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Eyes that see: urban trompe-l’oeil as a critical act

Eyes that see: urban trompe-l’oeil as a critical act

Stoppani, Teresa (2011) Eyes that see: urban trompe-l’oeil as a critical act. Ultima Thule: Journal of Architectural Imagination, 1 (1). ISSN 1839-9991

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How much can visual representations of the city reveal of their object? And, how to represent an object that is by definition multiple and changing, and always escapes the visual while heavily flirting with it? The visualization of the city is never neutral but always already political, even when it is not aimed at direct activism but destined for the art gallery. It is here that subtleties of expression and interpretation can play (and trick) each other, filtered by physical removal and temporal delay. It is here that the social and the political critique of the city infiltrates its very institutions and can denounce them from within. Representations of the city that are not only selective of the realities they register, but also performative of ‘other’ spaces that exacerbate and re-compose those realities (fleeting, or so engrained that we no longer ‘see’ them), produce an important critical trompe-l’oeil. The traditional painterly trompe-l’oeil produces the illusion of spaces that are not there as an extension of our space; the contemporary urban trompe-l’oeil produces the illusion of spaces that are familiar and conventionally represented (and therefore perceived in distraction), while in fact it confronts us with city images that we normally do not (want to) see. Masked in established representational conventions and styles, these images include and celebrate those details which, because we are too used to them, are unconsciously edited out: clues of forms of development, occupations and transformations that have long replaced established canons and daily reinvent the contemporary city.

Emily Allchurch’s careful photocollages of ancient stones and contemporary telesurveillance devices, framed by famous iconographies, reconstruct a European city (Rome, Paris, London) that still has to deal with the presence of its past while hosting in it a present of immigration, as-yet-undefined forms of integration, ephemeral occupations, and social and political discontent (Urban Chiaroscuro, after Piranesi’s Carceri).

Sohei Nishino’s Diorama Map worldwide project (covering, so far, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Shanghai, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Istanbul and London) composes thousands of ‘discarded’ photographs to construct throbbing personal images of world cities that, while somehow faithful to their original, discover similarities and continuity rather than differences and estrangement.

Yang Yongliang’s Heavenly City pictures and video animations resemble traditional shan-shui (mountain and streams) works, but are in fact narrating a suspended vertical Shanghai constructed from still photographs stitched together. Mountains, streams and clouds here are made of cranes, skyscrapers and powerlines, tightly and vertically congested to reinvent a new nature of the hyperurban.

This paper argues that these very recent works by young artists have the power to make us see a city that our eyes do not (yet want) to see: a city of continuity, intertwinings and interpenetrations, beyond the ties of community, the types of architecture and obsolete notions of public space. Beyond recent discourses on a city of fragmented space, gated exclusivity and lost identity, these works define a new form of ‘city-ness’: a city of new continuity, whose essence lies not in objects and in walls that divide, but in a new connective tissue that is yet to be understood. Among other things, they help us to ‘see’ time, the temporal dimensions of city spaces.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: [1] Published in Ultima Thule: Journal of Architectural Imagination. Editors: Dr Sean Pickersgill and Jennifer Harvey, University of South Australia, Adelaide.
Uncontrolled Keywords: representations of the city, photocollage, urban trompe-l’oeil, Emily Allchurch, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Sohei Nishino, Yang Yongliang, Antonio Canal (Canaletto)
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Architecture, Design & Construction
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Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:19

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