montage.city is the blog that samples the topics of my phd research and reflects both my inter-disciplinary practice and the thinking and interests that lies behind it.
the modernist montage city was a mash-up of buildings jostling in cramped urban centres and interspersed with street signage and trams and, sometimes, people. the world was made of images, or image upon image, each synaptic visual connection tumbling into dreams or memory, stimulating, playful and multivalent.
montaging, for benjamin, cannot be disassociated from the act of rescuing, the efforts to recycle rubbish, detritus, scraps that appear to have no value. he deployed for the purposes of critical enlightenment what he called ‘rags and refuse’, a procedure later described in his arcades project. he planned a series of illustrated publications written by himself and others, such as bloch, investigating degraded forms of material. his notebook from the period includes a list of topics, such as studies of the aesthetics of postcards, waxwork cabinets, kitsch, cabaret and advertising. benjamin’s procedure involved less a rescue of tradition than the rescue of experiences unacknowledged, experiences under threat, rejectamenta, materials on the point of disappearance. from esther leslie : walter benjamin
montage.city : constructive montage and the image of the city
my phd by project attempts to place an interdisciplinary practice that involves art, architecture and photography into a philosophical frame, but one firmly rooted in praxis; and [pre]historically within the context of urbanity and city formation. the present intense urbanisation of the planet is traced back to the advent of agriculture and the first cities of the mesolithic/neolithic transition. with agriculture and the domestication of animals comes a nascent urban expansion and settlement, a continuous and extensive human migration, monument building and the first cities; and in time to poetry and philosophy, art and politics.
from london and the levant to the west cornwall peninsula
my practice is now sited where the tangible traces of this revolution can be directly experienced; west penwith, this small but geographically significant peninsula is home to one of the most intensive pre-historic occupations in europe. as britain’s most westerly projection it played a significant part in the wave of neolithic migrations that started in the levant around 9-7000 bce and moved along the north mediterranean coast out into the atlantic seaboard up the iberian coast to brittany and finally arriving in britain around 4800-4300 bcd with its most notable occupations in west cornwall, wales, ireland, cumbria and north west scotland.
it is a move that is to understood both conceptually and contextually, from london, the metropolitan capital par excellence, with its status as a globalised capitalist commodity trading centre, its pretensions as a the ‘capital of culture’ to the periphery of west penwith, cornwall. once, a major centre in britain’s industrial revolution, the twentieth century’s progenitor of british modernism, and now the poorest part of the uk with its worst performing economy and designated by the eu as an area ‘where prosperity, measured in gross value added (gva) per head of population, is 75% or less of the european average’.
these juxtapositions; with their spatial and temporal shifts; with their extreme contrast of conditions, create productive constellations, where the elements within them become brightly lit and their interaction can give rise to flashes of insight; it is this that has the potential to guide praxis.
the dialectical jump in geography and in history, its implications for political and economic life; the contrast set up between origins and actuality, its impact on thinking, wisdom and knowledge, that create the extended conditions for praxis; it is this that forms the context for the ‘constructive’ research of this phd.
two sets of juxtapositions are set in play; one is concerned with the construction of the city; in identifying origins and bringing them into a critical propinquity with their present form; the mesolithic/neolithic transition, the first cities and their origins in agri-culture, the house and its translation into monuments; that are contrasted with the advent of modernity, modern forms of alienation, the city of commodities and its present globalised form.the other, is concerned with praxis; the politics of the city, the contrast between contemplative philosophy and political action, and the problems of technology; and these are contrasted with the parallel movement of aesthetic and artistic praxis, the development of technique, in particular that of constructive montage and modes of intervention.
the juxtaposition of incommensurate things
it is in this context that the technique of montage (benjamin) becomes a viable means of re-functioning (brecht) existing city topologies. this phd by project, will concentrate on current work in cornwall and particularly on a series of interventions within west penwith, working with its archeological landscape, its geological, geographical and social history, both as the vehicle of investigation and the site of praxis. this research combines with the interdisciplinary nature of my practice, a dialectic struck between the constructive concerns of architecture and the critical stance of art, and will seek to illuminate the process and possibilities for urban transformation. these will be tested across a spectrum ranging from orthodox planning procedures to more ludic and experimental techniques, and across the range of scales. the written portion of the phd will take advantage of my work in philosophy and aesthetics, seeking to clarify firstly, the nature of the process itself (its possibilities, its criteria, its potential for transformation) and secondly, the nature of the urbanity that is opened by the different interventions.