Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Next Memory City from Border Crossings

Border Crossings 21 no4 36-40 N 2002
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    "Next Memory City" is a collaborative project involving architect and curator MICHAEL AWAD, pianist and sound artist EVE EGOYAN and multimedia artist DAVID ROKEBY. Their project was chosen to represent Canada at the 2002 Venice Biennale in Architecture and was on exhibition at the Canadian Pavilion from September 8 to November 3.
    The following forum is a collage of separate responses by the artists to questions that have been removed. It is an exercise in interstitial reduction.
    MICHAEL AWAD: The project was based not only on urban space, but on the lack of architecture. Even though David and I had never met, we were working on exactly the same projects, except that I was working in an analog form and he was working in a digital form. My piece is specific to Toronto: one image of Chinatown, four minutes of activity recorded in the heart of the most densely populated part of the city. But it records without any architecture in the background; it only registers things that happen or change--people, automobiles and movement.
    DAVID ROKEBY: There's a fundamental link between what Michael is after in his photographs and what I've been interested in since the early '80s in tracking, monitoring and translating movement through my video systems. I find the more I look at Chinatown, the richer it gets. What was interesting in retrospect was trying to figure out how to balance a live, moving image and a still image from the perspective of the viewer. And it has something to do with time: Michael's piece requires time to view successfully.
    AWAD: What we really tried to create in our pavilion was a pause. Amongst all these other pavilions with high-powered architecture and an overwhelming focus on buildings, our space was a bit of a quiet, dark oasis where people could actually stop for a while. On many levels we counter-programmed by presenting an installation that focussed attention on urban space devoid of buildings. But I can't imagine the installation without the sound. As soon as the sound came up, it engaged the images so directly. It became integral.
    EVE EGOYAN: The sound definitely seemed to draw the images off the wall and into the space with the people. My work was on the ground and on the ceiling. On the ground I placed the same stones that were used on the Giardini walkways, and that made the floor both visual and auditory. We wanted to create an atmosphere where people, when they were looking at other people, would have a sense of themselves in the space. There were also moments of silence where the images went back to the walls and everyone was left just with themselves. We had eight channels along the ceiling and we had sounds that were really intense--a vaporetto and a streetcar. There were sounds from Venice and Toronto, and I had to work with the combination of them as if they were orchestral. For me, it was a question of thinking about the two cities and what their sounds represent. Toronto sounds are upbeat, they have vivacity, largeness and multi-ethnicity. Venice is slow, quiet, extremely transparent and really lovely to record. If there is such a word, it was autogenic. Collecting sounds was almost like creating a palette, which we then took to the pavilion to see if all the colours were appropriate.
    ROKEBY: Venice is an extraordinary city because there is such a depth-of-field of sound that you're always hearing people around the next corner. We really got into that and made a lot of recordings of a densely populated space like San Marco, and then individual footsteps going down isolated passageways, and everything in between. When we came back to Toronto, it was frustrating because the depth-of-field that was so seductive was gone. Mostly because of the fan noise from the office tower ventilators that are like sound blankets.
    EGOYAN: In Venice people didn't have to raise their voices above the general blur of sound, which is constant in Toronto. On our streets you can have an intimate conversation and some degree of privacy because there is so much sound around. In Venice, because you can hear everything, you can't do that. It can be irritating. We were in an apartment and you could hear everything the neighbours did. And where were the musicians? It would be quite an adjustment to practise there. I couldn't imagine it. But the way the sounds captured the two environments we were dealing with could be quite beautiful. Both of us were using intuition in the editing process about what sounds to use where. It was also a lot of fun because when you put the sound into a computer, it became so malleable, so manoeuvrable.
    AWAD: The pavilion is quite quirky. It's the only structure on the Biennale grounds that doesn't have a 90-degree angle and dealing with it can be a love-hate thing. From what we heard, this may be the first time that the space has been used in a highly sympathetic way. Architecturally speaking, I kept referring to it as a half-doughnut. What we did was fit all 120 feet of "Chinatown" on the outside wall of the pavilion, and then we built two walls in a v-shape on the inside, on which David could project the images he had gathered on San Marco. The sound piece, which was called "Channel," brought the two images together. It worked both spatially and metaphorically. The actual editing was a digital technology that spatialized the sound and moved it back and forth across the channel. We've been calling this place the Inter-city, primarily because it's between both cities while it exists as neither one. At the same time, it focusses attention on the interior of the city, which is something very deliberate. "Interstitial" is a great word for it; something in between that represents both but is neither.
    ROKEBY: When I was thinking about the flow through public space, there was always, in my mind, the notion of water, hence "Channel." And as Eve pointed out when we were standing in the pavilion after the stones were laid down, you did imagine you were in a drained canal. But the rawly expressed Inter-city was not as important to me as the basic notion of public space. What makes public space unique but also universal is that it's formed by people. It's still a socialized space and its very basic human needs, desires, likes and dislikes define how the space works and what happens there.
    AWAD: We're not trying to represent or recreate an urban environment; we're actually showing you things that you couldn't see otherwise, but they are things that are happening in front of you at every moment. It's as if our eyes were programmed differently, or if we were able to remember things differently. We were trying, in a very distilled way, to present qualities of the city that may be allusive.
    EGOYAN: I'm not a composer. I'm more of an interpreter but I think people associate me with being a composer because I play, almost exclusively, the music of my time. And I improvise, too. So it's in the nature of the things I do to find a way to invite people into hearing things without any fear. I work with new music and a lot of people who are familiar with classical music have real problems going to hear stuff they've never really heard before. I try to open people up to the pure act of listening.
    ROKEBY: In my work and in Michael's--in different ways--there is a perceptual displacement. This is a strategy that I've pursued for a long time; looking at the way a banal, familiar or completely readable image is radically renovated by putting it through some fairly straightforward filters. In a lot of my work I'm trying to remove the familiarity of things. This process of perceptual destabilization, especially in relation to very familiar stuff, is connected to my notion of language. It's a very expanded idea of language as any codification, where you stop dealing with raw experience and start replacing it with concepts, ideas and words. We have a tendency to get trapped in the terms and symbols we choose to apply to things. My hope is that destabilization will shake off those symbols, momentarily, and give us a way of re-reading and rejuvenating what is very conventional experience.

This page and facing page: Canadian Pavilion, 8th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, 2002, presented by Alphabet City and InterAccess. Photographs countesy Alphabet City and InterAccess.
Source: Border Crossings, November 2002, Vol. 21 Issue 4, p36, 5p
Item: 505021941

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