bodycity - a visual arts project in three parts

bodycity - a visual arts project in three parts

"My body is made of the same flesh as the world.. this flesh of my body is shared by the world"
Maurice Merleau-Ponty1

bodycity sets out to explore the complex ideas surrounding the human body in relation to the cities in which we live. How might our material, political and social environments alter perceptions, our existential experience, and our sense of being in the world?

New and Old at Dublin DocklandsIf we consider city and body not as distinct entities but rather as active forces - one seeping into the other - interconnected through a series of disparate flows, energies and events, where we project fragments of self onto others and onto spaces we move through and inhabit, remember and imagine - how does the city, both the material and social environment - which we produce and build, occupy and move through, inscribe itself on our corporeality, and, in turn, how does the body as it is lived -as experiential body -allow the world to be for us?

Are not body and city mutually defining? They share a common language (limbs, brain, heart, lungs, arteries and veins, skin, sex and blood), and can be understood through both psychological and socio-political perspectives - shelter, power, control, need, resistance, connection, expansion, boundary, memory, fear, anxiety, breakdown.

Grand Canal BasinThe city2 as lived spatiality, affects the body - the behaviour, speech, gestures, even the physical looks and dress codes of the people who live in it - providing a context in which social rules and expectations are internalised, habituated and broken, ensuring (to a degree) social conformity, ritual and risk and positioning social marginality at a safe and bounded distance (ghettoisation). The body's3 changing needs extends the limits of the city - (re)forming it, opening rifts and vaults, imposing a mode of existence from within, forming linkages to an ever complex constellation of networks from without - continually forging a general psychic trait on the metropolis.

Grand Canal  Docks signIf city and body supplement and define each other, how does the contemporary city, with its tendencies towards hyper reality and cybernetics, alter the very rhythms of society and affect the minutiae of everyday life? Does the contemporary city, city of the eye - where the concern is with the dominance of our visual realm, with its propensity to speedily deliver antiseptic, phobic architecture, the relentless grid schemes of market driven global economics - deny us a more haptic, sensual experience, numbing emotions, displacing and isolating bodies, emphasising an impotence within the urbanised populace?

"The world of the eye, the only sense that is fast enough to keep pace with the technological world, forces us to live increasingly in a perpetual presence, flattened by speed and simultaneity which can lead to feelings of alienation, and inertia - disengaging and isolating the body." 4A certain lifestyle is evoked that is not a life-style mediated by culture and tradition but is rather developed from an 'accumulation of images' what Italio Calvino calls a 'rainfall of images', or from external value systems that are somehow estranged from lived experience. "Our bodies and movements are in constant interaction with the environment; the world and the self inform and redefine each other constantly. What is missing from our dwellings today are the potential transactions between body, imagination and environment. The body knows and remembers."5

Construction at Dublin DocklandsThe modern technological cityscape presents an increasingly homogenous, regulated environment, dominated by surveillance, where non-place is everyplace, where computer screen is city square6, and interface is via terminals, keyboards, Data Suits - prostheses that transform our bodies into cyborgs- have we become, as Paul Virillio claims, exiles from the terrestrial horizon?7 Have we reached a crisis, a complete breakdown of self, of city, of body, where life is out of balance, with a loss of emotional engagement to our surroundings and where technological intensity and media saturation increasingly upsets all of our social structures? Where the need to experience the 'real' provokes extreme forms of behaviour, mirroring the violent and sexualised imagery to which we are continually subjected. Or in the catastrophic case of geo-political war zones where body and city are weapons in strategic military and terrorist operations, spectacular society producing its own elements of unpredictable and revolutionary behaviour.

And yet are not, body and city in their constant struggle for survival, for betterment, finding and (re)inventing new means to transcend the banality, the vacuum, to overcome the strategies of architecture, to liberate our uncentred, dislocated selves from fixed attributions of function - opening up to more multi-faceted arrangements of existence? As there is no perfect body, there is no perfect city, and if bodies are not culturally pre-given,- except in extreme situations or in the case of rapid or coerced transformation - built environments cannot alienate the very bodies they produce. Perhaps a new form of freedom emerges out of the skyscraper, the computer screen and motorway, releasingNew building at night us from a responsibility and a constant commitment to human interaction, giving time to retreat into self-absorption and solitude, exploring our private obsessions, fantasies and imaginations. Or more importantly, are not cities where people live closely together an indispensable factor in the generation of power, as Hannah Arendt writes in The Human Condition "only when men live so close together that the potentialities for action are always present will power remain with them and the foundations of cities, is therefore, the most important material prerequisite to power"8 Yet the city as facilitator of capital accumulation and legitimating of social cohesion is always struggling to expel the conflicts that it produces. As Rosalyn Deutsche in her essay Architecture of the Evicted so well articulates. Redevelopment programmes and planning towards the ideal spatial solutions creates homogenisation built out of a deep upheaval - a major reorganisation of people through gentrification, displacement and economic migration, which in Deutsche words systematically destroys the physical conditions of survival - housing and services - for the low income residence, the poor and dispossessed, while developing luxury houses, office towers and recreational facilities to serve the new corporate workforce and tourist industries.9

So what of counter-effect, and of resistance -humanity's desire to work against despair, to strive for the survival and extension of public space that surely lies at the heart of democracy. And what too of the renewed celebration of the specificity of material place - heightened surely by the alarm bells of global warming? Now, maybe more then ever is the desire to find alongside and beneath the fabricated technologies, the opaque and overlooked, the stubborn and forgotten, the entropic corners, within the interstices and margins, those spaces in-between, left behind and to re-shift our attention back to the organic, the concrete, the shadows and the slow. To seek out inflection - the layered peculiarities in place - cultivating a resistance to universal technique, emphasising the tectonic rather than the scenographic. To resensualise. In an ever-changing complex world, body city remain unfixed, uneven, uncertain in the continual process of (re)production.


Cliodhna Shaffrey - September 2007


1Maurice Merleau-Ponty The Chiasm in the Visible and Invisible

2 City - "a complex interactive network linking together different social activities, processes, and relations. The city brings together economic and informational flows, power networks, forms of displacement, management, and political organisation, interpersonal, familial, and extra-familial social relations, and an aesthetic/economic organization of space and place to create a semi permanent but ever changing built environment." (Note is from Elizabeth Grosz's Body City, in Sexuality and Space, ed Beatriz Colmina, Princeton Press, 1992)

3Body - "The body -the flesh, organs, nerves, muscles, skeletal structure is so to speak organically/biologically/naturally incomplete: it is indeterminate, amorphous, a series of uncoordinated potentialities which require social triggering, ordering, and long-term "administration", regulated in each culture and epoch by what Foucault has called the "micro-technologies of power" (discipline and punish) - the body becomes a human body through inscription and coding, through familial ordering and sexual not only can it undertake the general social tasks required of it, but so that it becomes an integral part of or position within a social network, linked to other bodies and objects." (Note is from Elizabeth Grosz's Body City, in Sexuality and Space, ed Beatriz Colmina, Princeton Press, 1992

4 Juhani Pallasmaa The Eyes of the Skin Architecture and the Senses

5From Juhani Pallasmaa The Eyes of the Skin

6 The manipulative bias of such ideologies as openly expressed in Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradictions in Architecture (1966) where the author asserts that Americans don't need piazzas since they should be at home watching television.

7(Paul Virillio, The Overexposed City)

8 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chiacago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), p154

9 Rosalyn Deutsche Architecture of the Evicted Strategies 31990


Dublin Docklands Development Authority

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