Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Dystopian cities and Postmodern teapots…

Thanks to those of you who commented on my most recent post. Some really fascinating points about the use of backstory. Certainly, many plays revolve around characters dealing with the past in the present, and that creates powerful drama. I think I agree with Nick, though, that it can become problematic when backstory has a mainly explanatory, rather than dramatic, function.

Today I just wanted to mention the Postmodernism exhibition at the V&A which I visited over the weekend. Lots of great material – although you could be forgiven for thinking that the ‘movement’ was primarily concerned with designing teapots…

What really stayed with me, however, were three films which had revealing things to say about the modern city. The first, by the Italian artist Robert Venturi, was of a car driving through night-time Las Vegas. Venturi used this to argue that the architecture of the strip was designed to be read ‘while the body is travelling at 35 miles per hour’. There’s a great deal of literary and critical work about how we (re)interpret cities through the act of walking them, so it was interesting to re-imagine this idea in the age of the motor car.

The second film was an extract from Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’. On loop was the opening sequence showing 2019 Los Angeles from above. Bursts of fire blast out above the cityscape, bathed in ‘post-nuclear’ blues and blacks. The design references fantasies of a dystopian future as well as the ruined cities of the past. Ruins have often been a preoccupation of visual artists (I’m looking forward to getting to the John Martin exhibition at the Tate Britain soon too…). It seems that we’re compelled to re-visit images of destruction as a means of expressing anxieties about the future:

The exhibition closes with an excerpt from Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ I’ve just finished a class with my MA students in which we discussed narratives of fracture and alienation in modern cities. This film, with its footage of a cityscape almost surgically dissected by accelerated, stop-motion traffic flows, provide a vivid visual reference point:

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