polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Spontaneous Art, Technology and Urban Spaces

by Min Li Chan

Watching a Current TV episode from a year back on "shadow art" in Brooklyn made me consider the role of spontaneous art in urban spaces, and the way they shape and transform the neighborhood ethos. In its most malicious form, spontaneous art is a euphemism for vandalism. But with the right motivations and nuance in execution, spontaneous art - especially if ephemeral - can renew an urban environment. Small strokes of unexpected ingenuity spotted on the side of the street can provide a sense of (re)discovery - they save us from being jaded, from failing to be tourists in our own home cities, provoking us to regard our urban environments with fresh eyes.

Imagine if the technologies that enable mass-scale digital art became as commonplace as the paint brush or wads of papier-mache - instead of art mimicking life, it could well be the case of the concrete and tangible aspiring to the liberties and improbabilities of the virtual world. In one example, the folks at Urbanscreen provide a glimpse of what digital art can do to transform buildings on the fly through projection technologies.

 To take the idea train a little further, imagine what mass-scale digital art could do transform difficult, bleak, poorly designed, urban spaces. Not too long ago, la crise des banlieues, a meme resurfacing as a result of the French riots in 1995, compelled us to ponder over the role of architecture and design in contributing to unhappiness and dissent in urban/suburban life. Could mass-scale digital art such as these projections play a larger role to retroactively alter and fix where the concrete world failed? Or is this purely naivete, without the completeness of systemic changes, that address deep-seated sociopolitical and economic issues that often lie at the heart of the matter?