Tag Archives: urban

Modeling Nostalgia

Randy Hage, 1/12th scale sculpture of Ideal Hosiery, located at 339 Grand St. New York, NY; 17" x 15" x 8"

Randy Hage, 1/12th scale sculpture of Ideal Hosiery, located at 339 Grand St. New York, NY; 17″ x 15″ x 8″

By Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center)

Armed with his camera, Randy Hage explores urban landscapes threatened with eradication through development, gentrification, or other civic improvement schemes. Yet unlike the many other salvage-oriented artists who photographically document such streetscapes lest they vanish, Hage translates his photos into meticulously crafted scale models. Rather than just imaging these places, he materializes them; in some cases, he re-materializes buildings that may have been destroyed since he photographed them. Through the laborious process of simulating structures along with their contents and immediate environs, Hage must develop a particular tactile as well as visual intimacy with the sites and buildings in question. For him–and presumably for many of his viewers, patrons, curators, and collectors–the physical presence of his dioramas makes palpable a nostalgia for the corner stores and “mom-and-pop” businesses being rapidly replaced by big box stores and multinational chains (even if the commodities Hage lovingly miniaturizes are the same in both kinds of outlet). Semiotically, the hand-crafted nature of his art lends itself to memorializing small-scale economies of place rather than the corporate behemoths that he bemoans (and that are treated with equal, if contrastingly large-scale, attention to detail by photographers such as Andreas Gursky). In their affection for vanishing places rendered containable, collectible and preserved, the models evoke miniature ethnographic villages in natural history museums.

Despite the impressive materiality of Hage’s dioramas, most viewers likely enjoy them only through photographic mediation (and the additional miniaturization that photography allows). On his personal website, the artist invites people to evaluate the “sculptures vs. the real structures,” although what we see are only photographs of both (moreover, the specific photographs on which the models are based). This medium and mode of comparison flatten the scale and physical reality of both building and model while enhancing the illusion of their absolute likeness. In some cases, the carefully lit models appear more richly dimensional than the actual structures shot under overcast skies. What at least this viewer yearns to do is stand before the remaining storefronts, models in hand. Yet such an exercise risks additional fetishization of the “original place.” Moreover, despite–or rather, due to–being enchanted (in Gell’s sense) by Hage’s considerable fabrication skills, one might miss his intended level of political-economic critique. What the remarkable models-as-art don’t show, which photography or film or ethnography might, is the presence of neighborhood denizens with a stake in the continued existence (or disappearance) of these colorful, dilapidated, vernacular vistas.

For those in the Los Angeles area, there is a chance to stand in the presence of the dioramas at the Flower Pepper Gallery until November 15, 2013.


Installation – Urban Infrastructure: Obsolescence and Futurity Walking Tour

New Projects

American Anthropological Association Meetings 2013

Chicago, Illinois USA

Sunday, November 24th, 10 am – 1 pm

Crucial infrastructures in North America have begun to reach the ends of their lifespan, with malfunctions and their effects increasingly commanding public and political attention. Our installation draws on a burgeoning conversation in anthropology on infrastructure, while emphasizing its aesthetic and material dimensions alongside its practical and functional ones.

This two-part “installation” consists of a tour of infrastructure on Chicago’s mid South Side (sites tbd), followed by lunch and informal discussion at New Projects space (www.new-projects.org). All sites are accessible by CTA transit. Reservations kindly requested by November 1st for details and 2 short discussion texts. Participants are welcome to join after this date, but must contact organizers for location details. Marina Peterson: petersom@ohio.edu

Sponsored by SUNTA/ SANA


King’s Cross Bikes, memorials and urban experience

Matt Voigts, UCL Digital Anthropology

Ghost Bike -  present location

In January 2013, the London Underground marked 150 years of operation; the world’s oldest subterranean railway, it shares the space below street-level with bricked-over rivers, sewers (the two being often quite similar, if not the same), wires, pipes, ruins of eras past and the dead. Two centuries of habitation leave a lot of dead, buried in cemeteries and plague pits, marked and unmarked. At King’s Cross-St. Pancras Station, currently (as ever) in the midst of renovations, previous expansions in 1864 and 2004 necessitated, respectively, the displacement and re-interment of 10-15,000 and 5,000 graves (Arnold 2006, pp.172-173). The roads at the Station’s street level, however, also negotiate the transportation desires of the living with the material memory of the dead, as it did back to the naming of the area.

On October 3, 2011 – not long after I moved to the neighborhood while I studied Digital Anthropology at University College London –Ming Joo “Deep” Lee, a Central St. Martin’s student on her way to the school’s new campus, was struck by a lorry and killed at the intersection outside King’s Cross. Over the nine months I lived there, almost daily I walked passed the white bicycle that was set at the accident site – originally on a traffic island, and which moved in the summer to the side on Gray’s Inn Road (where it remains) while the island was resurfaced. The intersection still has no bike lanes, while the present construction project is in the midst of leveling the 1973 overhang (a prominent fixture while I lived there) to create a larger outdoor walking square in front of the Station.

KC Intersection map

Since at least the early 1980s, mementos of the deceased – commonly: letters, flowers, personal items, plush toys – have been placed at the sites of unexpected death, intersected at mourning ritual, personal feeling, public display, and social action (Margay and Sanchez-Carretero, 2011). Often called ‘grassroots’, ‘roadside’,  or ‘spontaneous’ memorials, Haney, Leimer, and Lowery (1997) list seven traits the memorials tend to share, among them that they may be remembrances of those who were not involved in the midst of the mourning ritual, and are not constrained by typical periods of grief. Clark and Franzmann (2006: 579) root the authority to claim and sacrify the secular space of the roadside in “the overwhelming empowerment of grief; the belief that the presence of the deceased can be felt and recognized; and the understanding that the place where life was lost is a special place for memorialization.”  Reid and Reid (2001, p.348) suggest that such memorials typically stay as long as they are maintained.

[Urban 75 p 7]

Lee’s “Ghost Bike,” one of several in London, memorialize as well as call attention to the dangers automobiles pose to cyclists. The white bicycles first appeared in St. Louis in 2003, and since have surfaced in 30 cities worldwide (Dobler 2011: 169), the material manifestation of a practice “largely spread through word of mouth via Internet message boards” (173). As with MySpace, also discussed by Dobler (2009), “the public nature of these memorials allows anyone to mourn; the rights of grieving are not restricted to immediate friends and family” (178). From conversations with those involved in the bike’s installation (traced in upcoming links), I found that the memorial was initiated by individuals who did not know the deceased, used by her friends as a site of mourning, and discussed on the Internet by politically-active cyclists as a call to action for greater infrastructural safety for cyclists. For a comparison, note the simple plaque inside the station that commemorates the 31 dead of the King’s Cross Fire of 18 November, 1987 – straightforward, officially placed, and a site of commemoration as well as controversy with regard to Transport for London’s actions.

Summer - bit of string from memorial remainedb

In my experience in London, while many Underground stations take their names from the surrounding area, to simply say the name (as in, “meet me at Euston / Goodge Street / Stratford / wherever”) is to imply the Tube itself, so associated is the transportation with its surrounding area. In the case of King’s Cross, the area took its name from a short-lived memorial statue to George IV (who died in 1830), which sat atop a police station at the junction of the streets that are today named York Way, Gray’s Inn Road, Euston Road, and Pentonville Road. While the space at and around the junction may have changed (compare a 2000 map with Charles Booth’s poverty map from 1898), the location is comparable to where Lee’s Ghost Bike sat for the 2011-12 school year.

George IV memorial - taken during demolition

George IV - [planned statue]

The George IV memorial – little-loved and obfuscatory – was torn down in 1845, though Stephen Geary, the architect behind the building and statue, found greater success with the London Cemetery Company (founded 1836), which would create many of London’s elaborate suburban cemeteries, including Highgate (Arnold: 136-138).
Arnold’s book, Necropolis, in part discusses the shift from burials in crowded urban churches, churchyards, and plague pits, toward a desire for greater, more hygienic, material separation between the living and dead. It wasn’t just the dead, however, that were moving further from the city center: the Underground facilitated greater connection for the city and its metropolitan area. Highgate Cemetaryb

SkyCycle - promo image









When – last fall – I moved to Forest Gate, I found myself surrounded by park land and cemeteries located just beyond Stratford station and the Olympic Park, built for the event that helped spur other recent upgrade prioritizations to London’s transportation system.  In the future, bikes and tubes may converge with the SkyCycle project, which – if implemented – would connect London’s train stations with elevated bike paths, adding a new dimension to transport in the city further above the ground, its dead, and their memorials.





Arnold, C., 2006. Necropolis: London and its dead. Simon & Schuster: London.

Clark, J., and Franzmann, M., 2006. “Authority from grief, presence and place in the making of roadside memorials.”  Death Studies. 30:6, 579-599

Dobler, R.T., 2011. “Ghost Bikes: Memorialization and Protest on City Streets.” Grassroots memorials: the politics of memorializing tragic death. Eds. Peter Jan Margay and Christina Sanchez-Carretero. Berghahn Books: Oxford.

Dobler, R.T., 2009. “Ghosts in the Machine: Mourning the MySpace Dead. Folklore and the Internet.  Ed. Trevor J Blank; Utah State UP: Logan, Utah

Doss, E., 2006. Spontaneous memorials and contemporary modes of mourning in America. Material Religion, 2(3), pp.294-318.

Everett, H., 2000. Roadside crosses and memorial complexes in Texas. Folklore, 111 (1), pp 91-103.

Haney C.A. , Leimer C., and Lowery, J., 1997. “Spontaneous memorialization: violent death and emerging mourning ritual.” Omega 35 (2), pp. 159-71.

Margay, P. J., and Sanchez-Carrretro, 2011. Grassroots Memorials: The Politics of Memorializing Tragic Death. Berghahn Books: Oxford.

Reid, J.K., and Reid, C.L., 2001. “A cross marks the spot: a study of roadside death memorials in Texas and Oklahoma,” Death Studies, 25(4), pp. 341-356.

Source for Picture of George IV: ‘Plate 83: King’s Cross. Memorial to George IV.’, Survey of London: volume 24: The parish of St Pancras part 4: King’s Cross Neighbourhood (1952), pp. 83. URL: www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=65662&strquery=King‘s Cross Date accessed: 06 February 2013



CFP: 1st International Visual Methods Seminar: Observing and Visualizing Urban Culture

25th August – 3rd September 2013, Antwerp, Belgium

Applications can be submitted by completing the online registration form at www.ua.ac.be/VisualMethodsSeminar from January 1st 2013 until April 15th 2013.

The University of Antwerp announces a 10 day program of study and practice in visual methods research and teaching in the social and cultural sciences. The seminar will primarily focus on conducting visual studies in urban contexts but also will address a broad array of more general research and teaching issues. Seminar activities have been designed (and will be led) by four veteran scholars whose research, leadership and teaching have contributed substantially to the International Visual Sociology Association, the Society for Visual Anthropology, and the ISA Thematic Group on Visual Sociology.
Participants will be fully involved in an interactive learning process by taking part in focused introductions to selected issues and techniques and engagement in intensive group discussions. Additionally, participants will be encouraged to take the methods, techniques and concepts that are presented and discussed in the classroom and apply them in real life environments. While Antwerp as an urban environment will serve as the main field for the research exercises and activities, theory and practice will not be limited to any specific ecological or geographic location or time frame.

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The City in a Time of Crisis



A note from Dimitris Dalakolgou, Department of Anthropology, Sussex University

“The City at the Time of Crisis” is an urban anthropology project which examines the everyday public socialities and materialities of Athens during the current capitalist crisis. It focuses on urban public spaces in an effort to study ethnographically the rapid transformations and through them to provide a novel understanding of the current capitalist crisis in Europe and its links with urban materialities. The project’s webpage www.crisis-scape.net features ethnographic and theoretical texts, videos, photographs and digital interactive material.  The project has been running since October 2012 and it is funded by an ESRC/Future Research Leaders grant.

Walls of Edukators, Berlin

IMG_0558 3 March, Wall Parade Protest, Berliner Mauer East Side Gallery.


The past few days have seen a peaceful protest in the Ostbahnhof area of the German Capital for the protection of culture, history and the Berliner Mauer East Side Gallery.




CFP: Bicicultures Roadshow: The Critical Bicycling Studies Tour de California

Image Courtesy of FreeFoto.com

Anthropologists who research bicycling, urban and otherwise, are invited to attend an experimental conference being held April 16-17th in Davis, California. The preferred deadline for submission of abstracts is Sunday, February 10th. More details below and at bicicultures.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/cfp/.


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CFP: Broadway Transect

Special Issue of Wildproject: Journal of Environmental Studies

From Sleepy Hollow to Battery Park, Broadway follows the lower Hudson valley down to the New York harbor. Broadway is more than an avenue or a road: it is a fragment of American ground and mythology, and a transect through one of the most urbanized areas of the United States. Its 33 miles of asphalt, culminating at 351 ft. in Yonkers, are an analyzer of the interaction between nature and the city, of the urban diversity of the greater New York area, and of the history of its various communities.

CFP-Broadway-Wildproject explores Broadway from four main vantage points: urban studies, urban ecology, social sciences, and arts & humanities. The editors welcome submissions from urban planners and architects; geologists, entomologists, ecologists and botanists; geographers, historians, sociologists and anthropologists; literature specialists, linguists, artists, curators and fiction writers. Articles may talk about such topics as river and animal life; gentrification and class conflict; the geological history of the area; the planned pedestrianization of Broadway; suburban Broadway; theater, food, and literature.

All submissions must be emailed as attachments to contact@wildproject.org. 150 words abstracts must be sent by November 1st, 2012. Within two weeks of receipt, Wildproject will send authors a confirmation of their preselection. Final articles are due on  April 1st, 2013 and should be between 3,000-4,000 words. Videos, photographs, and sound recordings are particularly appreciated and will be made available online and in the printed version (as screenprints or transcriptions). Articles must not be published elsewhere in any language and must be based on original research. Selected articles will be sent to peer reviewers for evaluation. Publication date: Issue no.13 (publication September 2013)

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Pic Nic the Street: public spaces and the materials of the body politk

In a previous post we already discussed the ‘ergonomics of public and political life’, which we defined as the various ways in which our bodies ‘fit’ in the material environments that we inhabit and about how this ‘fitting’ shapes the quality of public and political life.

The post was a way of signaling the increasing precariousness of urban public spaces and how they enable or diable the constitution of effective political bodies.

Well, it seems that we are not alone in this .

A couple of weeks ago, the philosopher Philippe Van Parijs published this opinion piece in which he denounced the increasing pauperization of public spaces in Brussels; their reckless marketization; the dictatorship of the car; and the need to reclaim them back. For the latter, he proposed a “a bit of gentle civil disobedience” in the form of a giant picnic to be organized in some of the main thoroughfares and squares of Brussels to “explain politely to motorists that for once is not for them to impose their rule”.

Last week, 2,000 citizens in Brussels took the streets following his call.

You can see more pics here

The demonstrators now want to turn this into a periodical event. They have organized several Facebook groups and propose a new picnic for June 24…just in case you happen to be in Brussels by then.