So as Dogen said, “Time goes from present to past.” This is not true in our logical mind, but it is in the actual experience of making past time present. There we have poetry, and there we have human life.”
- Shunryu Suzuki
A number of years ago I read a book called On Intelligence by Jeff Hakwkins, who is the inventor of the palm pilot among other things, and who turns out to be an avid amateur neuroscientist. The theory in his book which interested me most was that your neocortex (the layers of membrane that sit around your brain) are memory storage units and what you actually see when you use your eyes is a memory of what was there, or what you have seen before. Only if something drastic changes does your brain have to use some energy to look again.
This sounded like an interesting theory; how could your brain, something much slower than a modern computer chip in terms of processing electrical inputs, be able to do so many complex things so quickly? It’s powerful not to have to think every time you do something. Not having to think about the size, shape and feel of a cup reduces the amount of power required from your brain to pick it up. Once again, an elegant solution by your body and brain.
A quote from On Intelligence :
” Imagine you are about to have dinner in an unfamiliar restaurant and you want to wash your hands. Even though you have never been in this building before, your brain predicts that there will be a restroom somewhere in the restaurant with a basin suitable for hand washing. How dies know this? … You look for expected patterns that let you find the restroom quickly. This kind of behavior is a creative act; it is predicting the future by analogy to the past. We don’t normally think of this as being creative, but it very much is”
Recently I noticed a phenomenon in my own life which made this theory really come to life. I am a new parent, and one of the things that new parents do on a regular basis is to check that their precious new baby is still breathing.
This might sound simple : just look at the baby and see if his chest is moving up and down, right? Wrong. I found when I did this that at a glance I could not see any movement (worrying) but if I looked again much more closely engaging my brain more completely I could pick up the slight movements which showed that my new baby was indeed breathing. Very strange, until I thought of Jeff Hawkins’ theory. What was I really seeing when I glanced, just a memory? I think so, my brain was giving me the minimal amount of information to tell me that my baby still exsists and is sleeping on the bed but not wanting to use up more energy it skimmed over the vital information of the small movements of his chest which show me that he is breathing.
I really enjoy when theory comes into practice: when you see an idea that seems very abstract realize itself in reality. The next time you look at something, look again. There might be a whole world of detail you are missing.
Read On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins
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The CNN next list TV show and blog made a great video about our recent project Layered SPURA. The video talks about the history of the area and then visual urbanist approach taken by Buscada in creating dialogue between communities in the area.
Getting interviewed on a cold February morning by the CNN crew.
The Layered SPURA / City Studio project, headed by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, explores this complex site using a hybrid approach of pedagogy, art and research, and involves long-term collaborations between Lower East Side community organizations and students in Bendiner-Viani’s City Studio, a part of the New School’s Urban Programs. The Layered SPURA exhibition, a culmination of four years of student, faculty, and community collaboration which appeared at the New School’s Sheila Johnson Design Center in Winter 2012, does not suggest solutions for a place beleaguered by top-down planning, but rather hopes to spur new conversations amongst people with different points of view about SPURA’s past, present and future.
Find out more about this project : Layered SPURA
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Get a preview of the exhibition
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Please join us on October 7, 8 & 16th at our residency at Creative Time’s Living As Form, “a vast collection of documentation of 100 socially engaged projects from the last twenty years and from locations around the globe.”
Our residency features a new iteration of our ongoing work on the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA), in collaboration with Temporary Services’ MARKET.
More on the Buscada SPURA project
More on MARKET
You may know SPURA as the parking lots along Delancey Street. More than forty years ago, the area was razed for “slum clearance” and few renewal projects have been so contested. Very few of the originally-planned buildings were ever built, and many people were once displaced from the site, some now live on it, and many people live in the blocks around it. Many different communities claim SPURA, and imagine different futures for it.
Our work builds on Gabrielle’s City Studio class at the New School, and considers the past, present and future of this contested site, collaborating with community organizations, and using a visual urbanist approach to create a series of annual exhibitions to create space for dialogue.
On October 7th, 8th and 16th, in residence at MARKET, we continue to present and explore the multiple stories of SPURA. Please join us, and students from four years of City Studio us to tell your own SPURA stories, to talk with others at our booth, and to discuss the future of the neighborhood.
We will also be hosting a walking tour, on October 8th at 2pm, in collaboration with Dutch artists Bik Van der Pol, to explore the layered nature of SPURA, the hidden and intersecting voices behind the often perplexing physical, political and personal landscape of SPURA.
Sign up for our walking tour
Friday, October 7, Saturday October 8, Sunday October 16th, 12-8pm
Special guided tour on the complexities of SPURA : October 8, 2pm
the historic Essex Street Market, SE corner of Essex & Delancey Streets
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This is a spur of the moment video (shot and edited on an iPod) we made on a recent visit to the PM Gallery & Pitzhanger Manor House in Ealing, west London. The exhibition shows the work of two distinct designers, Robin Day & Lucienne Day. The exhibition shows their individual work, and crucially shows how as a collaborative couple, they influenced each other to create new forms. It was an inspiration for us to see such an interesting dialogue between their work.
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On March 25th, the 100th anniversary of the Triangle fire, we were honored to attend the centennial events on Washington Place – with the crowd filling the blocks from Washington Square Park all the way to Broadway. We were also excited to see objects from the Open Archive filling the jumbotron screen above the speakers on the platform. It was wild to see our good friend Amy Reddinger’s sign from the Madison, WI rallies (which she had contributed to the archive) beaming above the trees, while the inspiring Mary Bell from the Wisconsin Education Association Council was speaking. Finally, it was phenomenal to have stories and voices from the Open Archive featured on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show that morning.
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In late January, Buscada attended the first of a series of meetings hosted by MAPP International Productions to plan a new arts and community-engagement project about global interdependence, inspired by the interdependence movement championed by Benjamin Barber and others.
The meeting brought together a collection of artists, writers and performers to explore ideas of civic engagement and art practice.
We took this opportunity to ask the diverse group one deceptively simple question :
How do you get people to engage in dialogue?
This is the beginning of a new project in collaboration with MAPP International Productions to understand the processes and practices of engaging civic dialogue, art practice and pedagogy. This project is a continuation of our work begun with The America Project Teaching Method.
How do you answer this question for yourself? How do you encourage dialogue? We hope this is the start of a long and productive conversation.
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Most New Yorkers know SPURA, but often, unless they’re Lower East Siders, they don’t know that they do. Many have walked through the LES along Delancey Street, noticing the parking lots on the south side of the street near the Williamsburg Bridge. Or, they’ve walked down Norfolk to Grand Street, noting the unevenness of development and an odd sense of unfinished-ness they can’t put their finger on.
This is SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. It is more than six square blocks that 42 years ago were subject to highly contested “slum clearance” – resulting in the displacement of many people - and an unfinished “renewal,” with few planned buildings actually built.
These decades-old events have resulted in one of the largest and longest-standing undeveloped city-owned plots of land. SPURA is at the center of Lower East Side debates on affordable housing, debates which have sometimes been painful and highly race- and class-based. There are passionate communities involved in the question of SPURA, communities which for 42 years have been unable to reach productive dialogue and negotiation.
Each year for the past three, I have taught a class called City Studio which takes a visual urbanist approach to SPURA. I teach students creative ethnographic, visual, archival, and community-based methods to understand and represent SPURA’s contested urban space.
My classes research in archives and with community members, take part in community planning processes, and work in partnership with our community collaborators, GOLES, Place Matters and the Pratt Center for Community Development. Finally, each year’s class creates and curates an exhibition to help envision the site’s past, present and future(s), and try in one small way to spark, and create space for, productive and peaceful dialogue on the area.
This week was a big one for SPURA itself and for my class.
Today saw City Studio 2010′s final critique (one project, “Framing SPURA”, above) – and it was one that bodes very well for our exhibition which will open at common room 2 in February 2011. Images from all of the projects in the final critique are here, on flickr.
This week, SPURA itself has been in the spotlight. The question of SPURA has been under consideration by Community Board 3 for the past few months, in fascinating conversations, and some heated debates since October about the possibilities for affordable housing on the site. This Monday saw the debates grow more heated – but led a step closer toward agreement, and, importantly, to the potential for a larger stake for affordability on the site. The next few months will be crucial for SPURA – and what its development means for those displaced from the site, for those living in the neighborhood, and for the city at large.
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This fall, we’ve been developing an exciting new collaborative curatorial project, working with the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition and Ruth Sergel. In honor of the upcoming centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 2011, we’ve developed and designed the Triangle Fire Open Archive, a curated online archive of community-created objects and stories. We’re encouraging people to submit objects culled from personal & public collections, and to use these objects to tell their own stories relating to the history of the Fire, or to the labor, immigration and gendered issues of the Fire that are still critical and resonant today.
Through the collaborative curation of the Open Archive, we’ll be able to see objects, and read narratives, never before seen together.
On Monday December 13, we had our first evening of collecting objects, working with Lucy Oakley and Marci Reaven’s class at NYU, who have recently curated the soon-to-open Grey Art Gallery exhibition, “Art/Memory/Place: Commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire”.
The students did a phenomenal job of writing new reflections on their favorite objects they’ve found in researching the Triangle Fire – some drawn from public collections (as above, a portion of an image from the Kheel Center), and some drawn from their own family albums. Many contributed these objects (in digital form) to the Open Archive, and we’re thrilled to have started down the path building the Triangle Fire Open Archive with them.
We look forward to many more people getting involved, contributing objects, and telling stories through the Open Archive in the months to come – either through our online tool or at our open public events, when we’ll help photograph and digitize people’s objects.
All the digital material collected will be donated and archived by the Kheel Center which hosts the preeminent website on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The site will go live in January of 2011 – we’ll keep you posted!
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Our 2010 Urban Encounters festival at Tate Britain this past June was a great success, and I thought it worthwhile to reflect on our intentions for this year’s event.
This organization, co-founded by myself and Paul Halliday, and now a Buscada project as well, addresses the dialogue and practice of visual urbanism.
This year’s main event, Urban Encounters: Routes and Transitions at Tate Britain on 29 May 2010, was inspired by the multiple meanings of these words : routes and transitions. All of the talks will soon be available for download and listening on iTunes U through Tate Britain, but meanwhile, a short explanation of the intentions an interests behind this year’s main event.
We were particularly interested in both embodied local routes, as well as global flows and the individuals who experience both of these kinds of movements through space – as well as through time.
The other part of this theme – transitions – was been inspired by our interest in change – and its relationship to the city, as well as the city-dweller. What does a still (or even a moving yet finite) visual medium have to say about change? about the change of landscapes? the change or transitions or adaptations made by people themselves, traveling these global and local routes in the processes of migration and life otherwise? Are there traces that can be found, or new geographies made through the visual?
The panels addressed these routes and transitions through three major themes -
Global Routes: Personal & political addressed global routes / global flows of capital, colonialism and war, as they intersect with personal routes and connections through space and time.
Making Transitions: Practice & location considered the ways in which migrants and migrant stories inhabit, and create, locations – from front rooms to municipal buildings, housing developments or the space of radio waves. This panel asked how the process of “making space” is a part of the movement between nations and neighborhoods?
The Remembered Road: Archives & pasts explored the way in which archives from the official to the personal can be read, re-read, or reinterpreted, to find the traces of different kinds of migrant, and mobile, histories – and to understand cities’ multiple pasts.
There are some enormous questions here, and some thrilling answers and provocations were posed by our speakers’ work.
Yet, a mix of dialogue and practice is at the heart of Urban Encounters – we encourage dialogue amongst our panelists as well as with our audience. In building the field of visual urbanism and we hope that you will engage in a dialogue with us. I hope that those of you who were not able to join us at the event will listen to the podcast when it becomes available – and for those that were able to join us at this or past years, please get in touch to continue the dialogue here, via facebook, twitter, or email at info [at] urbanencounters.org.
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