Urban Networks [book]

Urban Networks [book]

Urban Networks is the theme for this book, a result of works and reflection on the City of Gothemburg. It explores various ways of reading the city, an introduce a collection of ideas for urban and architectural interventions, as well as pedagogical tools for maping the city.

Editor: Ana Betancour- Artistic Profssor in Urban Design.
Photos by: Oriana Eliçabe.
With the support of: The Cultural Affairs Committee, The City of Gothenburg in collaboration with the U+A/Design Laboratory at Chalmers University of Technology and the A+A/Angency.
Publishing by: Utopi Förlag

Forgotten spaces

”What we’re struggling with here is the big story, and no one thinks they can tell the big story anymore, everyone’s given up; they’re feeling hopeless about their ability to … tell this story. Maybe in economics it’s similar to the turn to microeconomics, away from macro-economics, you know, tending your own little garden while the whole earth is trembling.”

Allan Sekula

Photographer and artist Allan Sekula has spent decades documenting the changing landscape of labour and workplaces, and in particular the harbour and global cargo industry. In works such as Fish Story and The Forgotten Space, Sekula traces the changes brought about by the globalization of trade. By finding the pivotal points that have been at the centre of the greatest changes, Allan Sekula attempts to link the global story — a multitude of simultaneous events — to how it is shaping and changing our lives, and our cities. He does this by linking the move to containerized cargo and the globalization of the world economy, and describing not only how this has changed the visual spaces of harbour and sea, but also the socio-economical realities.

Less than 50 years ago port cities were visible hubs of commerce and distribution of goods, and by their nature a threshold and connection to the rest of the world. In addition to the profound economic effect this had, the way of living and the trades available to people formed a certain culture surrounding it. The traded goods were visible and there was always someone responsible for unloading, repackaging or carrying it.

Shipping was a very tangible event, and the ship, its crew and the port were understood to be integral parts, of not only trade but also society. With the introduction of ships operating under a flag of convenience (whereby a ship is registered in countries with lax regulations and low labour costs) the shipping industry became a less locally connected business, detached from the ports and their culture, and changed from “something which happened” into a commodity, itself a tradable good.

This transformation, in conjunction with the image of a global, constantly connected world with instant availability of goods, has obscured the ports to the extent that we no longer think about the fact that someone has to ship our consumer goods to us before we were able to buy them. Workers and ships are nothing more than a set of hands and a way to move a number of containers from one point to another.

Spaces In-Between

“It is necessary that social -struggles and -transformation are displayed and disseminated. […]..striving to provoke in others the desire for collaboration, in as much as solidarity, this is the intention of my work – to take part in social processes and collective practices.”

Photographer Oriana Elicabe’s panoramic views of Gothenburg attempt to describe alternative stories of our times. Her photographs present other perspectives on the city of Gothenburg, showing traces of actual stories of events, as opposed to the metaphors of a global automatic network of ports or the generic image of a city as a brand.

In Oriana’s photographs, the urban landscape can be read as a juxtaposition of fragments in the construction of a narrative, an attempt to capture a moment in time. By taking a closer look at the city from within, at its social life and cultural phenomena, Oriana is allowing us to identify and grasp expressions of everyday life. Her images of Gothenburg capture places and activities from different times in the city’s past, and show them in relationship to the present. Old infrastructure projects exist side by side with modern pipelines, and the standardized shipping container — seemingly immobile yet so fundamentally transformative — serves as a backdrop to the city.

Her images explore places, that could be described using Michel de Certau’s concept of cracks, here alluding to abandoned sites, ruptures, fissures, rifts, or structural holes, where creative practices can occur, spaces of future potential and projection, and places where urban transformation have generated an interstitial space. These spaces, ranging from un-used radio frequencies to derelict buildings and other residual spaces in the city, are potential places to re-appropriate the urban. Urban spaces, where different conditions meet, interstices in society, transitional spaces with own social, spatial rules and organizational framework. They are often temporary conditions that establish a space in-between from the surrounding environment.

Central to her work is the relationship between how identity is constructed and articulated when presenting the city, and what fails to be represented — the absent, the not yet present, the erased or the disappeared. A photograph can depict social differences, but no conflicts are at sight. Meaning, in Brecht’s terms has been constructed as an artifice in the ‘slippage’. This is borne out by Laclau who considers representation not as a mere transmission, direct projection or transparent to the reality it shows. Laclau points to the impossibility of both ‘absolute representation’ and ‘total transparency’ between the:

“…representative and the represented, means the extinction of the relationship of representation. If the representative and represented constitute the same and single will, the ‘re’ of representation disappears since the same will is present in two different places. Representation can therefore only exist to the extent that the transparency entailed by the concept is never achieved; and that a permanent dislocation exists between the representative and the represented.”

In this interpretation, identity is generated and articulated in the relationship between social actions, physical space and its representations. Oriana attempts to create visual narratives of the socio-economic shift in the history and future of the harbour areas, the ongoing process of gentrification in the city centre, as well as the cultural diversity of the city. Her endeavour is not to establish images as documents, but how the “making of pictures” can become a narrative construction, a gaze upon the city.

At a second glance, the urban transformations and changes, which previously might have come across as natural, no longer seem to be so. This widens the understanding of urban development, and offers a multitude of perspectives rather than settling on a homogenous view of this process as a linear progression. From this point of view, the threshold to the world in contemporary Gothenburg is no longer the exchange and connection through the trade in the harbour, but could rather be found distributed in a multitude of places and people within the city itself.


1- Allan Sekula at “Forgotten Spaces: discussion platform with Benjamin Buchloh, David Harvey and Allan Sekula.” Screening of the film The Forgotten Space, at The Cooper Union, May 2011, filmed by Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen, Roberto Meza and Park McArthur. In the context of the exhibition: Between Crisis and Possibility at the Independent Study Program, the Whitney Museum of American Art. The conversation attempts to explore the complex spatial networks through which capitalism operates.

<http://www.afterall.org/online/material- resistance-allan-sekula-s-forgotten-space> (Accessed 7 of December 2012).

2- Orianómada <http://www.7punt7.net> (Accessed 10 December 2012)

3- Bertold Brecht, in Walter Benjamin, The work of Art in The Age of The Mechanical reproduction, Illuminations, London: Fontana Press, 1968, p. 255

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