ARCHITECTURE LECTURE SERIES : Urban trompe-l’oeil as a critical act

  • University of Greenwich
  • School of Architecture Design and Construction
  • Mansion Site, Avery Hill Campus
  • Bexley Road, Eltham, London SE9 2PQ

Wednesday 12 October 2011, 13.00
Lecture Theatre M140

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 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.
Moving through recent works by artists Emily Allchurch’s (Urban Chiaroscuro), Sohei Nishino (Diorama Map) and Yang Yongliang (Heavenly City), the lecture argues that their images 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.

Teresa Stoppani (MArch IUAV Venice, PhD Arch&UD Florence) is Reader in Architecture at the University of Greenwich, London, where she coordinates postgraduate Architecture History and Theory. She has taught architectural design and theory at the Institute of Architecture of the University of Venice (IUAV), the Architectural Association London, and the University of Technology Sydney. Her writings on architecture’s histories, theories and representations focus on the relationship between architecture and the city. They range from investigations of the role of mapping in the architectural project to the identification of urban ‘chorality’ and architectural exhibitionism as forces of city-making; from the study of different forms of writing history and addressing the past in architecture, to the reading of G.B. Piranesi’s idea of the city as an anticipation of the contemporary metropolis. Her recent works include the book Paradigm Islands: Manhattan and Venice (Routledge, 2010) and ‘The Architecture of Disaster’, an essay on the complex relation of architecture with the disaster ‘designed’ by war and terrorism (Space & Culture, Winter 2011).

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