The Mother City

Installment No.1 The Impossibility of Understanding in the Path of a Torontonian

Like a piece of architecture, the city is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time. - Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City

The Mother City is a series of new media typological works that juxtapose built form as conceived by architects, with built form as experienced by the individual. Each installment represents cities across Canada and the United States using the architectural section as its medium for the exploration of urban form and experience.

[Mockup of The Impossibility of Understanding in the Path of a Torontonian. Embedded in an aluminum canvas, a plasma screen will display five discrete image streams. The last depicts the spatially correct section of Toronto (which distorts time) while four others represent a time-based section (which distort forms) of the city as experienced by four Torontonians. To the right of each stream is a key diagram showing the planimetric motion of the individuals.]

The first object in the series, The Impossibility of Understanding in the Path of a Torontonian, is a mixed-media piece currently in production, set to be launched in June 2009. The Impossibility of Understanding depicts the trajectories of four individuals ('Ebenezer,' 'Jane,' 'Pierre,' and 'Frank') living in four separate regions of Toronto. It simultaneously displays the section of Toronto from one corner of the metropolis to the other. This final section is intended to provide a more representational depiction of the metropolis from edge to edge—a touchstone of the geographically 'real' in contrast with the experienced.

The project is being constructed under the rubric of documentary. My driving hypothesis is that in watching the five visual media streams presented in the typology, the 'real' of the spatially correct city section, will likely be usurped by the experienced reality of the four Torontonians. Our experience of Toronto does not resemble the edge-to-edge musings of urban scholars and practitioners. Rather it is the isolated, stunted, and extended reality of the city occupied; we sit stationary at stoplights and accelerate on expressways, sit motionless on park benches and run swiftly to appointments.

[Elements in copper are static media, elements in white are moving media (displayed on a plasma screen embedded in the piece]

The Impossibility of Understanding consists of a large metal canvas punctuated by five horizontal strips of moving media. These five streams are captured using video, and subsequently processed and composited using the programming language, Processing. The resultant images can be conceived of as panoramic stills, depicting as much as 71 kilometres of the city, while they themselves stretch over 175 metres in length and are in turn scrolled across the LCD panel from left to right. These composite images are comprised of thousands of stills taken from video.

In the streams that illustrate the movement of individuals, these stills are selected at regular time intervals, thus privileging time in the representation of experience. In the stream representing the entire section of Toronto the stills are extracted from the sample group at regular spatial intervals, generating a spatially correct representation of the journey. However, the stills do not coalesce to form a seamless panorama, as is the case with stitched images captured around an identical nodal point. Contrarily, the sample images that contribute to The Mother City are captured from three different video cameras, spanning a vertical 110 degree scope (thus ensuring that even the tallest buildings are captured in their entirety), and the cameras are in turn attached to a moving vehicle or person. A hazy impression results, laden with parallax; a stuttered impression of the city is formulated. Objects in the distance are sliced into unidentifiable slivers while those in the foreground appear less disjointed and form recognizable entities. In this way, only the immediate environmental surroundings are highlighted.

[Planametric representation of the trajectories of individuals depicted in the piece]

To the right of these streams are key diagrams that indicate the related planimetric position of the individuals while the sectional view of their trajectory—the experiential representation&mdashis simultaneously being displayed. Herein the viewer will obtain a small insight into the world of the urban dweller. Where the "Toronto" key is comprehensive in its jagged yet linear span of the metropolis, the individual streams, 'Ebenezer', 'Jane', 'Pierre', and 'Frank', will look more like rats nests, looping back upon themselves, covering, at most, one or two neighborhoods in depth.