Stefano de Martino
Los Angeles 2O12
It is no surprise that Los Angeles should trigger questions on the nature of urbanity, as it maintains an elusive status despite its vastness, its populations drifting, seemingly, from one non-place to another. The experience of the city from the ground belies its perception from a distance: it disappears as you approach it, like a super-zoomed image, it is barely there — like cranked up sound, it breaks up into distortions shimmering under the perrenial sun. The pretense of form shatters in this amplified void, randomness and unpredictability swaying over the all-present grid. Few cities can lay claim to such a systemic paradox — seemingly limitless freedom barely kept in check by incessant surveillance and absolute control over natural resources, the synthetic environments of speculators and developers implanted in the vain attempt to fix a point in the clouds, to make a hole in the water.
This view certainly privileged a reading of Los Angeles at once geological, infrastructural, meteorological — prompting its juxtaposition with political, social, and environmental issues all gathering momentum as the URBAN STATES idea was taking shape: the first rumblings of the Arab Spring, the burgeoning Occupy movements, a spate of manmade and natural catastrophes across the globe, but also the ongoing degradation of so much of urban America, not only because of the financial crisis. The question is: What do you see, and what do you really get?
URBAN STATES aims at the logics of space that redefine our daily and future experience, taking as a point of departure the observation that urbanity has disengaged itself from centralized geopolitical coordinates to inhabit other sites, to be fluid and temporal, to describe relational systems beyond the city as a morphological construct. URBAN STATES does not so much rest on the vast body of critique, or on the endless proliferation of master plans, fast cities, or formulaic solutions, but instead articulates diverse viewpoints, filters that highlight specific conditions in order to bring new correlations, possibilities.
Cities are happening in two contrasting ways: informality with scarce or no resources, and predictable complexity with an absurd amount of resources. The first represents the global mode of urban production, the latter, an infatuation with production — or excess — per se. There is however much common ground between these extremes, not least in the use of information in its broadest sense — as knowledge, as medium, as education.
As a platform, URBAN STATES tests the coincidences of research, criticism and perception for their different perspectives and to bring sites of common interest into view. If we ask ourselves what might be in five or ten years' time, now we should identify and produce new conversations and constellations.