[The New Konvoluts]
Lara Peso and Stefanie Loveday
Exposé [of 2009 / multi city / San Francisco]
The city as a living, breathing being – what is it that connects us to it? What circumstances combine to create connection? Memory? Nostalgia? A faint reminder of another place we have been, a scent from home, the sound of water, the smell of fall leaves on the ground, a downpour, the sun, the hillside peering through the fog? Taking our respective beginnings in Istanbul, Turkey and Vancouver, Canada, as starting points of reference, our exploration into the city of San Francisco is a collaborative process of examining place, connection, and the creation of social and temporal meaning.
Drawing from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Projects, we translated various re-occurring motifs of early 20th and late 19th century Paris into present day San Francisco. Benjamin’s Arcades are full of quotes and passages from other cultural materials, drawing lines of connection in otherwise disconnected writings through time and place. We took his ideas of city as cultural producer and laid it onto our own tentative beginnings in San Francisco. Other texts we drew from included Nato Thompson’s Experimental Geography, Guy Dubord’s Theory of the Dérive, Alan Woods and Ralph Rumney’s This Art of Straying, and Rem Koolhaas’ S, M, L, XL.
Both of us, most of our lives having lived by the water, have always been inseparable of it. Thus, we both ended up, somewhat predictably, here.
Many people tend to look for similarities in between the places they have lived in, in order to find a way to attach themselves without much yearning for their hometown. For us, in San Francisco, we were thrilled with the novelty (although the city does sometimes seem like its stuck in the 80s...). The idea of the proximity to the sea turned into a Sunday morning; fog cushions sitting on Golden Gate Bridge; endless, mighty views of the Pacific; and the sight of pelicans diving relentlessly to hunt for fish. If we leave this city one day, will this all return to us as a dream?
Dériving in the city, our purpose is to come across the least predicted, the least heard, the most desired. The city, going from one neighborhood to the next, seems like a maze of arcades full of curiosity shops, wise residents with mind blowing stories, new ideas, new meanings. We search for anchors in the city, and we find them. Now they belong to us, among many…we belong to the many. We encounter the most indestructible and long-lasting anchor, a community.
The Bay area, as non-Americans, has always been a point of curiosity; human rights movement, free speech and Mario Savio, slow-food, gay rights, etc. Indeed, now that we are a part of it, we realize that all the hype is real and still alive. The most recent protests in UC Berkeley in September and November showed us that people still care and grass-roots organization in the US is still around. The other side of the coin, where the dystopia comes in, is meeting old-timers in the Tenderloin or the Russian Hill, and listen to them talk about the glory days gives us the feeling that we missed everything only by a few decades. This konvolut is one of the most transforming ones: the feeling of nostalgia for the past, even though we only read about it in books and watched it in movies, seems to be lingering in our minds…
Situated in the outskirts, ‘historic districts’, or up-and-coming neighborhoods, abandoned warehouses and factories are nested together in industrialized pockets of the city. Many of these structures leave behind their history as artifact, revealing hints of a time that used to be - in the old union notice board, or remnants of the daily use of old technologies. Are we drawn to these sites for the same reasons as Benjamin and Eugene Atget in their creation of Paris archives? If the old areas and buildings of Paris hadn’t been threatened by urban renewal and reconstruction – the building of the ‘Grand Boulevards’ – would Atget have felt the need to photograph them?
Highways and boulevards/urban maze
The role of the highway or boulevards of a city shape the social mapping and movement of people. Highways form the anti-thesis of the dérive, restricting movement and speed. Under the highways exist dream-like corridors, blocked off from physical exploration, leaving only the subconscious to wander. They are like modern day constructions of ghostly, skeletal arcades. The body of Highway 280, it’s carcass melting into a concrete hill in SoMa, cuts through the urban grid, adding to the detached, alienating spaces. Wandering through the area, we are on the prairies of parking lots and forgotten spaces with the wind blowing through the wide streets and the sky empty and gaping above us.
We took dérives through the city – walking and driving – gathering maps in our heads, and connecting memory to present; cities and countries distanced by space and time. Trevor Paglan wrote of any production being spatial production, in the way that your production is shaped by the time and place you are in, but also that specific place and time is in turn being shaped by your production. If we create cultural products shaped from multiple places and times, cities and memories, then are we shaping numerous places by our productions? Can a cultural production influence memory?
As we dream, the city comes together as a constantly shifting form. Borrowing from past cities and memories, it anchors itself to us, or us to it. Will our thoughts and production of memory remain tied to San Francisco if we move on and continue to drift? As an open ended series of konvolutes, our relationship with the city continues to evolve.