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Writer, musician and crochet aficionado. Currently completing a Masters in Performance Studies at the University of Sydney researching artists and urban renewal.

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International Congress on Adaptive Urbanism, Christchurch, New Zealand, 23-24 October 2014

On the dark side of art and urban regeneration, or the ‘window dressing’ formula

I’ll be curious to see how the Renew model translates into the Kings Cross environment - particularly how much the scheme will cater to these differences, and what kinds of artists and projects will be involved (or won’t be).

A nice article on visual art performance versus contemporary performance, which manages to articulate things that I feel like I’ve been trying to put my finger on for a while. Via Justine Shih Pearson.

A truly Vivid Sydney
Vivid is an idiosyncratic event on Sydney’s cultural calendar that has grown rapidly since its inception in 2009. What has made Vivid so successful is its ability to affect the ways in which we understand and experience our own city. Taken on even a superficial level, the festival is a resounding testament to the transformative power of art. The artistic director of 2009-2010’s Fire Water, Michael Cohen, has spoken about this kind of potential in relation to a lesser known cousin of Vivid: Newcastle’s LiveSites.1 In attempting to frame such events, Cohen recalls the experience of a school fete during childhood, in particular how the familiar schoolgrounds would feel somehow different afterwards. The goals of his work are framed as ‘that feeling, those recollected stories and affected memories’.
However, Vivid did not emerge solely from a desire to reinvent the city for its inhabitants. Rather, like many similar high-profile cultural events worldwide, it was an initiative designed to bumper tourism numbers in the winter months, which had declined over the years following the Sydney Olympics.2 Acknowledging the complex, interrelated interests that lie behind the festival adds depth to the unproblematic image of Vivid as a celebration of the city and its cultures. Laura Levin and Kim Solga, writing about Toronto’s Luminato Festival, ask questions of that event that are pertinent here.3 ‘When we set out to “stage” a city, whose vision of the city do we rehearse as “real” or “true”? Who benefits from that staging, and who pays the hidden costs?’ Levin and Solga’s verdict is searing: that ‘such projects co-opt and redeploy the experiences of those they ultimately marginalize’. In other words, while artists, arts-workers and existing cultural scenes are essential to this staging, it is ultimately not their version of the city that is realised: such events are more concerned with creating a sophisticated cultural facade than investing in a vibrant and sustainable local creative culture.
It’s difficult to walk a line between uncritical celebration and pessimistic criticism. It would be all too easy to take a shot here at the apparent irony of R.I.P Society and the presence of ‘dolewave’ in the Music program (particularly in the context of the recently announced federal budget, which will have a severe impact on the ability of artists to make and show work). Actually, I believe that the fact that a number of local creative communities are represented as part of Vivid is a very good thing: I’m genuinely excited for those who have had the opportunity to be a part of the festival and enthusiastic about these cultures being visible on a larger stage. That said, I am also deeply ambivalent about what lies behind the festival’s benevolent face. The content and pricing of forums on ‘creative use of vacant spaces’, ‘cultural facilities’ and ‘young people and the arts’ (from the ‘Local Government Forum Series’) suggests that the focus is on presenting ourselves as creative in order to attract tourism and investment, rather than actually nurturing said creativity. Large-scale events like Vivid inevitably involve many competing interests and this isn’t a bad thing per se: what I’m arguing here is the importance of balancing those interests against each other.
If it’s a truly open, progressive and creative city that we seek, then (to echo Andy Pratt) we cannot afford to be ‘starry eyed’.4Amidst growing calls for greater recognition of and support for creative projects as part of the fabric of our city, it’s worth stopping to think about what kinds of creative projects, and what kind of city, we actually want - and for who.
Photography: Gus Hunt

1 Michael Cohen (2007) ‘Tracing New Absence: Events for Place-making and Place-faking’ About Performance, No. 7, 183-196 2 Joel Meares (2014) Vivid Sydney: the light is fantastic now but it wasn’t always so’ The Sydney Morning Herald, May 16, 2014, accessed June 4, 2014 http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/vivid-sydney-the-light-is-fantastic-now-but-it-wasnt-always-so-20140516-zreqv.html 3 Laura Levin and Kim Solga (2009) ‘Building Utopia: Performance and the Fantasy of Urban Renewal in Contemporary Toronto’ TDR: The Drama Review, 53:3, 37-53 4 Andy Pratt (2011) ‘The cultural contradictions of the creative city’ City, Culture and Society, 2, 123-130

A truly Vivid Sydney

Vivid is an idiosyncratic event on Sydney’s cultural calendar that has grown rapidly since its inception in 2009. What has made Vivid so successful is its ability to affect the ways in which we understand and experience our own city. Taken on even a superficial level, the festival is a resounding testament to the transformative power of art. The artistic director of 2009-2010’s Fire Water, Michael Cohen, has spoken about this kind of potential in relation to a lesser known cousin of Vivid: Newcastle’s LiveSites.1 In attempting to frame such events, Cohen recalls the experience of a school fete during childhood, in particular how the familiar schoolgrounds would feel somehow different afterwards. The goals of his work are framed as ‘that feeling, those recollected stories and affected memories’.

However, Vivid did not emerge solely from a desire to reinvent the city for its inhabitants. Rather, like many similar high-profile cultural events worldwide, it was an initiative designed to bumper tourism numbers in the winter months, which had declined over the years following the Sydney Olympics.2 Acknowledging the complex, interrelated interests that lie behind the festival adds depth to the unproblematic image of Vivid as a celebration of the city and its cultures. Laura Levin and Kim Solga, writing about Toronto’s Luminato Festival, ask questions of that event that are pertinent here.3 ‘When we set out to “stage” a city, whose vision of the city do we rehearse as “real” or “true”? Who benefits from that staging, and who pays the hidden costs?’ Levin and Solga’s verdict is searing: that ‘such projects co-opt and redeploy the experiences of those they ultimately marginalize’. In other words, while artists, arts-workers and existing cultural scenes are essential to this staging, it is ultimately not their version of the city that is realised: such events are more concerned with creating a sophisticated cultural facade than investing in a vibrant and sustainable local creative culture.

It’s difficult to walk a line between uncritical celebration and pessimistic criticism. It would be all too easy to take a shot here at the apparent irony of R.I.P Society and the presence of ‘dolewave’ in the Music program (particularly in the context of the recently announced federal budget, which will have a severe impact on the ability of artists to make and show work). Actually, I believe that the fact that a number of local creative communities are represented as part of Vivid is a very good thing: I’m genuinely excited for those who have had the opportunity to be a part of the festival and enthusiastic about these cultures being visible on a larger stage. That said, I am also deeply ambivalent about what lies behind the festival’s benevolent face. The content and pricing of forums on ‘creative use of vacant spaces’, ‘cultural facilities’ and ‘young people and the arts’ (from the ‘Local Government Forum Series’) suggests that the focus is on presenting ourselves as creative in order to attract tourism and investment, rather than actually nurturing said creativity. Large-scale events like Vivid inevitably involve many competing interests and this isn’t a bad thing per se: what I’m arguing here is the importance of balancing those interests against each other.

If it’s a truly open, progressive and creative city that we seek, then (to echo Andy Pratt) we cannot afford to be ‘starry eyed’.4Amidst growing calls for greater recognition of and support for creative projects as part of the fabric of our city, it’s worth stopping to think about what kinds of creative projects, and what kind of city, we actually want - and for who.

Photography: Gus Hunt

1 Michael Cohen (2007) ‘Tracing New Absence: Events for Place-making and Place-faking’ About Performance, No. 7, 183-196 
2 Joel Meares (2014) Vivid Sydney: the light is fantastic now but it wasn’t always so’ The Sydney Morning Herald, May 16, 2014, accessed June 4, 2014 http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/vivid-sydney-the-light-is-fantastic-now-but-it-wasnt-always-so-20140516-zreqv.html
3 Laura Levin and Kim Solga (2009) ‘Building Utopia: Performance and the Fantasy of Urban Renewal in Contemporary Toronto’ TDR: The Drama Review, 53:3, 37-53 
4 Andy Pratt (2011) ‘The cultural contradictions of the creative city’ City, Culture and Society, 2, 123-130

This week we examine the legacy of The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility by Walter Benjamin. Media Theorist and Benjamin scholar (and translator) Thomas Levin explains why this essay resonates today and what Benjamin has to tell us about the utopian power of new media. Also Russell Meyer tells us about the Wu-Tang clan’s plan to release a sole copy of their new album and why he has turned to Kickstarter so he can buy it and release it to the world. And your host shares an imaginary story about Hitler and Goebbels encountering Benjamin’s essay during their final days in the bunker.

Writing about dimensions of space and heterotopias while listening to Rites Wild’s Ways of Being

(Source: soundcloud.com)

An excellent article about who culture-led urban renewal is serving in Detroit, and who’s left out of the picture. Also serves as a nice follow up to Spike Lee’s recent comments on gentrification in Brooklyn.
Photography: Liza Harvey, outside Michigan Central Station

An excellent article about who culture-led urban renewal is serving in Detroit, and who’s left out of the picture. Also serves as a nice follow up to Spike Lee’s recent comments on gentrification in Brooklyn.

Photography: Liza Harvey, outside Michigan Central Station

Some thinking points on gentrification, place and the self

After listening to Spike Lee speaking (/ranting) about gentrification, I’ve started thinking about how and why gentrification means so much to so many of us - even when it’s not a race question. At the same time I’ve been writing a paper on place, and the combination has brought about an interesting way of thinking.

In ‘The right to the city’, David Harvey argues that ‘The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city' (my emphasis).* Harvey is operating from a Lefebvrian understanding of space as constructed and is arguing here that in constructing spaces, we are effectively constructing our collective practices and values, and thereby our selves.

There is another way to approach this. If we take on Edward Casey’s assertions of the primacy of place in the human condition, we begin to see why we are so invested in places, particularly those in which we’ve lived for any stretch of time. If, as Casey insists, we ‘live in and through places’ in a phenomenological sense, then change in and to these places strikes at the very core of our being and our perception of the world.

Resistance to processes of gentrification involves more than abstract questions of equity and social justice. It is, in a Bourdieurian sense, a fundamental struggle for the right for our lives to take place in ways that are meaningful to us.

*David Harvey (2008) ‘The right to the city’ New Left review, 53, September-October 2008, p. 23

An on point article about the proposed Melbourne Arts Precinct and urban planning for the arts in general.