On the 3rd May 2019 I attended the Engaging in Urban Image Making Symposium at Goldsmiths University of London. I was drawn to this symposium by the fact that Gill Golding would be talking about her practice and her new project. I had heard about Gill Golding because of her work photographing Deptford which had influenced me previously as can be seen here: Researching Gentrification in Deptford. I heard about the symposium thanks to another OCA student who kindly posted it on Facebook. I am glad I attended the symposium because as well as getting to hear about Golding’s practice and her new project in depth, I listened to other practitioners who specialised in urban image making. This is particularly relevant for me because I have always lived in the city.
I did find Golding’s presentation the most interesting and applicable to my practice but I listened to around 5 other talkers speak about neoliberal cities and the problems this can incur.
The first speaker, Professor Caroline Knowles presented a monologue of what a neoliberal city represents without using any photographs to set up the subsequent presentations. I thought this was an interesting way to start off proceedings as perhaps much of the neoliberal city is off limits to photographers wanting to document it. She spoke mainly about the relationship between the super-rich and London. Also she talked about money becoming increasingly immaterial and how this affected the city. Plutocrats were the unseen powers behind the changes in the city of London. Knowles produced lots of statistics to back up her arguments like the 42 wealthiest people in the world are equal in wealth to the 3.2 billion poorest people. Also that 1 in 53 Londoners are now homeless. I felt this presentation along with the statistics set up the rest of the talkers whose practice related to the neoliberal city.
The second speaker, David Kendall based his project ‘Disappearing into Night’ in Qatar, specifically Doha. He concentrated his camera on juxtaposing artificial light at nighttime with the built environment of neighbourhoods which soon are to be demolished. This created some fascinating images and the fact Kendall combined this with sound samples which were eerie made this even stronger. Kendall described his work as temporal structures and lighting combine with the idea of people as vessels of energy walking around the city, sending out and receiving signals. This develops into the concept that you feel landscapes as much as you see them. I could relate to this concept while taking photos in Deptford for instance but not as strongly as Kendall was describing. This was probably because his was a heightened experience brought about by the fact its was nighttime and the structures were temporal.
Kendall also articulated it seems through architecture we are being pulled together when in reality we are being pulled apart. He described his practice as concentrating on small areas with repeated journeys around these areas finding new things every time. This was definitely something I could relate to as I had started focusing on Deptford. It did make me wonder whether I could focus on an even smaller area of Deptford and repeat the journey multiple times and record incidental changes in each journey with my camera. One other impression I was left with by Kendall’s photographs was that I could almost sense the light pollution coming off his photos.
Gill Golding was the third speaker. She unveiled her new project: Welcome to the Fake to us and told us some of the background for conceptualising the project. Golding described being aware of the regeneration of King’s Cross (where the project is based) but when she revisited it accidentally one time it reminded her of The Truman Show (1998). This was a film I was familiar with so her comparison interested me greatly. She compared King’s Cross by saying it was a forgetfulness of community and a commitment to profit. There was a lot of private housing in this large development area and a lack of affordable housing. This part of the city had become an object – an aesthetic kind of object.
Golding talked of wanting to emphasise the fake-ness of the place and so used the advertising hoardings as a kind of template for the aesthetic she was after. I have looked at advertising hoardings and reflected how perfect and pristine the imagined spaces appear. For me it was a clever use of aesthetics to highlight the potential problems of places with no character because they are so ‘perfect’. Golding described it as playful approach that highlights the idiosyncrasies of the gentrified spaces like gentrified trees and fountains. Everything is planned for and programmed, however Golding found this a little disturbing because it is never made clear who privately organises these activities.
Similarly Golding found the private security guards at King’s Cross made it difficult to do anything like photographing for instance beyond the policies that had been put in place by these invisible private authorities. Lastly Golding found this (intentionally) brought in a very similar, exclusive demographic of only one kind of people – a gated community which contributed to it feeling like a simulated space. The politics of his space is is very invisible which adds to the simulation and I can see the connection with The Truman Show through this. From this connection with the Truman Show, simulated space and the advertising hoardings, I could also draw comparisons with Jean Baudrillard’s ideas in Simulacra and Simulation and especially the concept of the hyperreal.
The fourth and fifth speakers shared similar ideas concerning ‘artwashing’. Dr. Stephen Pritchard and Dr. Alison Rooke spoke about how artists should have a commitment to being aware and responsible for the work they produce. Dr. Stephen Pritchard explained that with ‘artwashing’ artists produce work that seems innocent enough but is actually depoliticised pandering to the organisations who fund them. Dr. Alison Rooke spoke of social artists caught in an incredibly complex web of expectation because of the conditions of participation. Research and knowing your context i.e. who’s funding the art for it to be displayed or fit into the community is the answer to how artists are supposed to involve themselves in the community without artwashing. It’s a difficult ask but it is the artist who should be aware and responsible for who they collaborate with.
Overall I listened to maybe two thirds of the symposium. I found the symposium incredibly informative especially from the artists who presented work in urban areas. Golding and Kendall had good grasps of terms specifically related to urban spaces. I felt these terms and their ideas helped inform their practice, with both of them making aesthetic decisions based on how they felt in these urban spaces.
Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. 2nd ed. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
The Centre for Urban and Community Research (2019) Engaging in Urban Image Making. London [Symposium at Goldsmiths, University of London, 3 May 2019].
Golding, G (s.d) Welcome To The Fake. At: https://www.gillgoldingphotography.com/work#/welcometothefake/ (Accessed on 11.06.2019)
The Truman Show. (1998) Directed by Peter Weir [DVD] Florida: Scott Rudin Productions.