Tuesday, February 17, 2015

City,Assembled_Re-Imagining the City

The moving panorama was a ‘globalizing’ medium which could communicate the experience of the genius loci of distant cities and landscapes to a local audience. The images formed a continuous ‘panoramic’ landscape ‘view’ or a specific vantage point within an urban setting, quite often ones own city. The ‘views’ which brought the ‘natural’ landscape into the city were synonymous with a return to a bucolic setting where one can process the absorption of oneself into the natural world, to feel the escarpment of the land, the ineluctable idea of viewing a landscape before if was so readily crossed.  The panorama offered itself as a virtual vehicle to visit these distant lands without having to force the spectator to endure the trouble, or expense of locomotion.  A prerequisite of the panorama as an exhibition was that it made the spectator walk around it, promoting the idea of the Flâneur, a term which had been popularised by the works of Baudelaire during the 1850’s. The panorama transformed the town setting in landscape, giving it a feeling of its own mondial quality which was essential to the mobile visual experience of the Flâneur. This succeeded in disseminating the boundary between audio visual media in the mid 18th century and consequently brought about the formation of the ‘wired world’ and was seen as the symptomatic ‘cultural rupture’ of the era. The re-organisation of the regime of the visible.

The premise of the moving panorama is to transport the audience to a place which exists beyond the horizon, the quintessential desideratum of which being the dissolution of existing boundaries between local and  global. It communicates the temporality of the ‘dasein’, drawing upon time to illuminate and interpret the visual imagery of ‘place’. It is interesting that around the same time as the advent of the moving panorama there was a parallel invention, the Brewster Stereoscope in 1851, which although comparable in its objective to satisfy the desires of seeing objects on a global scale it achieved this in a much more introverted process. It in a sense removed the collective public ritual of viewing a moving panorama, individually distilling experience to a single viewer. The spectator has the prescience to understand both of these virtual vehicles were not real time experiences, which dulled the sense of presence in a place. The modern ‘wired world’ gives use this  synchronous here and now experience, visual media is piped, absorbed and replaced within our attention cortex at all possible moments; radio, television, and the internet plug us into this world daily. 

“The panorama can be read as a novelty on different levels: physical (the rotunda as an urban landmark), mental (new mode of virtual and immersive experience), commercial (capitalist enterprise), ideological (vehicle for nationalism and imperialism), communicative (panorama as a “mass medium”) and discursive (cultural metaphor)”.
Erkki Huhtamo , Global Glimpses for Local Realities

The ‘wired world’ has developed and impacted upon people, both physiologically and collectively. It conforms to the paradigms of imaginative experiences which we have had in the past, acting as a presage to our thinking on the digital and virtual world which we now inhabit and interact with. The engagement with digital visible media is not immediately apprehensible to the senses and it is initially inchoate to the spectator. I entered the moving panorama with the prescience of its content, I had already understood the narrative of its medium and content before I had ever set foot into the ‘Hall’ of the City Assembly House, a venue which I had researched and understood through drawings and writings, rendering it to me, as a room which was once for exhibition, art, music, drama and the disputatious academics. A room which was once home to the boulevardiers of the city, now returned to its collective. Laying Dormant. I first visited the exhibition during its set up, where I viewed the exhibition in its ‘constructing’ stage, where only the timber structure existed. I then visited the ‘completed’ exhibition with a small group of people, We moved straight from the entrance to the hall, anti clockwise through to the ‘nucleus’ of the exhibition, the moving panorama. It was the first time that I had seen the functioning ‘moving panorama’, understanding it primarily as an inexorable process of a looped moving video in the infinite conscious of the individual and consequently as a collateral descendant of the fixed image panorama. The use of the video helps soften the rigid dichotomy which exists between digital and print media, it allows for imperfections, spectra and alterations in scale. By scale, I mean the distortion and disorientation that is created by a moving image being projected on a cylindrical canvas. After a quick introduction on its workings by the creators of the exhibition, I had a quick walk around the exhibition to try and absorb the density of information which was made available. I did not succeed then, or thereafter, consequently. I left the exhibition understanding that I must return to invigilate for one evening.

4 hours. Four hours allows for the immersion into the exhibition, to feel the absolute phenomenology of the panorama. It is an exhibition which is free from rhetoric or romantic conceit. It recapitulates the exhibition as a collective and un-collective experience, in one sense, revealing the spectator to have always had an ulterior collective imagination.  Obversely, It an experience which I found to be fragmenting and anomic, heightening the feeling of ones own autonomy within the ‘space’. Very few people in Dublin have experienced this part of city as an empty street, which when coupled with the temporal simultaneity of the ‘populated’ moving image over the fixed panorama gives one a greater impression of the city as a collective consciousness. It contains no moral message, only simply to think for oneself, vesting the meaning onto the shoulders of the spectator. To observe is to understand, as we cannot denote reasoning which is deducted from theoretical content, as opposed to observation and experience. The process of invigilating (observing) gives one the time to develop theories and draw conclusions. 

The spectators came to the exhibition without any ‘a priori’ assumptions of how to interpret its content and meaning. They may view it as enigmatic or with cognizance. Upon arrival to the entrance of the ‘Hall’,  the spectator is greeted with the ‘aspect’ of the exhibition.  Here, one is given a choice, to ask the invigilator where the exhibition starts, or to make that decision for themselves. I noticed that many spectators took a much more ‘laissez-faire’ attitude to the navigation of the exhibition. Those that took this approach did not see the position of the invigilators desk as an ‘impasse’ but more of an ‘addendum’.  The movement and interaction of people within a space is the ‘raison d’etre’ of architectural theory. The advancement of the spectator through the exhibition occurs around the ‘exterior’ of the panorama structure, here, information regarding the Civic exhibition of 1914 is made available in both hard copy and through the media of digital representation, highlighting the contrast in ‘modernity’ during its 101 year dormancy. This mechanised form of ‘disseminating’ dense information is relying on the spectator to fully engage with the content, which is conceited. Many viewed these displays quickly for this reason. The circumambulation of the structure is continued around the structure, until one reaches a divergence from the ‘true’ course of the tangential to the ‘circle’, where they enter into the ‘interior’ of the panorama. On view to the spectator is the fixed image of the city, an image of South William Street, an image which was fresh in there mind only moments ago. The re-imagining of the immediate exterior ‘street scape’ within the interior. It is a representation of the cites deep topography and re-identifies the spectator with their environment. The ‘spectre’ of the moving image which inexorably moves around the panorama coupled with the composition of the accompanying sound induces oneself to become lost in a reverie, consequently bringing ‘life’ to the fixed image. The ‘synaesthesia’ of the exhibition is created through the deliberate use of the euphonious sounds of a street full of life and the unintended but inherent temperature of the room. While the spectators seem unperturbed by the temperature of the space, due in part to their ‘momentary’ visit, I found that the biting cold added to ones immersion into the exhibition. The effect of the sound is nuanced by the proximity and physical location of the listener with respect to the geographical point of the original sound recording.  This leaves one feeling a profound sense of feeling ontologically disorientated, an unsureness of what is reality and what is ‘virtual’ reproduction. 

The ephemerality of the panorama structure is in stark contrast with its surroundings, as the ‘Hall’ of City Assembly House bares its time ‘weathered’ surface to all. The room has been partially excarnated of its stucco finish, it’s flesh if you will, leaving behind its bare bone and thread bare brick structure. The imagined empty ‘space’ of the hall would feel like a thanatological study of the room, showing its history in layers, its birth, its death and its re-incarnation as an exhibition space for the collective. This temporality of the structure allows one to think of it more ‘laterally’,  maybe as a sculpture rather than a digital media installation, to contemplate the exhibition under different light and conditions as the evening moved on. A re-imagination of the views available to the spectator at floor level, to views which were of the original axiom that brought the panorama to the landscape to the city in the mid 19th century, the elevated perspective. If one were to view the entire exhibition from a point above the installation, to fully understand it’s context within the space, we could truly see the distinctive lineaments of the spectators as they move like modern day Flâneurs through the exhibition. How they navigate and interact around the ‘heliopause’ of the structure and also within the nucleus of the panorama. Maybe it would give an inclination to the exhibition as a collective experience, or alternatively , as a more fissiparious and introverted one.  

The ‘de res gestae’ of this panorama was to distil and animate the historic fabric of the urban environment, narrated by the collective of the time, to remind the collective Irish psyche of the fact that this is not our past, but what is happening right now. It brings contemporary anxieties to the forefront of the collective mind, without equivocation it embraces the affectless nature of the city as a spectacle.

“the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence.”
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Kevin O'Brien

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