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Cities as Constellations: A Conversation with Matthew Gandy

April 5, 2012

Matthew Gandy is an urbanist and academic who writes and teaches about cities, landscapes and nature. He directed the Urban Laboratory at University College London (UCL) from 2005 to 2011 and has been a visiting scholar at Columbia University, Humboldt University, Newcastle University and UCLA. His extensive writing and knowledge of urban landscapes bring together culture, politics, environment and cinematic representations to produce prescient and alluring research.

What do you think are the highlights and limitations of recent media productions about cities and urban change, particularly in the Global South?

Some of the best writers on cities are journalists. Examples are Jonathan Raban’s “Soft City” about London in the early 1970s and Siegfried Kracauer’s vignettes about everyday life in Weimar-era Berlin. In terms of recent art about cities, there are classic examples such as Hans Haacke’s “Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System” (1971), as well as works by Gordon Matta Clark from the same period that remain very influential.

Recent examples of really important representations of cities include cinema: a film that really stands out is Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” (2009). Arnold uses an architectonic eye to explore landscapes of alienation on the edge of London. Another great urban film is Robert Guédiguian’s “La Vie Est Tranquille” (2000) set in Marseille. It reminds me of other “cross-section” narratives such as Robert Altman’s depiction of Los Angeles in “Short Cuts” (1993), where we learn about the city through intersecting story lines and chance encounters. Examples of this genre from the Global South include Alejandro González Iñárritu’s striking use of Mexico City in “Amores Perros” (2000) and Dev Benegal’s Mumbai in “Split Wide Open” (1999).

What aspects are not being explored in the media?

Cost constraints, distribution problems and so on constantly militate against the possibility for more diverse forms of cultural production. We need space to allow new things to be created and experienced across all creative media.

How do these compare to past cultural representations of cities?

There was undoubtedly a very intense period of creativity in the 1970s, but I think creative production comes in waves, particular conjunctions of time and place: New York in the 1970s, Berlin in the 1990s and early 2000s, arguably London in the 1990s.

Excerpt from a conversation with Andrew Wade from Polis. Continue HERE
Image above: Los Angeles River (2003). Source: Matthew Gandy

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