14 June 2012

This Is Not Graffiti: A Geosemiotic Look at Hybrid Surface Inscriptions

Sabina Andron, The Bartlett School of Architecture

My proposal for the Stadtkolloquium seminar is a focus on images in the city, an exercise into urban visual culture based on the observation of urban surfaces. Instead of using the categories of the sanctioned (like street and shop signs or advertising posters) and the unsanctioned (with its aesthetic categories like graffiti and street art), this presentation will look at their intersection, namely the territory of hybrid surface inscriptions.  I focus my readings on several visual examples of such inscriptions, where the boundaries between the sanctioned and unsanctioned start getting blurred and produce a new form of visual and textual expression. I believe this expression characterises our contemporary urban culture, so I am trying to define it and understand its components in relation to space, language and visuality. As these mixed types of interventions have a close connection to their spatial support, I look at them through a place oriented semiotic reading (geosemiotics).  What I want to present at the Stadtkolloquium seminar is a starting point for a reassessment of the way in which we categorise and speak about the visuality of our cities. Based on some visual examples I have collected throughout the years, I will demonstrate the necessity of conceptualising these “hybrid surface inscriptions”, while showing the results that a geosemiotic perspective can potentially produce. Finally, I will emphasize the function of these inscriptions in the landscape of urban environments, raising some questions about their relevance and localisation – all in an open, clear-for-all manner. 

Fringe landscapes. A research of the multiple approaches to the phenomenon in the case of Bilbao.

Maider Uriarte Idiazabal, Visiting PhD researcher at the Bartlett School of Architecture, PhD candidate at the department of Architecture of the University of the Basque Country, (UPV- EHU) Donostia.

My research deals with the multiple angles of understanding urban rural edge landscapes, specifically in Bilbao. These are places which are commonly associated with negative qualities, however, as we know, the common sense assumptions involved with tastes and preferences are based on often dubious conceptualizations and oversimplified stereotypes and archetypes. As places of everyday routine, with multiple layers of experience, some of them very transited and ignored –the commuter’s transport infrastructure landscape- but others less travelled and well known to few –the allotment or the path, these landscapes indicate the presence of an unknown, ignored and invisible place. Edgelands are often unnamed areas of cities which suffer frequent alterations and transformations or become forgotten residual places. The human experience and perception of landscape is closely knit by personal impressions and memories and cultural and artistic interpretations of place. This is what Alain Roger calls the double artealisation du paysage. Landscapes are also means to communicate political, cultural, identity and marketing messages. They have been often reduced to a mediated visual commodity and this affects both public opinion and policy making. By using a visual method of juxtaposing images of site-specific cultural symbols with images of edgelands, I want to provoke a reaction in the observer and perhaps try to challenge the notions which support his/her opinion. I argue that there’s more to these landscapes than negativity, as these are areas of high aesthetic potentiality, functional utility, biological richness that challenge the typical ideas of landscape. My interest towards them relies in their capability to challenge the traditional categories of rural and urban, natural and artificial; divides which are fundamental for planning or architectural practices, however, contested precisely by the hybrid characters of the edgelands.