Data-flanerie and promenadology . A writing and reading of the city through the body.

by Geert Vermeire

Urban Emptiness is an interdisciplinary investigation of soundscapes, silence and emptiness in Limassol, Cyprus and is a parallel project to related actions in various cities such as Athens, Edinburgh, Brussels and New York which all form part of the international network Urban Emptiness.

The project focuses on the importance of real and imaginary/hidden landscapes and soundscapes in the urban environment of Limassol exploring different conditions of intimacy within new understandings. Through actions which involved various methodological strategies, the outcomes contribute to the discourse pivoting around the value of an experiential/performative understanding of silence and emptiness in urban life. The core of the project consisted of open workshops where participants were introduced to open access locative media software platforms to create site-specific and interactive media walks. Participants were invited to examine and create geolocated narratives based on different layers and experiences of the living environment and were encouraged to explore the creative use of mobile devices and the possibilities of locative media as an artist’s tool.

The trajectory of workshops included a series of sensory walks whose objective was to introduce the cultural aspects of sound and the complexity of the act of listening in a defined place. This dimension of the project negates the process that allows some social expressions considered as cultural heritage as it widens and sometimes contradicts the physical and mental connections to the local environment of activities and sounds specific to place. The sensory walks approached each city using the process of a poetic disorganisation of space, a “white blindness”, a suspension of the hegemony of seeing in order to recuperate the residual use of the other senses. In this manner, this project is a critical confrontation against the excessive politics of seeing, a promenadography, a simultaneous writing and reading of the city through the body and all the senses.

The sensorial experience of the city, between the space of the freedom of the body and the coercive space, between the auditive and the haptic, is an impulse for a new type of nomadism or a new urban ontology. As such, the incarnation of the city receives an answer in a three-dimensional perception of space, from the depth of the contours and from the sensory protuberances of the urban morphology:

“This noise also resolves itself into informa­tion via the neatly complicated box of the inner and outer ear, but we often build equally refined boxes around our bodies: walls, cities, houses, monas­tic cells. Sounds reach the monad softly, through doors and windows.” (Serres, 2008:107)1

The voice of the city, as a sonic manifestation reinvents itself as graphein, an inscription of the body, a promenadographic space, including an interactive scheme, people and technological systems in a reconstructed aesthetic urban environment. Public spaces were rethought and recreated as events of sonority, in an urbanophonic dimension, with walking as an instrument of perception and interaction, confronting soundscapes with the idiosyncrasy of the contemporary city of Limassol. We configure the limits of a sonic habitat by the amplitude of the affective event and not by the architectural gestures of a rigid and permanent rational edification, in a city-theatre for an act of “listen in wonder” or contemplating, to counteract on this way the panopticon by which we filter today our urban experience. Point of departure is the Spaziergangwissenschaft, the science of walking as an instrument for urban transformation through minimal interventions, as conceived by the sociologist Lucius Burckhardt.

By consequence, the localisation of silence, emptiness and soundscapes is longing for an experience of negotiation that is equally aesthetic and social, a sonic and phonic point that cancels the reciprocal ignorance of the civic anonymity for a social inclusion in the aura of a permutation of various sensorial levels of the body movement in space. The kinetics of the surprised body in daily walks adjusts and widens the perception in relation the own urban environment, eliminating the prefabricated representations in favour of a mental urban image constructed through the complete sensoriality of the body. As such, the objective was to restitute the body to the city as a place of sketching yourself in the daily existence, mapping morphological and emotional realities in the sphere of the daily life.

The pedestrian dynamics that refines the image of the city through a promenadologic stylistics are presented as an archive of the atmosphere, the history and the presence of the events of the city, not only as a visual mental map, but above all, as a sensorial map of the organic reflexes of the body in the urban space. We emphasise on the substitution of the visual ontology of the city with its sensorial reconstruction, mapping olfactic, haptic, sonic, gustative and kinaesthesic landscapes. An intense phenomenological exploration transforms the walk to a “footnote” in the veined texture of the city, filled with folds where the urban heartbeat reaches the surface, the social microclimate and its historic patina. We focused on the use of locative media software, allowing touring a place while living an augmented experience with sounds, images and video, connected with the actual spaced visited.

Locative media can help in the investigation, documentation and enhancement of the aural and immaterial heritage and are considered as an intervention in the perception of the urban space, understood as a stream of complex actions, as a performance and as an act of collective memory and events. Between fiction and reality, the focus is the intervention on those strange or familiar territories and converting them into mutant spaces. Touring them under the effects of sound and video reveals a hidden city filled of personal stories and interferences. Our world is transformed in a space of interaction and participation with a diversity of layers of information, physical and digital, which modulate, transform and extend our reality. Working with locative media technologies we connect with a new type of artistic tool, that invites the user to participate and to rethink their environment in a playful not invasive way. Via these technological tools we introduced the figure of the data-flaneur, putting the ear, if not in a higher level than the vision, or at least with the same importance as the eye, extending the experience of the perception of the city, understood as a reality that multiplies itself in each listening act and which incessantly builds our reality.

The promenadology becomes an instrument for social observation of the city. To caption the urban reality in sensory meanings, emphasising the feeling, refers to a multimodal body in a physical implication in the city space. On this way, the cognitive dimension of the urban space articulates itself in a personalised urban layer, by means of a somatic choreography.

“The relation of the man who walks his city, his streets, his quarters, whether he already knows them or discovers them in the course of his steps, is first of all an affective relationship and a corporeal experience. A sound and visual background accompanies its wandering, his skin registers the fluctuations of the temperature and reacts to the contact of objects or of the space. He crosses cloths of painful or happy smells. This sensorial framework gives a pleasant or unpleasant tone to the route along the streets depending on the circumstances. The experience of urban walking asks for the whole body, it is a constant invocation of meaning and of the senses.” (Breton, 2000 : 121)2

Bibliography

Breton, Le David. Éloge de la marche : Métailié,Paris, 2000
Burckhardt, Lucius. Warum ist die Landschaft schön? Die Spaziergangswissenchaft, Kassel :Martin Schmitz, Kassel, 1980
Serres, Michel. Les cinq sens : Bernard Grasset, Paris, 1985

Notes

  1. Translated by Margaret Sankey and Peter Cowley. Continuum, 2008 from the original: “Ce bruit se redresse aussi en information à travers la boîte joliment compliquée de l’oreille externe et interne, mais souvent nous bâtissons des boîtes tout aussi raffinées autour de nos corps : murailles, cilles, maisons, cellules monastiques. A travers portes et fenêtres, la monade perçoit doucement.”^
  2. Own translation from the original: “La relation de l’homme qui marche à sa cité, à ses rues, à ses quartiers, qu’il les connaisse déjà ou les découvre au fil de ses pas, est d’abord une relation affective et une expérience corporelle. Un fond sonore et visuel accompagne sa déambulation, sa peau enregistre les fluctuations de la température et réagit au contact des objets ou de l’espace. Il traverse des nappes d’odeurs pénibles ou heureuses. Cette trame sensorielle donne au cheminement au fil des rues une tonalité plaisante ou désagréable selon les circonstances. L’expérience de la marche urbaine sollicite le corps en son entier, elle est une mise en jeu constante du sens et des sens.”^

Credits

Curator: Geert Vermeire
Coordination: Helene Black, Yiannis Colakides

Participants: Students of Cyprus University of Technology Limassol, Faculty of Communication and Media Studies (led by Dr Angeliki Gazi & Dr Yiannis Christidis), the University of the Aegean, Department of Cultural Technology and Communication (led by Dr Nikos Bubaris), the Parsons New School of Design, New York (led by Dr Lydia Matthews), Drama School of the Athens Conservatoire (led by Adonis Volanakis), RITCS School of Arts – Radio Dept Brussels (led by Dr Guy Debievre), National Technical University of Athens – School of Architecture (led by Dr Georgios Parmenidis, Dr Nelly Marda and Olga Ioannou), Edinburgh College of Arts – ESALA (led by Dr Christos Kakalis, Stella Mygdali) and Marielys Burgos Melendez, Stefaan van Biesen, Geert Vermeire, Ismini Gatou, Andromachi Vrakatseli, Elena Pillakouri, Evdokia Georgiou, Maria Andreou and the Mind the Gap collective.

Seminar speakers: Dr Nikos Bubaris (Aegean University), Haris Pellapaisiotis and Polymnia Tsinti (University of Nicosia), Dr Yiannis Christidis (Cyprus University of Technology), Stefaan van Biesen (sound artist/ walking artist, Brussels), Marielys Burgos Melendez (dance artist/researcher, Puerto Rico), Via Skype: Dr Christos Kakalis (Urban Emptiness Network organiser, University of Newcastle) and Stella Mygdali (Urban Emptiness Network organiser, University of Edinburgh).

Photography: Evdokia Georgiou, Stefaan van Biesen

Sponsors: Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture, Medochemie, Urban Emptiness Network.

The seminar was organised by NeMe & the Cyprus University of Technology.
Exhibition was organised by NeMe with the support of the Cyprus University of Technology, the University of the Aegean, the Parsons New School of Design, Drama School of the Athens Conservatoire, RITCS School of Arts, National Technical University of Athens and the Edinburgh College of Arts.