) The Cruise reminds me of the angst of mediation, of being less than fully—. Of being behind the lens, behind the glass, separate. It reminds me to go outside and be there.

From the Archives #1: The Practice of Walking (March 2004)

In the spirit of reflection that often accompanies the turn to the new year, I’ve decided to cannibalize my blog and repost several writings — one from each year beginning in 2004. I created my first website with a blog just as I was finishing my graduate thesis in the fall of 2002. The first writing I’ve selected, titled “The Practice of Walking”, was posted on March 9, 2004, and was written while I was living in Champaign-Urbana, IL. At the time, my partner was a graduate student in the MFA program at UIUC, and I was absorbing a lot of conversation there regarding critical spatial practice while also still processing the consequences of my graduate school experience.

First, from “Reimagining Walking: Four Practices” by Ben Jacks (in February’s Journal of Architectural Education):

In the face of modern alienation and postmodern absence, walking is a subversive act that enables us to contemplate bodily connections within the built environment. Walking restores a sense of connection; the act of walking penetrates the supremacy of abstraction and theory…

I was thinking vaguely about this notion of walking and connection today as I walked through town, especially when my feet landed on earth, rather than concrete or asphalt. The give of the moist turf accepted my step, acknowledged my body ever so subtly. My weight impressed the earth and then maybe the earth pushed back just a bit, springing my stride forward. Forward towards an old hospital that is just beginning to be demolished; the building is encircled by a makeshift chain-link fence. I walked around the edge in order to get a closer look at the preliminary demo work: underground utility lines marked with tiny color-coded flags and spray paint dashes, a smashed-in brick portico, felled trees, muddy tire-track scars in the surrounding yards. I walk around the building looking for signs of its impending demise, anxious. As I walk, my steps navigated the indeterminate space between the gutter and the curb and fence, but my eyes are drawn away and up, sharply scanning the hospital.

A few blocks away, I’m walking past an empty lot. A house was recently demolished here, leaving a gently convexed plot of deep umber earth. At each end of the lot is a “no trespassing” sign posted by the city. The tire tracks of some great bulldozer regulate the bare earth in the lot, a familiar pattern maybe, but remarkable here in its pervasiveness and severity. Actually, I came to this lot before walking towards the hospital. I had stopped to investigate the vacant lot and then caught sight of the hospital in the distance, remembering that it was soon to be destroyed. One void leads to another.

Some other factors, too, in the practice of walking: duration, slowness, perspective, horizon, itinerary, rhythm, start/stop, path, invention/submission, story. Others. In the aforementioned essay, Jacks explicitly discusses “sighting, measuring, reading, merging.”

Why the practice of walking? (Why the practice of everyday life, for that matter?) To deem some action(s) a practice is to draw a frame around it, to call attention to it as a deliberate subset of being/experiencing, to begin an inquiry into the thing and its history, to consider it as a tactic rather than mere happenstance.

Also rereading Hillary’s thesis. “Participatory consciousness” is on my mind and it relates to the practice of walking, that special connection to the world which it occasions. Participatory consciousness is the pre-Scientific Revolution worldview; it is being-in-the-world; it is the lack of distinction between subject and object, between fact and value. Modern scientific thought, then, finds us humans separate from the world so that we may quantify it—how as opposed to why. It seems to me that we’ve passed into a heightened or superior stage of this kind of disenchanted consciousness (dis-consciousness), but I can’t quite name it yet. Maybe it has something to do with material consumption and ubiquitous technology and mediated experience. Distance squared. Disconnection from disconnection. This is just a sense I have. So I go out and I practice walking.

From the Archives: The Auto-Extraction Project

“Remember that project you did in grad school about the super slow mobile architecture that traveled around the earth?” Meredith asked me recently.

After some digging, I found the very much out-dated web documentation in my archives and thought it was interesting enough (for me, anyway) to put back online. In 2001 I was a graduate student at University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. One of the many courses I took outside the architecture school was a studio taught by Samantha Krukowski in the now defunct Convergent Media program. I ended up spending quite a bit of time in Convergent Media because 1) they were doing really interesting and cutting edge projects with digital tools, 2) the tools weren’t an end in themselves but a link in a creative process chain that stressed media translation between the analog and digital, and 3) the students and faculty there were in many ways much more sympathetic to my own artistic sensibility than the architects.

The Auto-Extraction Project gave me an opportunity to go deeper with some of the theoretical architecture research I was discovering through a speculative investigation of a hypothetical mobile architecture. As the explanatory text explains:

The Auto-Extraction Project is conceived of as a mobile architecture of restriction whereby the individual participant physically removes his/herself from mainstream culture/society by embarking on a hyper-slow journey around the earth. The structure of this mobile architecture consists of a compact, individual habitational cell equipped with austere sleeping, bathing, and cooking accommodations. Suspended from a high mono-rail-like track, the cell hovers above the ground a mere 9 – 12 inches (variably) and travels at a constant rate of approximately 10 feet per hour in perpetuity; the route which the track follows is remote and rugged, rarely passing through regions of significant human inhabitation.

There’s a good deal more documentation of the project here.