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IMAGECITY: Formal and Informal Networks

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‘Images of Asia’, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2003

Mumbai in the Nineties: An Archive of Urban Interventions

This exhibition was an effort towards archiving urban changes in Mumbai over the past decade. Mapping the city to decipher such changes has always been dominated by a reductionism of physical conditions — a methodological bias that focused on an empirical, cartographic agenda. The product of this agenda — the map, and its ally, the census — became trusted informers in conceptualising the city. This conceptualisation is characterised by an incapability to understand changes in the urban condition. Its static nature cannot keep pace with urban change, and it is unable to encompass relations that are not physical.

Archiving efforts have been occupied by periodising events, fixing of benchmarks and establishing types. Such approaches are increasingly difficult to understand where urban environments are characterised by an ever-changing landscape — in a state of constant flux where every point is being challenged in its stability. It is difficult to establish a clear set of important architectural landmarks in the city, markers to map development. Nor can the city be reduced to a set of abstractions representing its various physical parameters — like movement, community structure, everyday practices of living, working and creating — on which the urban structure is based. All seem to merge with each other. In order to analyse patterns of growth, we must move away from conventional modes of mapping the physical fabric and built environment.

To shift the mapping process from an extremely empirical impulse and locate it in a larger dynamic requires a new understanding, a new archive and map of the city. We started our archive by scanning through the most accessible advertisements and brochures made for architecture. These indicated both the physical artefact — the architecture — and its socio-economic location. It indicated aspirations and living standards, with a concern for affordability. We found it necessary to see architecture as a cultural practice, rather than as an isolated artefact. We explored the ways in which the formal architecture of the metropolis was perceived – generated various new kinds of cultural and social forms — luxurious housing complexes with all the necessary and unnecessary amenities, new urban spaces for a new culture of elite consumption. These new cultures overlap with and result in violent clashes and struggle with other urban lifeworlds, such as in the Bombay Riots of 1992–3.

IMAGECITY Curatorial Statement by Gustavo Ribeiro

According to recent estimates by the United Nations, the urban population is, in 2007, expected to reach 50 percent of the world total for the first time in history. By the year 2030, it is expected that 60% of the world population will live in urban areas. Six of the world’s 10 largest megacities in 2030 will be in Asia.

IMAGECITY explores a condition of mediation, through a focus on image and sound narratives with a point of departure in a number of Asian cities. IMAGECITY juxtaposes disparate takes on current urban phenomena, comprising both socio-political and spatial events, as recounted by architects, media artists and film makers, as well as designs for new cities and urban areas – projective urban phenomena. No attempt is made in IMAGECITY to integrate the different statements across the different exhibits, nor even to create a middle ground. In presenting the viewer with a rough cut of polyphonic narratives, disparity and incongruence are central elements in the representational scenario IMAGECITY sets up.

The image is the shared medium connecting the different takes to current urban conditions. But the image is not simply a depiction, a lens, an a posteriori event, independent of urban phenomena. The image as a narrative medium, at the very least contaminates the city; it is insinuating, perhaps insidious. It can shape things on the ground and, as some of the exhibits included here suggest, it can be a political weapon. Through that perspective, IMAGECITY is not only concerned with accounting for architectural and urban design practices. It is also interested in inserting such practices into a broader context of urban events, which can in turn inform those practices.

In representing the intensity, dynamism and disparities of contemporary urban developments in Asia, IMAGECITY uses the concept of formal and informal networks. Formal processes are normally associated with official approval of building activity and urban management, accredited banking and real-estate institutions and planning by central and local government authorities. Informal processes are defined in contrast to building production and urban management, which are not dealt with through official systems and which are not financed through accredited institutions. Following that approach, informal processes are normally associated with urban phenomena such as shantytowns and street vending. But beyond the above clean-cut definition, informality can be seen as a condition which is not confined to specific urban programmes. It can rather be seen as something, which permeates processes of urban production and reproduction, planned or unplanned, scrutinized by officials or not. In that sense, informal processes incorporate on the one hand, daily interaction and communication between people and use that leads to urban changes. On the other hand, informal processes include planning and urban management practices where official procedures are circumvented. Instead of a sharp division between the formal and informal sectors, we propose to look into hybrid practices, which are permeated by what are defined as formal and informal conditions.

School of Architecture, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art, Copenhagen

Images of Asia

Danish Centre for Culture & Development (DCCD)

August to September 2003


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