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Seemannspullover Terminal:

Place and the Electrate Situation
William Tilson and John Craig NS|FC St.Pauli green

Composite image from Imaging the Miami River, Place-Based Virtual Reality, Florida Research Ensemble, 2004.
Composite image from „Imaging the Miami River“, Place-Based Virtual Reality, Florida Research Ensemble, 2004.

„When I stay in one Place, I can hardly think at all; my body had to be on the move to set my mind going.“ —Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

„We wish to see ourselves translated into stones and plants; we want to take walks in ourselves when we stroll around these buildings and gardens.“ —Frederich Nietzsche.

„From a thousand different sites, the production of place continues to be possible.“
—Ignacio de Solá-Morales.

Imaging Place

[1] The Florida Research Ensemble (FRE) [i] is working collectively and individually on the invention of new digital forms and the development of what Greg Ulmer, the group theorist, refers to as electracy. Electracy is to information technology what literacy is to alphabetic writing. Several projects have emerged out of the work that the group did on the Miami River including „Imaging Place,“ a place-based, virtual reality art project, which takes the form of a user navigated, interactive computer program that combines panoramic photography, digital video, and three-dimensional technologies to investigate and document situations where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of people in local communities. The goal of the project is to develop the technologies, the methodology and the content for truly immersive and navigable narrative, based in real places.

[2] Although the method borrows freely from the traditions of documentary still photography and filmmaking, it departs from those traditions by using nonlinear narrative structures made possible by computer technologies and telecommunications networks. The work is projected up to nine by twelve feet in a darkened space with a pedestal and a mouse placed in the center of the installation enabling the audience to interact with it.

Installation view of Imaging Place, 2006.
Installation view of „Imaging Place,“ 2006.

[3] Activated by the click of a mouse button, the interface leads the user from global satellite images to virtual reality scenes on the ground. Users can then navigate an immersive virtual space. Rather than the linear structure of traditional documentary cinema, „Imaging Place“ allows stories to unfold through non-linear database navigation and multilayered spatial exploration. „Imaging Place“ is therefore experienced as a process of navigation and excavation, allowing the user to uncover many layers of history and meaning. „Imaging Place“ documents sites of cultural significance that for political, social, economic, or environmental reasons are contested, undergoing substantial changes, or are at risk of destruction. This includes historic sites as well as sites of living culture that are being displaced by globalization.

[4] The project also seeks to expand the notion of documentary by exploring how place is internalized, mapping place as a state of mind. We have come to refer to this practice as Choragraphy. Chora is the organizing space through which rhetoric relates living memory to artificial memory. It is the relation of region to place. Chora gathers multiple topics associated with a geographical region into a scene whose coherence is provided by an atmosphere. This atmosphere or mood is an emergent quality resulting in an unforeseeable way from the combination of topics interfering and interacting with one another. „Choramancy“ is the practice of identifying and documenting Chora. [ii]

[5] „Imaging Place“ is designed to accommodate interdisciplinary collaboration conducted across institutions and over distances. It uses new technology to bring disparate bodies of knowledge together in a single hybrid form. The method attempts to bridge the gaps in understanding that exist between esoteric disciplines that have developed as a result of academic and industrial specialization. The technological tools are now available for bringing the work of experts and stories of local denizens together without sacrificing the depth and dimension of specialized knowledge and to connect the abstraction of highly specialized thinking with the visceral experiences of people on the ground. In addition to providing a form for the generation, dissemination and accumulation of interdisciplinary research and artistic production, „Imaging Place“ is designed as a model strategy for collaboration. It has its beginnings in a pilot project that emerged from a study of the Miami River in Miami, Florida.
Imaging the Miami River: Routes-Roots-Rhizomes

[6] According to popular legend, Miami is the first city in modern times to be founded by a woman and created with an image. Julia De Forest Sturtevant Tuttle had read William Bartram’s account of his travels in Florida and seen articles extolling the edenic virtues of this remote extension of the United States. When she arrived in Miami from Ohio in 1891, she faced an assortment of denizens inhabiting the scene: a Seminole community, a few entrepreneurs, pirate-adventurers and ne‘er-do-wells. Miami—a name derived from mayaimi which meant „big water“ in the language of the Mayaimis, Calusas, and Tequestas tribes, offered unrelenting mosquitoes, no natural resources and little solid ground. In 1895, Tuttle sent an invitation to railroad king Henry Flagler in the form of a fresh orange blossom from her garden. The orange blossom, resting on moist cotton inside a small box, required no explanatory note. Flagler, who was shivering in the Great Freeze in Ormond Beach, could not resist the message of the gift. The instantaneous mental geography created by this meta-image of Florida enticed Flagler to extend his rail line to Miami by 1896.

[7] This anecdote is most probably apocryphal but instructive-the orange blossom acted as a rhizome that invented the city of Miami. What makes the Miami River ripe for our study is that since this encounter, it has only been conceived in terms of images that mask its problems. Consequently, the river is now practically unknowable to the general public except through representations supplied largely by the tourism and entertainment industry, the chamber of commerce and the news media. We, the public, are estranged from the problem site and have to construct opinions, images and means of production solely from this material. The FRE plan is to counter this impasse by constructing a wide scope information landscape using the internet. Imaging the Miami River employs testimonials constructed from direct contact with the river using mystory techniques. [iii] The Miami River project is no less deliberate in the editing of images, selection of messages and driving ideology than those employed by the commercial sector, but the difference is that their motives are hidden and FRE’s paramount intent is to expose the limits of principle. [iv]

Navigational Interface with Greg Ulmer, still frame from Imaging the Miami River, Florida Research Ensemble, 2004. Aerial and satellite images the Florida Department of Transportation and NASA.
Navigational Interface with Greg Ulmer, still frame from „Imaging the Miami River,“ Florida Research Ensemble, 2004.
Aerial and satellite images the Florida Department of Transportation and NASA.

[8] Despite rapid gentrification since the project began, it still remains a place of work and, as Raymond Williams remarks: „a working country is hardly ever a landscape“ (read: „conceived as an image“). The Port of the Miami River is the fifth largest in Florida and generates significant income for the state from water related industries.

Inland Movement of Maritime Cargo by Truck from South Florida, U.S. Department of Transportation.
Inland Movement of Maritime Cargo by Truck from South Florida, U.S. Department of Transportation.

[9] The city of Miami is a quite literally a threshold between the US and Latin American and the Caribbean and the river is a hinge for this connection. Air and cruise ship traffic aside, the Miami River connects the city to over 72 ports of call throughout the hemisphere with most of the traffic operated by small shipping contractors in vessels of 100 tons or less.

Map of Caribbean Trade, William Tilson and Jeff Skoda-Smith, 1995.
Map of Caribbean Trade, William Tilson and Jeff Skoda-Smith, 1995.

[10] Overseeing this process are over 32 local, state and federal agencies-many with competing agendas—which are responsible for the regulation of the river zone. Through this bureaucratic entanglement, drift the denizens of the zone, immigrants, legal and otherwise, marginalized peoples, idiosyncratic personalities—rich and poor.

Agencies With Jurisdiction on the Miami River, U.S. Miami River Coordinating Committee.
Agencies With Jurisdiction on the Miami River, U.S. Miami River Coordinating Committee.

[11] In spatial terms, The Miami River clearly exemplifies the dynamic and interdependent relationship between the smooth space of the sea and the striated space of the city grid explored by Deleuze and Guattari in 1000 Plateaus. [v] The conditions of the river zone demonstrate an urban space where there is a mixture or „holey space“ that exists as constantly shifting degrees of interpenetrating social and physical realities. Everywhere there is leakage and contamination of one kind of space into the other. Like the Haitian boats listing at port along the river leaking bilge and taking on water, the unchecked pollution problems of the city seep into the river along its largely ignored watershed. [vi]

Impounded, still frame from Imaging the Miami River.
Impounded, still frame from „Imaging the Miami River.“

[12] The diagonal cut of the river changes the complexion of Miami by creating obstructions in the rational order of the grid clearly shown in composite satellite images. From within the city, the only perceptible recognition of river life occurs in the rhythmic rise and fall of the drawbridges that interrupt the traffic flow of the street. At street level, the irregularity of the grid coupled with limited public access prevents a clear view of the river. These obstructions „frustrate our rational inclinations to identify a center, a base or a foundation“ [vii] to the city’s identity.

Crossroads, Haitian trading vessel on the Miami River, Barbara Jo Revelle, 1998.
Crossroads, Haitian trading vessel on the Miami River, Barbara Jo Revelle, 1998.
The Impossible Walk

[13] „Crossroads“ provided us with an image of the aporia and the first test of choragraphy. How would the method work in other disciplinary settings? What could we learn from Revelle’s journey in rethinking the idea of placemaking in an electrate society? Tilson constructed a graduate seminar on the identity of public space, which used the Miami River as both context and subject. It was consciously built as an experiment in pedagogical hybridity. The subject matter, the mapping of psychogeographic space, falls in arena of the traditional seminar—the realm of rhetoric and discourse. The resultant body of work however, is located in the studio practice of construction.


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