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Archaeology of human interaction in urban spaces

Photography & text by Claudine Boeglin

Animation 1 | Animation 2 | Animation 3

Abstract: The role of architecture in the city was mirrored when muted and in part left moribund by a series of Covid-19 inducted lockdowns. The essence of human interaction itself [at school / at work / in public transports / in public spaces] was forced a radical reset. The risk of social distance, we have seen, is social isolation, exclusion, and capitulation. On the other end, it is space for creation and meditation. The opportunity to remaster the city in its role calls for a blank canvas. It requires an experimental grid to unleash speculative narratives with renewed imagination. Concern for inclusion and the redistribution of roles beyond traditional gender roles and family structures, is paramount. To trigger thinking and debate, we could think of new ways to inventory past and present architectural practices. We could build inclusive think tanks, asking simple questions to various communities and individuals: what have you missed? What have you renounced to do? What needs to change? What needs to remain? The industrial city, the postmodern city, the colonial dynastic displays of power, the entitled gender and the commercial land grabs have all, in sync, collapsed in some way or another, and being placed into a framework of critical thinking.

With the cursor set to zero, even post-capitalism took the shape of an attainable utopia. For social cohesion to slide under the strata of cities’ urban skin; for social care to be rooted in the city’s entrails, we must first analyse the nature of human interactions in the urban space. Architects and collectives have blueprinted pilot cities [often labelled as utopias], some of which could offer alternative ways of life to this exercise of re-thinking the city anew. Today's digital interaction alone allows individuals and collectives to imagine and weave a city anew together. Simultaneously a collaborative research pole could investigate why and how existing architectures mapping the city has been carefully preserved, stirred down, edified and modified. We also might investigate and confront at which stages in history and for which motives, has the city failed in flow, fairness and inclusion.

A case in point, London, now supplanted by Shanghai as the most expansive cities according to Forbes, has for ever, it seems, been kept in the tentacles of its landlordism. Who owned the land, the food chain, the upper-class member list, the fun and the social narrative, owned the city. Who kept the city legally unchangeable and exclusive to a handful of dynasties and men, might have locked the city's dynamic in monocultural corseting claws and questionable privileges.

The objective of this first phase of research is to unfold an archaeology of architectures and human interactions through the display of a contextual tryptic using primarily photography. On the left, the city is represented in absence of humans at different times of its history. In the centrefold, crowds evolve in outdoor open spaces such as festivals and parks, and organically make sense of the space through their own ‘Ephemeral Architecture'. On the right, people’s responses to the two previously described installations offer their speculative narratives, expressed through visual and audio content. Photography, video collages, testimonies and live scenes will be curated, juxtaposed and layered by multiple hands. The project aims to create an open ending composition of meditative propositions, accompanied by debates–online and offline.

Authored while inclusive, the installation requires a dedicated stage and digital platform as well as an allocated research team. Simultaneously, it call for contributions of a pool of multi-disciplinary auteurs/artists with existing productions in relation with the theme. The goal of this coalition is to draft the concepts of a city designed for intergenerational and transcultural populations while clear in its restrictions. A city with at its core, the commitment to serve its dwellers with accountability, ethics, care and concern; while never resigning the fun.

Bio: Claudine Boeglin is a creative leader with expertise in clear, impactful and original visual thinking and concepts weaving people and technologies together. Her background is in visual journalism, digital culture, interactive storytelling and documentary photography. She founded Dandy Vagabonds in New York, in 2007, the name a tribute to auteurs and artists investigating realities and fictions through lenses. Her career in visual journalism built momentum at COLORS magazine,, Magnum Photos and Thomson Reuters Foundation. She collaborated with organisations, Human Rights Watch Girl Effect and the International Center of Photography She has taught documentary practice at London South Bank University mentored young researchers using photography as evidence at Revealing Reality, and currently works as a creative consultant, researcher, producer, curator and content strategist between Lisbon and London.

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