Creative Time 2013: Jesse Rodenbiker

On October 25 and 26, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the California College of the Arts are partnering once again to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph that touches upon the topics relevant to the summit’s theme: Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century City. This posting is by Jesse Rodenbiker, PhD student in Geography at UC Berkeley.
Two Eiffel Towers stand in nearly identical proportions in vastly different locales. Their embodied histories and the meanings they signify are highly divergent. So are the symbolic and material relations to those who live in their vicinity. What does the Tianducheng’s Eiffel Tower replica connote? How is it approached on-the-ground by those who live daily in the shadow as well as those displaced residents moved for its construction?  What statements of capitalism, art, intra-colonial state formations or the neo-colonial present does it convey?  Does it constitute a form of urban forgery or urban mimesis in creation of a make-believe spaces that serves to attract capital from the competitive sphere of inter-urban regional place making in China? The recent proliferation of mockumental architecture raises many questions about art and urban praxis. From Europe-themed towns, ‘traditional’ Chinese new-towns, and supra-technical eco-cities quickly dotting the Chinese landscape these post-modern creations of idealized spaces offer many questions that intersect art and urban (dis)location.
This corpus includes MAD architect’s design for China’s natural-themed shan-shui city combines an essentialized Chinese cultural aesthetic, which incorporates classical landscape gardening features with contemporary techno-centric sustainable architecture. The building project now slated for construction in Guiyang grew out of an art exhibit in Shanghai that aimed at thematically bridging human-nature relationships. Through literature surrounding this conceptual bridge, modeled art exhibition, as well as dialogical reformulation of a culturally resonant signifier (shan-shui 山水) the discursive discourse generated was integral to the processes of producing the possibilities that allow for new places to come into being, both in material and imaginary forms. Reified through urban forms of the future and building on historical antecedents, the contemporary Chinese imaginary is reformulated through both the art installation, digital artifacts, and emerging urban forms.
Yet, the radical on-the-ground transformations, often times mask dispossession and accumulation within soothing development narratives that suggest continuity with the past vis-à-vis the reality of rapid change. These contradictions require a deep reckoning.  Articulations of urban developments and urban forms that creatively embellish and remake the past create meaningful forms of representation, which are significant in constructing the present. Creative re-imaging leads to creative imagining.  This summit could seek to engage and begin to unfold the interpolations of place-making, art, and social justice with forms of cultural hegemony and contestation expressed through venues of art exhibition, urban forms and urban political processes of becoming in hope that strongly informed approaches for generating possibilities for strengthening understanding of art, social justice, and the urban may emerge.