All of the student work from the Summer Institute can be viewed on the inaugural UHI Summer Institute website created by this year’s cohort.
Seeking Literary Justice
In collaborating with Libros Schmibros, an independent lending library, students explored how small-scale, staged literary interventions could have a productive impact on a given community, what came to be called literary justice.La Caja Mágica is the symbolic and material center of the project–a chrome-coated plywood box that unfolds to reveal an interior of grass serving as a stool. The box stores grass mats, creating audience seating. The strange mirrored rolling box shifts to a storytelling space, containing all the necessary tools. It is a box, but also a storyteller’s seat; an object, but also a location. Click here to download the complete project.
Film, 07:25:00, 2015
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In this short film, we explored the various modes of transportation by which Angelenos reached the Plaza the day we visited. What we realized about this site was that it was a place where the various modes in the “transportation palimpsest” of Los Angeles converge. Unlike critic Reyner Banham, we do not see this palimpsest as one where new developments cover and render invisible old formations. All these modes remain in use in the present, at least in this particular place. Using “filmic sensing” style, we gave viewers a chance to have an aestheticized experience of driving, taking a Metro bus or train, or bicycling to the Plaza. By hearing the same calm music throughout the film, viewers perceived a common dignity attainable to travelers on all these modes. The film finished with interviews where bus riders, drivers, and cyclists proudly proclaimed their identities as such. According to intersectionality theory, persons are more than just their race or gender. They find themselves within matrices of identity combination. To this mix, we add the typical modes of getting around town urban residents use. Instead of thinking about identity as purely spatial or cultural, we wanted to explore a way notions of temporality contribute to identity formation. Eliminating any sense of hierarchy amongst transportation modes, we countered attitudes denigrating the use of buses or cars because we fear such thinking leads to the devaluation of the lives of folks using such vehicles.
The Twenty-Minute City
Thick map, 2015
With this image, we found a way to “thick” map Los Angeles by juxtaposing information about contemporary transportation times (from the website Walkscore) with media from the past and present. The amoebic shape at the center of the map is the space accessible to a person in twenty minutes via driving (without or with traffic), using the Metro, bicycling, or walking. The amount of space accessible to these drivers, bus riders, cyclists, or walkers varied by mode. What we realized was that more space was accessible to users with faster means of getting around town. That said, we provided information that illuminated the historical reasons why these modes were available, how users experienced the different modes, and when civic transformations opened opportunities for some modes to guarantee access to greater amounts of the city. With a smaller map depicting LA’s redlining, we showed that the freeways that make space more accessible in some directions were routed right through neighborhoods the federal government rated as unacceptable credit risks back in the 1930s. With insets conveying Twitter and newspaper quotations, we captured some of the attitudes Angelenos have publicly shared about their transportation experiences. Finally with layered cutouts from historic maps depicting the one mile eastwest from the Plaza, we showed what changes the “walking city” surrounding the city’s historic core has witnessed since the Eighteenth Century. What we learned with this map is that even with driving and freeways, a single city of Los Angeles does not exist. Today there is a driving city overlapping a persistent walking city. There is no reason one pattern must supplant any other. Following critic Raymond Williams, we believe the traffic itself constitutes a more meaningful form of settlement than “city,” for movement dictates what portions of the cityscape are accessible and therefore of interest to city dwellers located at any particular site.
The Twenty-Minute City (App)
Spatial justice proposal, 2015
Within this mobile application, users are able to evaluate their daily commute through a series of real time data sets that composite into your own personal URBAN LIFE INDEX. Condensed into four categories, your ULI allows you to visually track your environmental, economic, social, and health relationship to a particular mode of transportation including your daily carbon footprint, your daily expenses per transportation type, your daily commute time, and your daily calorie burning. By quantifying your daily commute, 20MC begins to allow users to understand how different forms of transportation affect their accessibility and relationship to their city and helps them to make more conscientious choices. Beyond a travel aid, 20MC allows users to actively engage with their city by alerting local agencies of infrastructure issues and their fellow citizens of hidden histories and experiences within the city. In the context of Los Angeles, the percentage of current roads and sidewalks in need of minor or major repair (i.e. potholes, broken/dispositioned sidewalks, etc.) is one of the nation’s highest. By allowing the public to photo tag problem areas, the application becomes a digital archive that agencies can access and utilize more effectively via realtime user input. It encourages exploration of the city through alternative means and routes with tours created by user input on locations throughout the Los Angeles region.
What’s in the Bag?
Film, 05:29:00, 2015
[youtube id=”0yde6zQ_HcY” align=”center”]While visiting La Placita, we came across an exhibit at the Museum of Social Justice that showed photographs by Julián Cardona. Part of the exhibit was a sample of a backpack and objects an immigrant might carry across the border. This inspired us to go around and ask people: “show us your backpack”. Among those that showed us their bags were tourists, workers, and even a homeless man that lives around La Placita. Our goal was to contrast what different people carry to visit La Placita, to cross that imaginary border into the man-made cultural plaza. We also wanted to contrast the bags to the one the undocumented immigrant might carry.
An Immigrant’s Guide to Los Angeles Checkpoints
Thick map, 2015
Spatial justice proposal, 2015
La Placita de los Mosaicos
Film, 07:07:00, 2015
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Our filmic approach towards La Placita creates a mosaic of different voices, perspectives and pictures reproducing and/-or responding to the Plaza. One of the voices belongs to a member of the Mexican Culture, who – beneath the colorful commercial layer – is able to establish a truthful connection to the place and thus proves that it can offer authenticity. Our second voice is the one of an engaged tourist, who is willing to explore more than just the facade of the place, and is thus able not only to gain informational insights, but also to connect with the people who feel strongly for La Placita. In addition to showing how colorful and real La Placita can be, we also demonstrated the average ‘touristy’ approach to the place, representing the masses of people, who just see it as a ‘Latino DisneyLand’. Overall, we want to explore and demonstrate the colourfulness and complexity of this magic space in sounds, pictures and stories.
Boyle Heights: The Future Mosaic
Thick map, 2015
Our map includes a three-layer historical, present and speculative component of the Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles. Going back to 1850’s we wanted to compare the relationship between the population rate increase and the makeup of the different ethnic groups overtime. Even though it started as an affluent white suburban neighborhood, Boyle Heights is now the home of many Mexican low-income families averaging $41K/year. This neighborhood is an ongoing, contested site for major present and future changes, located right next to the Arts District, an increasingly popular area with young professionals in creative industries with an average family income of $112K/year and a new bridge connecting these two neighborhoods expected to be completed in 2019. What will the future of Boyle Heights look like? The present conditions and near future events happening in Boyle Heights pose a series of valid speculations. Would La Placita move to Mariachi Plaza becoming the new “Hispanic Disneyland” as a form of capital gains? Would a New NFL Stadium take over the neighborhood? Would the current family housing be transformed into giant multi-family housing developments that current residents can no longer afford? Or perhaps a new downtown with mixed-use development skyscrapers? Looking at the history of other unfortunate events such as Chavez Ravine being wiped out to give place to the Dodger Stadium, our speculations are not far fetched. Would the community of Boyle Heights, a culturally rich place, have the power to prevent history from repeating itself?
La Plataforma Mosaico
Spatial justice proposal, 2015
Film, 04:17:00, 2015
[youtube id=”QoBVC2oOkzg” align=”center”]La Place(cita) is largely motivated by the question: What is the relationship between place and identity. We began to explore this question in our short film, where we sought to understand the different uses of the space by asking people at the plaza two questions: what brought you here? and, where are you going next? Five short interviews revealed the complexities of the meaning of that space to different people, and the challenge in attempting to answer our initial question, as there exists layer upon layer upon layer of what the space is, means, or could be.
Free Speech and Paint in LA: A Radical Visitor Guide
Thick Map, 2015
Spatial justice proposal, 2015
Film, 05:53:00, 2015
[youtube id=”fmVBklwU2w8″ align=”center”]Our group, Team Formal & Informal, focused on the question of erasure and displacement in each of our three projects. Our first project, a filmic ethnography, centered on the visible and erased history of La Placita and surrounding areas in downtown Los Angeles. We attempted to unerase the multicultural heritage of the space, as well as racially-driven acts of violence against minority racial and ethnic groups.
Race and Erasure Around La Placita
Thick map, 2015
Spatial Justice proposal, 2015
The Pleasure of La Placita
Film, 10:25:00, 2015Shot at Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles, narrated by Vilma Cruz Baez of the Museum of Social Justice. The short film is a sensory ethnography of the square, with the idea of pleasure in all its forms creating a backdrop for the fieldwork that created it. [youtube id=”JCzLEBQdUn4″ align=”center”]
Olympics Don’t Kill My Vibe
Spatial Justice Proposal, 2015
Paris, Shanghai Video, 2015
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The film explores the imagination and re-imagination of lived spaces. Paris, Shanghai presents a coy critique on colonialism and its legacy. Scenes depict reproductions of quintessential Parisian elements and culture such as the Louvre, Mona Lisa, and small cafés serving macaroons scattered throughout the city. However, the narrator points out that the most iconic element of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has diminished in appearance behind the new emblems of progress and modernity, the skyscrapers.
Commoditized images of Parisian style key chains, postcards, and souvenirs asks the viewer to question who is this space for, the inhabitants or someone else? The film suggests that as people come and go, they shape the image of the city through bits and pieces of their own histories and experiences. For the inhabitants this space is home, for visitors it is a spectacle to be consumed.
Epilogue to a Concession: The Specter of the French Colonial in Contemporary Shanghai Thickmap, 2015
Shanghai’s French Concession existed from 1849 until its dissolution in 1943. During this period, the concession area, which grew to be large and important in Shanghai, was governed and policed under French authority, outside the control of the Chinese. This independent governance by the French Municipal Council resulted in a French-style infrastructure, including streetscapes and architecture that project the influence of 19th-century France. In spite of the official French identity of the concession, its actual population consisted of only a small minority of French residents. In 1920, for example, there were 530 French residents counted by the French Municipal Council; that same year, there were 166,667 Chinese residents. By 1930, the French were also outnumbered in their own jurisdiction by Russians, Americans and British residents.
The huge discrepancy between the actual population figures for the French – their quantitative presence in Shanghai – and the persistence of their cultural presence in the foreign popular consciousness raises an important question. Why is this area still known today as the French Concession? What about it has retained its “Frenchness,” in spite of the fact that most foreigners had fled the city by the time the People’s Liberation Army arrived in 1949, and the places subsequently stripped of their French names?
The French Concession began as a small area to the north of the old Chinese walled city, and as it expanded westward a major transit corridor developed on its east-west axis. Huaihai Road, as it is known today, was one of a few major transversal streets through the area. The road was originally known as RueSikang, and was surrounded by mostly rural residential land. Around 1900 the road became known as Avenue Paul Brunat, and during this era the street was lined with the mansion residences of wealthy businessmen.
In 1915 the road was renamed Avenue Joffre after General Joseph Joffre, a French military hero. In 1950 it was renamed again as Huaihai Road, but Avenue Joffre would be the name of the street through the so-called “golden age” of Shanghai, the era of neon lights and cosmopolitan modernity that peaked in the 1930s. The name Joffre is still sometimes used nostalgically today to connect contemporary Shanghai back to its pre-communist past. Avenue Joffre was sometimes compared to the Avenue des Champs-Elysées of Paris. Particularly during the period when it was known as Avenue Joffre, this Shanghai street shared distinctivecharacteristics with the typology of the Parisian avenues of the mid-to late-nineteenth century.
Though one would expect 1920s Chinese Nationalists to fervently oppose the presence of the concessions, in reality the autonomous governance of concession space created pockets of political freedom in the city, and many important political figures resided in the French Concession themselves. Though opposed to the entrenched power of foreigners in Shanghai, Nationalists like Sun Yat-Sen gravitated toward concession space not only for the relative freedoms it allowed them, but also because they were consumers of a new cosmopolitan lifestyle facilitated by China’s increasing interchange with the west. These privileged cosmopolitans “were people who had a degree of fluency in at least one foreign language. Some were converts to Christianity (as was Sun), while a few (such as Song) had been Christians from childhood. They were people who were likely to enjoy some or all of the following: Russian poetry, German classical music, American movies, Viennese-style cafés, French novels, and Japanese clothing styles.”
Post-reform Shanghai, open once again to the west and home to an increasing number of foreign companies and residents, has been subject to much comparison against the Shanghai of the 1930s, a wave of nostalgia promoted by both internal and external interests. However, the native Shanghainese long ago found their own meaning in the space of this street. While outsiders today often rely on the old colonial narratives of Shanghai, that version of history is irrelevant to those whose lived experience of the city carried the significance of this urban space from the nineteenth century through to the twenty-first.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects
The Cattle Slaughterer’s Daughter Video, 2015
[youtube id=”ldqOG7RJvAE” mode=”thumbnail” align=”center” autoplay=”no”]Shanghai is an urban space obsessed with modernization and global acknowledgement. However, constantly striving forward too quickly, without an eye for the past, can leave people, areas, and stories reformed or forgotten. Shanghai is not unique in this regard, but it is unique in its intersection of culture, business, space, politics, and the people that are shuffled among them. The Cattle Slaughterer’s Daughter shows more than the veneered image most conjure of Shanghai and takes one to the places and people not often seen.
This film makes artistic use of a fictional narrative over nonfictional footage of the city to take the viewer through these less-than-glamorous, yet intrinsic, parts of the city that are usually glossed over. Here, everyday people and changed/changing spaces interact. Humans rapidly shaped these new spaces, and in turn these new spaces reframe, and sometimes reshape, the human behaviors that occur therein.
The Urban Legend: Playful Contestation in Shanghai Thickmap, 2015
We — an architect, an urban planner, and an anthropologist — spent months learning about the 1933 Slaughterhouse before ever stepping foot in it. In our research we encountered two divergent narratives about the site. The first situates the slaughterhouse in a larger discourse about Shanghai’s emergence as a global city. Here it is understood to have been successfully transformed from an industrial relic into an architectural achievement set to inspire creative minds of the future. The second insists that the slaughterhouse remains haunted by its violent past and attributes its commercial failure to bad energy that pervades the space.
We wrestled with how to engage with these narratives, and began to wonder what was missing from them. Who built the abattoir? What happened there under socialism? Is it haunted? Answers evaded us; narratives refused to synthesize. We reached a crisis in our curiosity, and started to imagine how these contestations could possibly be a form of play: competing narratives need not be at odds with each other and actually have the potential to coalesce into a good story. By the time we finally arrived in Shanghai, the slaughterhouse had taken on a mythical dimension in our minds.
Once we walked through its doors, we found ourselves among high-walled ramps and concrete stairways leading us around the abattoir’s center atrium in disorienting loops. We collected images, impressions, and insights. And in the center, surprise encounters awaited us every time. Los Angeles was there in the form of a Nike marketing event for Kobe Bryant’s new shoe. An evangelical college student serenaded her mother with revolutionary songs. Glamorously attired young brides and grooms smiled brightly as flashing cameras captured their extravagant wedding ceremonies. These fragments became our mythology for the site, an epistemological journey transformed into a fantastical fable in our film. Rather than becoming experts in Shanghai or even our site, we became guided by feeling and emotion and committed ourselves to it.
Rather than generating knowledge, we provoked affect. Mapping our site became a subjective endeavor, where ultimately we encountered ourselves in the project, in the site, and in the city. We created a board game using a map of Shanghai’s Hongkou district as a base and our encounters with the slaughterhouse as multi-dimensional squares. This game is an experiment with memory, which we have tried to render literally and symbolically on the board before you. We invite you to play with us.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects
1寰9格3核3 Video, 2015
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1933: The Shanghai Projector is an investigation into the history and memory of Shanghai through the lens of one of its most iconic buildings, the former slaughterhouse that is now 1933老场坊. The film imagines the building acting as a kind of magical machine that is able to render different fragmented pieces of the city—images, memories, historical moments, dreams, fantasies, nightmares, and so on—into something new, just as a film projector takes singular images and sutures them together into movement. Additionally, it explores the building’s effect upon the subjectivity of the filmmakers, who appear within the film as figures being projected upon.
Throughout, the narrator continues ruminating on how the memory and history intertwine within 1933, using the different architectural features of the building to discuss deeper levels of meaning. At different points the projected-upon spectators reappear, emerging out of a multi-colored light wheel to observe. The final images gesture towards an uncertain future for the building and city, with distant figures moving along a foggy ocean shore and the narrator concluding, “The memory of the city will be projected into the city of the future.”
1寰9格3核3: The Shanghai Projection System Thickmap, 2015
Welcome to The 1933 Shanghai Projection System, a unique way to experience the global metropolis of Shanghai! As a distinctive product of Shanghai, the system utilizes one of the city’s most iconic buildings as the basis for engineering innovation. Making use of the particular spatial properties of this building such as the Umbellate Columns, the Covered Bridges, the Circular Walkways, the Spiral Stairways, the Lattice Windows, and the Open Atrium, and then passing them through the patented tri-part lens apparatus (寰Outside Lens-格Ramp Lens-核Core Lens) our dynamic system collects memory-fragments of the city and projects them in new and magical ways to any viewer.
Originally built by the Shanghai Municipal Council, 1933 Shanghai 老场坊 has had a long and layered past, changing its form and function along with the swirling winds of history. First, it was the foremost abattoir in the world providing fresh meat products to the Paris of the East, rendered with the top mechanized techniques of the day. Later, it served the health of our proletarian nation by producing a range of medicines as the Shanghai Great Wall Biomedical Factory. Now, as the visitors with face-to-face exposure to the arts and an enjoyable, trendy lifestyle.
Manufactured by The Shanghai Projection Group, formerly The Shanghai People’s Projection Factory of Hongkou District, The Shanghai Projector System utilizes every bit of the city’s history to full effect. It collects each memory-piece of the city, and folds them together to speculate on what might come, provoking new worlds from the most intimate of nostalgic memories to the most extravagant of utopian visions. Watch the Shanghai of 1933, 1949, 1957, 1966, 1972, 1985, 1994, 2010, 2015, or 2033 appear before you—every layer of the city that can and will exist can and will exist here in our projected Shanghai. You will truly experience the 魔都 (Magic Capital).
The projection starts with light pouring out from the glass floor of 1933’s Open Atrium. A shifting wheel of color, vibrant blues and reds, illuminates a hyper-reality. There is the click as the first image slides into place. Then, a fast moving parade of images spills out, opening portals into every corner of the city: a thousand shikumen, a thousand skylines, a thousand different faces of Shanghai’s people.
At the end, the vision from inside the projection clears but an imprint of the city remains. The experience of The Shanghai Projector will linger with the viewer for some time. Which Shanghai will they carry with them? Scenes replay, from the ramps of 1933, from the streets of Shanghai, from the viewer’s own life, in new collaged repetitions, sampled and brought together by the machine, projecting futures that are rendered from the city’s varied fragments. Shanghai will appear again and again from these projections, each time made anew, appearing out of the noisy sea of the past. Step inside The Shanghai Projector: Projecting the memories of the city into the city of the future!
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects
Invisible Lujiazui Video, 2015
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The film documents the life of migrant workers in Shanghai’s newest financial center, Lujiazui. Migrant workers from smaller Chinese provinces, often unskilled, come to the district in search of better opportunities but end up finding jobs as street cleaners and office custodians. The life of a migrant worker is described as having little or no quality as most are poised to work 12 hour shifts every day and make very little income, approximately 2,000 RMB or $320 US dollars.
The film shows the cramped living quarters of migrant workers and the fragmentation of family, community, and life as a result of modernization in China. The film brings to light the hidden, gloomier side of rapid development. Demonstrating the city’s insatiable desire for resources and need for maintenance, the film asks the viewer to think about the true cost of modernization.
Invisible Lujiazui (Unstoppable | Unseen) Thickmap, 2015
Shanghai did not become a key node of global capital until the 1990s. According to the latest study from the Global and World Cities Research Network, Shanghai is currently ranked 8th in terms of integration, a measure of prominence in global trade and finance. Lujiazui, the central business district in Shanghai, has an iconic skyline that connotes financial power and global prominence. Foreign architects designed the tallest, most prominent ones –Shanghai Tower, Jin Mao Tower, Oriental Pearl Tower, and the Shanghai World Financial Center–which primarily host financial institutions. These buildings are meant to be held from afar and as sites from which to behold the surrounding city; they notably have observation decks on their top floors.
An immaculate glass-lined walkway standing several meters above ground connects the buildings. Tourists, both foreign and domestic, populate the walkway, gazing up at the towers. There are a large number of white-collar professionals on the walkway before business hours, during lunchtime, or in the evening. The ubiquitous presence of security guards outside the buildings imposes a particular air of control and importance to the area. Behind the visible street population, hundreds of uniformed workers clean and maintain every corner of Lujiazui day and night, making it inviting to people from around the world. This is a microcosm for the inequality within the city as well as the country.
Restrictions on internal migration were implemented during the Mao era through a registration system known as hukou. This system has exacerbated regional inequality and largely affected migrant workers from rural areas, known as the “floating population,” who move to cities in search of better work opportunities. Migrants without hukou are often forced to take jobs in the informal sector, which offer harsh working conditions and little pay. Migrant workers and their families are also excluded from most urban public services, and face additional challenges with social inclusion. Many of these workers internalize their marginality and feel invisible amid the iconic landscape in China. Ironically, their labor is essential for maintaining this image. This graphic image gives prominence to the workers in an attempt to flip the script of what this place symbolizes, and gives credit to those who physically maintain the area’s pristine image.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects
Shanghai Skyline, in Four Movements Video, 2015
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The film begins with a bite of an apple, a symbol of the big city. Taking advantage of an unconventional perspective, the film defocuses on Shanghai’s impressive skyline and refocuses the viewer on everyday movements, actions, and objects from the ground level. Through this camera technique, the film makers are able to accentuate the performative aspects of life that brings vitality into the stagnant image of a city.
Throughout the film, the viewer revisits the apple time and time again, each time another bite is taken from the apple. Food, eating, consuming is a reoccurring motif in the film. The focus on consumption till there is nothing left, is a critique of city life and its endless quest for resources as it reaches higher and higher into the sky.
Shanghai Still Life Thickmap, 2015
In our study of Lujiazui, Shanghai’s new financial district, we came to understand its skyscrapers as monuments of global capital and Chinese modernity. The Oriental Pearl Tower, the first building designed for this central business district in 1994, reaches 350 meters high. Currently, Lujiazui boasts one of the most skyscraper-condensed areas in the world. The Jinmao Tower, completed in 1999, extends 420.5 meters in height. In 2008, the Shanghai World Financial Center surpassed the Jinmao Tower at 492 meters. Now destined to be the second tallest building in the world, the Shanghai Tower is near completion at 632 meters. This race for height in just two decades mirrors Shanghai’s incredible gains in global visibility as a cosmopolitan city of the 21st century. Lujiazui was built to be seen by the world, but also at home from across the Huangpu River. This phenomenon of visual exhibition is also apparent in the spectacular shopping malls and even the Shanghai Biennale itself. The city’s speed of developing its built environment and its tendency towards display led Wasserstrom to propose Shanghai’s rise to modernity as a “special modernity.”
Journal Excerpt, March 20th, 2015: Lujiazui Day 1
I felt the gentle rocking of the high-speed train as I attempted to take a picture of the kilometers-per-hour sign. Transferring to the Metro, a wave of exhaustion came over me after the long flight from Los Angeles. I rubbed my dry eyes. The recorded voice announcing “Lujiazui,” prompted memories of the many miserably long bus-rides to the Pudong school where I taught English ten years earlier. The doors opened. I pushed my way past the crowds and filed in line onto the escalator. Once outside, I snapped a photo of the Oriental Pearl Tower with one hand as I rolled my small carry-on suitcase in the other. From the escalator up to the pedestrian walkway, continuing on to the railings, I overlooked the roundabout below. The sun was hot, hotter than I expected from the weather forecast. I became nervous I might never find my colleagues in the crowd. A bead of sweat ran down my back. Checking the time, I sent a we-chat, suggesting we meet at an obvious meeting spot – McDonald’s. While waiting, the overwhelming smell of fried food reminded my jet-lagged body that I had skipped dinner.
When I finally spotted my colleagues, I ran up to hug them. We strolled along the pedestrian walkway and ascended an escalator into the Super Brand Mall for lunch. After much deliberation and an increasing empty feeling in my stomach, we settled on a Thai restaurant with a spectacular view. We decided to head to the building that looks like a bottle opener after lunch to be true tourists and shoot some of our film at the observation deck. Initially shocked by the 180 RMB price, we were determined it was worth it. Boydid I regret this decision! Once I saw the glass panels underneath my feet at the 100th floor, my heart raced and my palms began to sweat. I retreated to the opaque floor near the elevator, sat down, and practiced deep breathing. After an ear-popping elevator descent, I pressed my hands to the sidewalk outside in gratitude. We walked to the convenient store for some snacks.
Revived and back on the pedestrian walkway, we set up our camera on the ground to capture images of feet. I set my camera on a tripod on a railing, zoomed way in, and…SMACK, it fell. What a defeat so early in the trip! On top of that, all of our phone batteries were drained. We went to Starbucks to charge our phones and we-chatted our friends about our plans for dinner and Chinese opera that night. After the show, we made plans for the next day over drinks. I arrived back to my hotel room— my legs aching from the amount of walking— and just barely managed to send an email off to my parents reporting on the day before my head hit the pillow.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects
Intersection Video, 2015
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The film guides the viewer on a visual journey through a small slice of Shanghai, an intersection presently known as Huaihai Zhong Lu and Maoming Nan Lu. The film creatively overlays historical and current footage of everyday life and landmarks to create a story that traverses time, space, and memory to capture the continuum of change in cities. Using two narrators, one French and one Chinese, the film adds another dimensionality to the reading of the space.
The narrative is entangled in subjective perspectives brought together by personal histories and a history of colonialism, capitalism, socialism, and globalism. Towards the end of the film, the French narrator asks “Where do you see Shanghai’s past in this intersection?” While the Chinese narrator asks “Where do you see Shanghai’s future in this intersection?” The film suggests that one’s projection and image of a space depends on the viewer’s own knowledge of history and context.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”: Requiem for a Nun, by William Faulkner Thickmap, 2015
An intersection requires that lines be on the same plane; it presupposes the existence of a plane in which two lines can cross. There are thousands such intersections in Shanghai. The one mapped in this study was conceived by the French imperial urban project in 1901. At the time, the main street was Rue Sikiang, but the central avenue of the French Concession would be remembered by its new 1915 name: Avenue Joffre. The intersection between Avenue Joffre and Rue Cardinal Mercier lies on a different plane than the one occupied by Huaihai Zhong Lu and Maoming Nan Lu, as the streets are known today. Many layers of history have accumulated in these hundred years giving the intersection relief, –a topography that varies with one’s relation to that history.
The physical form of the intersection, including the buildings at each of the corners, is fixed in space. It is a reality that is the same for all who pass through it. One corner is occupied by the grand Cathay Theater; diagonally opposite is the largest Uniqlo clothing store in the world; on the other diagonal are the Line 1 metro station and flagship store of the Gujin Underwear Company.
How each observer perceives (or chooses to perceive) the space is infinitely variable. One person may see a space shaped by global capitalism while another may be overwhelmed by nostalgia for a time when the Cathay Theater played only state sponsored movies. Yet another may remember having to flee their childhood home in 1937. These forces co-exist. They shaped, and continue to shape, the intersection.
As visitors to this intersection we develop a typology to make sense of it. The layers, like sedimentary deposits left by history, are too complex, too varied, too large and too charged to classify. We therefore rely on simplification and the familiar. We add one more reading, among the thousands created daily, to the palimpsest that is apparent to us. We focus on Nostalgia, Capitalism, Colonialism, and Globalism as forces that have left many interspersed layers, but also reveal other underlying laminations whose exact nature we can only surmise. We juxtapose the empirical and the imaginary, the past and present to suggest connections that span the intersection’s history.
Shanghai and this intersection resist simplifications. They cannot be reduced to binaries, or to single dominant forces. The physical intersection overlays conceptual intersections, and for each layer, there is another intersection. The capitalism that Uniqlo embodies is different from that found within the walls of the Cathay Theater or in the metro tunnel that runs underneath, or that projected by the Gujin electronic billboard. They operate in their own spheres, yet function on the same material plane where they inevitably intersect.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects
Shanghai Becoming Video, 2015
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Focusing mainly on smart phone users, the film captures how the screen interfaces between the body and the built environment to shape spatial experiences and alter perceptions of reality. The intrapersonal to interpersonal relationship between the body, screen, and built environment is documented in three parts: Body, Cluster, and City. On an intrapersonal level, the screen is used as a tool for self-cultivation. Interpersonally, the screen is acts as a mode for communication, networking, and sharing via popular social networks such as Wechat.
The anonymous, semi-robotic narrator takes the viewer through very distinct locations in Shanghai where screens permeate the landscape: M50, the Bund, and Wujiaochang. Drawing from historical Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi and modern day philosopher Ana Greenspan, the narrator asks the viewer to think about how space is experienced, shared, and internalized in modern cities through bodily practices.
Body/Screen: Mapping Urban Intensity through Social Media Spectrums Thick Map, 2015
The body experiences the urban environment on a sensory spectrum. Yet as modes of perception expand into the digital sphere to include cell phone screens, where does the body end and environment begin? We propose the concept Body/Screen to capture the emerging interface between physical body and digital screen that often shapes spatial experience in Shanghai. The screen augments and alters the body – and its perception of the city. The Body/Screen generates an alternative cartography for the urban environment. While built screens render an expanse of luminous dashes and dots across Shanghai, the Body/Screen details the intensity of spatial experience that arises at the interface of the digitally embodied. We attend to the bodily scale of photo shares rather than big data to collage surprising and specific connections between Body/Screen and built environment.
The map employs social media spectrums to speculate upon the Body/Screen in the urban environment. Urban scholar Anna Greenspan points to the potential for cartography based on the electromagnetic spectrum of light and color, and we draw inspiration from her suggestion to consider social media in the spectrum of urban intensity. The map draws from the photo shares of four social media platforms active in China: Weibo, Flickr, Twitter and Instagram. These platforms represent a spectrum of social media representation, and they are central to the map because they have public content searchable by spatial hashtags. We map two spatial sites in Shanghai: #M50, a creative cluster; and #The Bund #Pudong #Lujiazui, beacons of modernity that bridge the river. We chose M50 as a creative community that spans the digital and physical. Artists and visitors post photos to share their digitally mediated experiences of a highly material space. We consider the Bund, Pudong and Lujiazui to be a singular site centered on the digital. Visitors traverse the luminous space with screen in hand; they click to capture and share online. Body/Screens panoramically capture built screens across the Bund to Pudong at night.
With photo shares in hand, we mapped the data in six spatial collages, three for each site, to generate relationships between Body/Screen and urban space. Collage form creates connections, and we collaged photos in degrees of transparency in order to uncover surprising patterns on social media. The top row represents #M50Shanghai, and the far left collage maps the body’s fusion with recurrent material and digital urbanscapes of street art and screens. The collage at top center brings out the body to choreograph its movement in the gallery spaces of M50. The top right collage maps the way in which bodies mirror spaces for social media sharing. The map of #TheBund #Pudong #Lujiazui traverses the bottom row, and the left collage maps the clusters of people and buildings on social media. The center examines the bodily perspective of social media sharing to juxtapose perspectives that look up at skyscrapers and those that look down at the body from the skyscrapers’ height. The last collage maps the contrast between static bodily poses and traffic movement.
The map literalizes the spectrum of urban intensity by projecting the collages’ recurrent colors and associative affective and physical concepts onto a spectrometer that spans the electromagnetic frequencies of cell phones. The spectrometer works on practical and poetic planes: it quantifies the range in which social media users share content on the electromagnetic spectrum; and it interpretatively qualifies the content users share. The spectrometer draws out dominant colors in photo shares and represents them by approximate rate of recurrence. The map conducts a poetic interpretation of the colors’ immaterial and material import between both spatial sites, signified in singular words on the spectrometer, to highlight the nuanced perception of urban experience the Body/Screen generates. The spectrometer draws upon the spectrum of social media photo shares to illustrate the range of Body/Screen experiences in built spaces.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects
Shanghai Unscripted Video, 2015
[youtube id=”JRv6wo3AmUw” mode=”thumbnail” align=”center” autoplay=”no”]Who should art spaces serve? What kind of agency is involved when creating and allocating space to art and the people who want to experience it? Does culture control the answer to these questions? Shanghai Unscripted addresses these questions with a series of compelling visuals from the art space “M50” in Shanghai, and the “Arts District” of Downtown Los Angeles.
These two art spaces reflect contrasting demographics and, perhaps, contrasting ideals. The “Arts District” of Los Angeles is shown empty. The art is there on the walls but there are no people to enjoy it. Meanwhile the shots of “M50” depict a vibrant scene full of children experiencing and interacting with art.
M50 Unscripted Thickmap, 2015
The story of how a cotton mill on 50 Moganshan Road transformed into a creative and trendy arts district dubbed M50 spans over 80 years. During its eight decades of development, M50 witnessed different political regimes and capitalistic incentives operating at national, local, and community levels. The repurposing of old industrial districts into arts districts is a global phenomenon. For M50, the socialist infrastructure set up by the Chinese government, the entrepreneurial marketing of Shanghai as a cosmopolitan city, and the ultimate development of grassroots activism motivated by cultural preservation, shaped its unique history and character. The maturation of this creative cluster to its current status would not have been possible without the collective actions taken by local artists, scholars, and politicians who argued for M50’s artistic and economic values.
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The diverse history of M50 materializes in the textures of its architectural facades. The repetitive brick patterns interspersed with steel and concrete enable reflections into the building’s industrial past as well as visions into its future. In addition, M50’s spatial fabric creates private, public, and semi-public spaces that allow its users to fix, adapt, and collaborate in autonomous and imaginative ways. These spatial qualities also allow for agency, or the ability of actors in the space to make individual and collective choices motivated by their needs and desires rather than determined by structural or political constraints.
The indoor spaces of M50 house artworks of diverse media and serve as living and working areas for artists and their families, while its exterior spaces encourage and attract unscripted behaviors from people of all ages. These users— especially the children visitors—take advantage of its abandoned industrial relics and re-imagine the open spaces for adventure. Seemingly shabby conditions become fertile grounds for performing participatory, creative, and hands-on activities.
Click here to download a complete PDF of the projects
La Placita: Epicenter of Contested IdentitiesCentral Los Angeles was eviscerated as the city expanded and residents began commuting over longer distances. Redlining formalized the isolation of the city’s center, surrounding it with “hazardous” residential zones. This map exposes an alternative story of neighborhoods that are formative in the identity of LA, spaces of cultural contestation. The map aims to visualize the imprint of redlining and how it shaped communities in the long term. Although redlining is no longer formally applied, it continues to operate in more informal ways to maintain much of the area as excluded from the rest of the city.
Video (with found footage), 2014
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The video provides a narrative that connects La Placita, the “unmarked” center, to residential zones that redlining targeted. Following one street until reaching the first single-family house, the multiplicity of environment one traverses traveling from the center to two adjacent neighborhoods is shown.
Continuous Cities: Elysian
Physical Model, 2014
The planning and construction of Los Angeles highways are tied to the redlined zones as many dissect those areas. The model uses the highway as the embodiment of redlines as “divider” and represents the process of bridging over the divide through both collaboration and contestation. Each bridge represents a neighborhood’s aspiration of their ideal street and a radically new future.
Short StoryThe Rift bisects Elysian. The wide freeway underneath the layers of bridges that stitch together the city above is a fragment of memory that invades the conscious, a persistent reminder of past transgressions, as one peaks down through small openings. For the traveler below, the city above is elusive, overshadowed by the underbelly of multiple bridges criss-crossing overhead. Looking up you may catch glimpses of ephemeral movements; guerilla squatters scaling down to reclaim abandoned bridges, assiduous historians recording the trail of entropy, construction workers dangling from the edge of an unfinished bridge, and the sound of a thousand Elysians cheerfully singing “Auld Lang Syne.” In Elysian, the Anniversary bridges the past and the future. It is a nostalgic communal celebration of the original procession of citizens from the Plaza towards the dreaded Rift. First Bridge was constructed after a collective decision to do something about it. This made Elysian, which at the time was divided in two as “hazardous” and “desirable,” unified once again. Inhabitants were free to move to the new community, pursuing their dreams and ideals. Elysian became vibrant. Year after year, a new bridge is built and the opening of the new bridge closes off the previous one. The aspirations of one Elysian are replaced by the new bridge. Each bridge embodies a voice of the unheard, a dream previously squandered, a conflict left unresolved; bridges intersect, clash, extrude, demolish, and support new structures. Over the years, as inhabitants forge their ideals, the city is renewed by a process of continuous architectural and social reconfiguration through mixing, displacement, avoidance and welcoming. Piercing the darkness of the Rift, a glowing cylinder protrudes from First Bridge: It reads, “The Rift has existed for centuries, carved by the founders of Elysian to sanitize the blighted parts of the city and isolate elements in society perceived as subversive. First Bridge was built to begin the process of city restoration through connectivity. Today, the historic connection is honored annually by the construction of a new bridge during the Anniversary.” After your eyes have adapted to the glare of sunlight, the rearview mirror is dominated by the massive scale of the layers of bridges; the two sides of the city almost vanishing in comparison.
La Placita: Mapping of the Third Space, Real-and-Imagined Spaces
The map attempts to map La Placita by capturing the perceived and conceived spaces as well as Soja’s “thirdspace” and lived space. It combines the former two and shows the dialectical connection between them. The map layers the cultural and social activities, visual richness, pedestrian mmovement and other attributes of La Placita with the experiential quality of streets and neighborhood. That thirdspace leaves possibilities for political, cultural, historical, and ethnographical interpretations.
Opening the Space of Difference: Histories and Memories of La Placita
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The film investigates La Placita to understand what lies behind the façade of a tourist-oriented La Placita by exploring its lived space. There are five interviews, representing diverse perspectives and, at times, contested understandings about this historical site. These contested histories and emotional attachments form both thirdspaces and lived spaces.
Mirrored Cities: Memoria
Physical Model, 2014
The model abstracts memories and experiences that are embedded in physical space. The belief which forms the basis of the model is that the future can only be imagined through the reflections of the past. In Memoria, a web of past memories serves as a foundation that evokes the future of Los Angeles. When the past, present, and future are envisioned in the same space, lived space is realized in a fluid and amorphous way.
Short StoryThe city of webbed memories, Memoria is where reflections of the past evoke the imagined space of the future. Inhabitants of Memoria store their memories through strings and mirrors to permanently remind them of the past and to also serve as a foundation to the future. Some memories connect, while others do not, however its intricate connections remind inhabitants of their shared attachments to the city. Dwellers built mirrors to reflect memories about the past when they see the past is fading out with the encroachment from the future. Some go to the mirrors to remember the past; some use the mirrors to learn about the lessons from the past to guide them in the future; others try to exchange or collage the different reflections. Because of their obsession with memories, sometimes it is hard for the residents of Memoria to distinguish between the past and the future. The future and the past blur when a person sees through the mirror. What the people in Memoria do always reflects a certain portion of the past. In Memoria, people project the future with the legacies from the past and the line between the past and the present is rather unclear. A foundation of past memories are inescapable and those who travel deeper through the city become entangled in its web of mirrors. Those who travel through Memoria not only become lost in the strong connections of past memories, but begin to envision themselves in these memories through each reflection they encounter. Some are amazed at the richness of past reflections and the strong ties between what Memoria is now and what it was before. As one climbs higher into the webs, the past is always present, but the future becomes more clear when it is anchored in the past.
Perceptions and Representations of Chineseness in Los Angeles Chinatown 1871-2014
This map juxtaposes perceptions of Chinese identity at the time of the Chinese Massacre in 1871 with the present day. It brings out a comparative subjective analysis over the two eras by putting the route of the massacre and route of parade which symbolize two kinds of movement – violent and willful. Using data from LA Times archives, historical maps, Yelp, the argument placed is that certain opinions have persisted through time and space.
Welcome to Chinatown
[youtube id=”G5wgshwQ_xU” mode=”thumbnail” align=”center” autoplay=”no”]The film is a fictionalized ethnography of LA Chinatown’s declining vitality. The emptiness of the area’s tourist destinations is striking and eerie, which contrasts with the diversity and energy of the surrounding areas. Shot in a “found footage” style, the film is a cinematic caricature of today’s Chinatown.
Physical Model, 2014
Mneumonica is a fantasy inspired by the observations made on Chinatown’s past and present. The model explores the idea of cultural identity as an accumulative process rather than a fixed state of being. The imaginary city renders the accrued culture experience literally, stratifying time in space, encompassing the past, present and future.
Short StoryThe ancient city of Mneumonica was a place inhabited by wise men. They took great pride in their city because they labored to fill each brick and beam with their wisdom. Every road was righteous, every square was imbued with virtue. But after some time, signs of decay began to show: the pavement cracked, the paint peeled, and the buildings, once clean and bright, were stained with years of use. Because it was cobbled together with ideas as much as materials, the city’s morals decayed along with its structures. Those principles that once seemed such obvious paragons of goodness now betrayed evidence of corruption. Darkness seeped in. A thousand years passed. A new group of men arrived in the city, either by road or by birth, and as they looked around them they saw only the rotten remains of the once-great city. They found it utterly uninhabitable. Decreeing that their predecessors’ mistakes must never be forgotten lest they be repeated, the men covered the ancient monuments with a transparent shroud before building a new city atop this lucent foundation. The new city’s floors were terraced upon the former rooftops; its topography was determined by the past. Thus the residents of New Mneumonica were reminded of their ancestors’ sins whenever they looked down. But as they became increasingly familiar with their landscape of memory, the city below began to disappear in their eyes. Before long, they fell into the ways of their forefathers, and their city decayed as well. This happened again and again. Mneumonica became a layered city. Finally, there came a generation of men who surveyed their city’s moral archaeology and understood that there would never be an end to the rebuilding of Mneumonicas. Knowing that their own rooftops would one day become foundations, they decided to top their buildings with giant mirrors. They hoped that this way, the city’s next residents would look down and see not only the past below their feet, but also the not-yet realized future.
Shifting Streetscapes and Cultural Continuity in Los Angeles’ Chinatown: The Geography of Golden Dragon Parades, 1885-2014
The map aims to capture the shifting streetscapes and cultural continuity in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, through the geography of the ongoing Chinese New Year parade. Despite the major change that the Chinatown got relocated, the continuity is maintained with parade. The La Placita and the event persist. The main emphasis is on the lived experience of the spaces. Historical maps and present day street views provide a sense of how spaces were used historically and in the present.
[youtube id=”aREUa4lhxTs” mode=”thumbnail” align=”center” autoplay=”no”]The film is a dramatic representation of the frustration that emerges in the inquiry of the social and cultural significance of the TienHau Temple in Chinatown. It explores the relationship between spatial and social anchoring of a religious institution within the community it is placed in. It also examines the practices and constituents of the social community around the temple. The film opens up a new space of interpretation by challenging the expectations.
Laformaterra: Signs & Desire
Physical Model, 2014
The model asks the question, what happens when “forms exhaust their variety and come apart” and the “end of cities begins”? (Calvino 139). The quadratic orientation illustrates how spatial forms serve as systems of signification that, when disassembled, exert the visitor to read the space differently and script their experience within it anew.
“Each city receives its form from the desert it opposes.” (Calvino 19)
“When the forms exhaust their variety and come apart, the end of cities begins.” (Calvino 139)Laformaterra can be encountered from four directions, and for each direction the city presents a different form. For visitors approaching from the South, Laformaterra appears as a symmetrical tower that constructs the future of the city in the vision of its orderly forebears, a weight upon the earth that holds the elements in place. In the lenses of visitors from the North, Laformaterra emerges as a fountain of renewal on a rudimentary plane. The sloped hills reminds Northerners of the open land that preceded the city, and they imagine planting rows of orange trees to colonize the area. The fountain waters the pictured orchards and creates a soothing space to harmonize new settlers. The city takes another transmutation for visitors arriving from the East, as it is the city of the future that rises above the levels of buried pasts. For them, it is a floating pavilion in which they see fantasies of the future removed from the past. From the West, the visitors see a cube on which to place the objects they bring with them from afar. The cube sits in an abyss, and their gaze congregates on it with the anxiety of objects weighing on eyelids. As visitors from each direction travel closer to the city, Laformaterra transforms once again. Forms cast upon the city come apart as visitors approach. The white box dissolves into a maze of defamiliarization; the tower crumbles into a wonderland of play catching the earth. The fountain disintegrates into open rings; the floating pavilion catches memories in the air so that the past informs the future without form. The disassemblage of structures casts into relief how the four facing cities construct a language of spatial forms that determine how visitors read Laformaterra. The city deconstructs these languages and thus exerts visitors to script their experiences within it anew. The narrative of rescription overrides the narrative of inscription, circling around generative blankness. As forms disintegrate into the void, agency for interaction disperses in space.
Evolution of La Placita: Changing Narratives, Demographics, and Social ConnectionsThe map explores and contrasts the qualitative and quantitative aspects of data for La Placita from the perspectives of different time periods—1920s, 1940s, 1960s and 2000s. It also takes in account the role played by the various protagonists in the history of La Placita over the time period like institutions and political groups—Hollywood, City Hall, the Chicano activists, and LAUSD. Social Explorer (US Census) paints an incomplete picture of the racial demographics due to gaps in data and lack of details for period prior to 1940s. To put this information into a deeper context, layers of historical and more qualitative centered data is utilized. This data set encompasses historical documents (like “Lantern in the Western Sky”), photographs, other narrative or literary texts, or additional artifacts that draws attention to the stories that are silenced or erased.
2014 Video (with found footage)
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The film centers around David Siqueiros’s mural, América Tropical. It is a multi-perspectival and quick-paced montage that comments on the “authoritative” pursuits of white-washing, preservation, and museumification.
Cabinet of Floating Cities
Physical Model, 2014
The theme of the physical model is subversion of the sequestered nature and inaccessibility of museums. An urban public museum is imagined where stories, art, future visions, and histories of Los Angeles converge through nonlinear and imaginative dioramic cubes.
Floating Cities: MahindrooFrom the distance Mahindroo looks inaccessible. High walls rise out of the blazing white desert that surrounds the city, bleached and bone-like in the midday sun. To the traveler it doesn’t look like a city at all, but rather some absurd and sterile tomb, hardly worth approaching. They will be disappointed as rumors of Mahindroo’s splendors precede it. After all, why did they risk passage through oceans or mountains to reach the city? Standing at this distance, though, intimations of this expected city appear as mirages, like faded murals on white walls. Yet, when the traveler moves closer to the city—braving the inhospitable and sun drenched surroundings of sand and concrete—something happens. They realize that the wall is not a wall at all, but rather a series of cubes stacked on top of each other that present the illusion of a wall. It is not solid and closed, but rather buoyant and open, with gaps for entering between each border. Is this a trick? Weariness? Or were the incandescent rumors of the city now solidified?Between the opening cracks of the walls, what had seemed sepulchral now seems full of life. The traveler enters the city. At first the space is just a void, like an extended courtyard or an empty room, stretching out the length of a city. In the center sits a beautiful, elephantine sized cube. Colors flash, linking to the crystal cubes of the outer walls, and the open space of the city is filled with scenes from Mahindroo’s days and nights.A flood of cities comes forth, stretching from its birth, long in the past, to its death, far into dreams. For the cubes are not the walls at all, but the city itself. The inhabitants of Mahindroo store their experiences in the walls of their city, and the walls project infinite combinations of what the city was, is, and will be.
Stalling Autopia, Driving a CityLos Angeles is a landscape dominated by autopia. When it is stalled, a florescence of activity emerges. This map documents the August 30th, 2014 Los Angeles City Birthday Celebration as a case study of La Placita, where scripted and spontaneous public movements converge. The extreme static caused by parking releases ecstatic movement and public journey. The restriction of car access to the plaza, in fact, emphasizes bodily movement as a potential means for signaling identity and creating an interactive space. The chronology of maps illustrates the progressive development of autopia surrounding La Placita. Through the years, La Placita has increasingly become its own isolated landscape surrounded by a sea of parking lots, streets, and highways; nevertheless, the site remains an active and vibrant destination.
Video, 7:09, 2014
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The visual narrative attempts to understand the movement produced by/with/for La Placita. It film collapses several movement experiences at La Placita during a holiday and an ordinary day into a single geography. It critiques the guided tour’s pretense of comprehensiveness through the Baeda-walk–a navigation tool, which directs the pedestrian protagonist and mediates her understanding of the contested heritage site.
Thick cities: Una
Physical Model, 2014The model shows Una as a threshold city–a wedge into LA’s autopia that produces ecstatic movement of pedestrians, dancers, and bicyclists. The multipiclity of flexible itineraries encourages various pathways, speeds, and encounters. A canopy of shade manifests over spaces of collective publicness. Una’s people and shade co-construct one another.
Short StoryLet me tell you about Una: the threshold city of cities, gateway to the Five Wonders beyond. The roaring din screeches to a halt, and you shed your exoskeleton. You emerge up through ruptures in the ground; she awakens you with dazzling light. The smell of decay dissipates. Your skin warms under the glaring sun and your eyes focus on a bench here, a waterfall there, a picturesque lookout point. A cascade of clouds suspend and protect you from the scorching sunshine. Motionless exoskeletons discarded below remain as fragments of decadence…fragments of a land where travelers encounter one another with fixed gazes and fixed itineraries. Above, without an armour, you become a part of the society ordered not by distinctions of wealth or authority, but rather governed by an ideal of collective motion. In Una, lifestyles from all trades collide; merchants, pilgrims and laborers’ paths intersect. You cannot say that one aspect of the city is truer than the other, but you hear of Una above as something unmistakable, rare, and perhaps ecstatic. Una is inclined to behave with vibrancy. I will describe to you her fluorescence and tell you how she whispers in your ear of freedom. Inhabitants delight in her momentum, moving you ever downward to the Five Wonders. You have always an option of pathways. Standing from the top of her sloping mountain, you are reminded of water flowing as if carrying sailors, swimmers, and swans, and pausing to let them off to share merriment, dancing, and gossip. The hovering cloud cover beckons you to stroll with others, liberated from anonymity. Even at a glance, you imagine the pleasure of sliding down, the sensation on your skin as you are propelled across the expanse of space. At the bottom of her reaches: samba dancers, accountants, trombonists, and senators gather as they approach the city walls looming ahead. After you return from the Five Wonders, it is a slow climb back to the top of Una.
- View the Project Document (PDF) here
Thick map, 2013
Pershing Square has been a prominent feature of downtown LA since the residential boom of the late 19th century. In its 163-year history, the Square has been the subject of continuing political and social debates. “Mapping Pershing” is composed of a series of thematic layers that illustrate a “Typical Day” in Pershing Square and considers the various physiological factors captured at a given moment, wherein, narratives of events, danger, and perceived restrictions implicitly inform navigation, and work to construct a new physical and social landscape. Sunlight Barriers Topographical translation of shaded areas by surrounding buildings into areas of desire, whereas, exposed, hot, and unobstructed areas produce soft-barriers for spatial flow Perceived Threats Topographical translation of physical drag, including moments of discomfort, authority, restricted access, danger, insecurity, unobstructed views, and confusion. Auditory/Vocal Obstruction Topographical translation of perceived moments of noise or sound measured in decibels, and represented in peaked landscapes. Auditory intensity is mapped as disruption of physical movement and trumps non-hierarchical circulation. Event Deterrence – Farmer’s Market and Concert The event personifies the restriction of space by temporality into a new, movement-based topography.
Video, 04:39:00, 2013
MUSEUM OF THE ACCIDENT
Excavation of the Great Cube
“Let me tell you of the city of the Great Cube. When you visit the Cube, you sit looking outward from a skyscraper’s glass window, eye-level with the concrete monstrosity that faces you. Owing to the ingenuity of today’s archaeologists, we know that the building in which you are perched was once called “Biltmore Hotel,” and, while linguists cannot tell us how these symbols are pronounced, the archaeologists tell us that “Biltmore Hotel” once presented not its face but its back to the Cube, as if once it could not stand to behold it, but now is enamored of it. You’ll hear often about that very first discovery: the alloy totem shooting out from one of the Cube’s concrete corners, rising above it like some hard, gray, impeccably straight flower. While archaeologists are not sure what the totem represents, as its symbols are ultimately inscrutable, one symbol, NO, appears in succession before a variety of other symbols, each followed by another repeated symbol: !!. You are not alone in believing that this pattern—NO__ !, NO ___ !—is a script of some mysterious importance. This hypothesis is singularly intriguing, since the monolithic Cube is everywhere both physically and semantically impenetrable. There is one other exception to the Cube’s impenetrability: the small, hand-sized holes perforating the Cube’s exterior. Drawn to these curious quasi-openings, passersby such as yourself take turns peering into them with small handheld electric lights, waiting, as if their bright white beams might coax the Cube to speak. And if the light here should fail, there is hope that someday the Cube will adopt a measure of agency: that it will exhale, perhaps even gasp for air.”
Thick Map, 2013
In 2013, the dominant narrative of Sunset Boulevard between La Brea and Sweetzer is one of passing through. The road is resistant to being occupied except in a car, yet in the neglected and ignored pull-over lanes, sidewalks, edges and intersections an earlier, bumpier iteration of the street pushes from beneath the newer asphalt. Taken as a whole, the street is hostile to lingering, to being known, and though the ragged and permeable edge-spaces bear traces of history and visual interest, their condition ranges from neglected to actively repellent. Our map is concerned with this principle of the simultaneous richness of accumulated information, and the resistance of the environment to accessing it.
A Woman of Sunset
Video, 4:34, 2013
MUSEUM OF THE ACCIDENT
Excavation of Sunset Boulevard, 2013
The Grey Zone Sidewalks: Looking Down on the Forgotten Spaces of Sunset Boulevard
Thick Map, 2013
The Grey Zone sideWALKing: Serendipity on Sunset
Video, 5:08 min, 2013
MUSEUM OF THE ACCIDENT
Sunset Boulevard, c. 2035Now I shall tell you of the city of Los Angeles which is wonderful in this way: built upon a foundation of boulevards and monumental freeways, after all the world’s fuel was lost in the Great Oil Crisis of 2030, the cars and busses, stuck in the 20th day of the largest traffic jam in history, stopped running and were left in the streets. Roads ceased to be places that were rushed through and barely paused in, but became the places where people ate, walked, had their hair cut, taught classes, and grew food. In the years after The End of Fossil Fuel, inhabitants of Los Angeles continued to stare lovingly at their cars, at the wheels that once took them tens of miles for errands or a lunch date. But as they built micro-cities clustered around the main boulevards where what had once been large super stores were subdivided into smaller sections to make ten stores out of one, they began to forget the city of wheels, the city of speed, the city of miles crossed that they had once known. Restricted by the distance people could or wanted to walk, the new hyper-local communities specialized in mobility, transportation, and networking within their five block radii and between one micro-city and the next. Entrepreneurs constructed mobile facilities out of anything with wheels. Shopping carts, prized for their mobility, were reconstructed to carry household goods that had once been transported in large trucks and vans. In this specialized approach to miniaturizing necessary facilities, the ambulance cart, the police cart, and the shipping cart came to their customers. People found efficient ways to live in denser spaces, with cars in the streets transformed into engaging mobile classrooms, cooking schools, and even small petting zoos. What is certain in these new times is that if you ask an Angeleno to describe his or her vision of the future, it is always one where less is more. Sometimes, they experience nostalgia for Old Los Angeles, City of Distance, but it always passes, like the memory of enjoying the scent of gasoline in the air.
Sunset Cafe Mobile Restaurant
Sunset Boulevard, c. 2035
Shopping cart, wood, hinges, soil, plants, dishes, silverware, tablecloth, jars, vegetables, grains, bulletin board, pins, paper
The Accident of Nostalgia on Sunset
Thick map, 2013
Sunset Glamour Falls
Video, 6:41, 2013
MUSEUM OF THE ACCIDENT
Sunset Boulevard c. 2047
Installation of Memory Booth, 2013
Thick Map, 2013
This project produces a fragmented street view of a section of Wilshire Boulevard. We created our own tunnel vision, but this tunnel is not intended to enhance speed or mobility. Instead, it challenges the illusion of the continuity one might experience in Google Earth or in a car. The collage of images provides windows from which the traveler is able to interact with their environment. The images have intentionally been left with spaces between them to emphasize the possibility of a deeper understanding of each site. One can click on any image to gather more information about what might be beyond, such as videos, audio, or text.Distinctive features of this map include an extensive interview with employees of the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center and a chronological tour of the boulevard. This latter feature challenges the linear experience of space. One can begin at the earliest site of construction and move around Wilshire Boulevard following a path of history. This path includes the dates of building construction and events that tie the boulevard to the broader history of Los Angeles. Los Angeles artists have long been interested in the role of the facade as a way of reading Los Angeles as in the work of Ed Ruscha and Robert Flick. We hope to challenge and expand upon this notion by emphasizing mo- ments of irregularity of the facade as a way to more thoroughly explore the city.
May Day, 2013
This film challenges how we experience a place. The narrative is simple: a man has some time to kill, so he grabs a newspaper and head to MacArthur Park. But, the story deepens to the many ways he experiences the park. It begins as a visual story as he explores the park with his eyes. Then it becomes an auditory experience as he visually follows sounds. Finally, the sound of a siren triggers a particular memory. This memory was not experienced first-hand, it was constructed out of media images and news reports.Intentionally or unintentionally, the constant stream of media shapes our understandings and beliefs about people, politics, and places. Our film conveys the idea that the complete experience of a place is a combination of both real and mediated experiences. This multi-layered memory also serves to raise questions about the definition and nature of public space. Public spaces have been designed to pro- mote a variety of uses, from democracy to leisure. Given the wide possible uses for public space, MacArthur Park is equally likely to be the site of a carnival or a protest. We conclude our film with the ambiguous image of the protagonist peeling through multiple layers of media and history, represented by the newspaper, until he is finally confronted by the park all around him.
Excavation of MacArthur Park, 2013
The construction of cities through images persists across disciplines, even as we understand that cities are too complex and diverse a reality to be fully represented as a whole. From Kevin Lynch’s seminal publication ‘The Image of the City’ to contemporary experiences and experiments in chronicling and narrating the trajectory of cities, the pervasiveness of imagery in understanding, representing and formulating cities suggests we need an updated look at how images work and what they might do. The term ‘image’ addresses many types of visual representations: from mental representations to signage and communication to physical likeness to graphical systems. Who produces images and how they are distributed are as much part of the equation of what images do as the visual representations themselves.This constellation addresses the work of thinkers and creative producers who have theorized on the relationship between image and city. The intent is to examine the different ways we understand images to construct a city, and the types of agency we assign to images in this capacity. It attempts to ask how visual representation through sources such as art, film and writings contribute to the construction of the city, and gathers varying critical positions taken on by theorists, urbanists, social scientists, architects and artists on these issues. Some topics to be touched on: mental representations of the city, brandscapes and replication, objective and subjective mappings of the city, filmic representation and collective imagination. Underlying this investigation is the idea that each image> city theory carries specific ontological attitudes related to the visual, to information and to knowledge(s).