Urban Curating

Modernity’s exhibitionary complex haunts contemporary urbanity.

Published in: „Urban Curating. Modernity’s exhibitionary complex haunts contemporary urbanity”, in: Zivot umjetnosti 87, Zagreb, 2010


Today’s discussion on the role of cities as such and the cultural implications of Urbanity take up a prominent role in the cultural, but also in the social and political debates. And although the current debates on ecological and sustainable developments are generating a strong new momentum for the discourse on cities, the question of urban form, the question of the ”Leitbild”, the ”Master Plan” still is at odds with an everyday reality which in most cities is defined by seemingly uncontrollable sprawl, an evergrowing periphery, which in some cases already intruded into the city centers. Concepts like Edge City, Generic City, Mega City, Sprawl City, Non Place Urban Realm, Urban Plankton, The City as Region, Carpet Metropolis, Zwischenstadt... are just some terms showing the growing impossibility to generalize these developments under a single concept. Attempts to comprehend those phenomena surrounding the disappearance of a clear boundary between city and country, or between urban and rural, seem to be endless. Not only has it become obsolete to try to understand, formalize and represent the current urban state, but also a sense of the possibility for a master plan grounded on scientific research as in Modernism has slowly vanished. Many contemporary urban theories are based on a reading of these developments as a fragmentation of the urban as well as of the public sphere. Critics like Mark Wigley argued, that the term fragmentation here is a problematic one, insofar as it presupposes an entity that was once whole and now has been shattered.[1] But the increase of seemingly incommensurable elements within the urban fabric nevertheless seems evident.  


It is a contradictory spatiality, sometimes a polarisation of spaces leading to the phenomenon of spaces of "exacerbated difference", as the architect Rem Koolhaas referred to in his reading of the contemporary developments in the Chinese metropolises.[2] But not only in the high-speed urbanism of China borders have multiplied. The borderline of the nation state may have lost its importance as a tool for a national identity by becoming porous through technology as well as migration and mobility of individuals, but nevertheless borderlines have multiplied into new systems of control, surveillance, but sometimes also are produced by technical means of transferrability between codes. When looking  at recent debates in urbanism on how to deal with the processes of heterogenisation and polarisation within a mainly de-regularised state of planning – with the powers of the classic institutions of city-planning in stark decline – one can identify an idea of urbanity, which reacts with surprisingly similar concepts to the pressures of an increasingly globalised, transnational competition between cities in order to place themselves on the global map. And the ideological basis of this form of urbanity might be found in what Tony Bennett called „The Exhibitionary Complex“.[3]



[1] Mark Wigley, „Bloodstained Artchitecture“, in: Post Ex Sub Dis: Urban Fragmentations and Constructions, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2002, p. 283

[2] Rem Koolhaas, Sze Tsung Leong: Great Leap Forward: Harvard Design School Project on the City, Taschen, 2001

[3] Tony Bennett: The Exhibitionary Complex, New Formations, no.4, spring 1988, p. 73-102