Tuesday, April 07, 2009

An Ode to the Anonymous Audience of Postopolis!

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Bryan Finoki.]

Well, Postopolis! is over now and this is the time I go through a little withdrawal, wishing that in just a couple of hours I’d be heading back up to the plastic paradise of the Standard Hotel’s decadent rooftop to meet my fellow cohorts and mush my little heap down into a lawn sofa somewhere around the plasma screen and projector, having forgotten to eat an early dinner once again beforehand, but still eager to plug my head back into another round of provocative presentations. Ahhh…what a week we just had.

First order of business: Thanks to all who made it out there and braved the cold with us (that climate was not what any of us expected), and to those of you who introduced yourself. It was great to meet and talk beyond the comments section of this blog, and your compliments and feedback were most appreciated and inspiring. So thanks again! Overall, the turnout was great, from the first presentation to the last panel discussion – thanks to you and all the presenters we had an amazing time.

[Image: Joseph Grima. Photo by Dan Hill.]

Next, I want to say thanks again to Joseph, director of the Storefront, for pulling it all together once again. He’s an absolute magician, among other things, and with the nimble hands of César, Jose and Faris, the production was another masterful act of quick string-pulling and delicate tape jobs, an artform in urban network hacking, running cables down the side of the building, steadying multiple video cameras before they actually fried in the winds, massaging temperamental mics, it was all a classic juggling act of unexpected actions and reactions, frenetic tweaks and clever finesse moves – it was another successful ad hoc postopolisian mission. Thanks dudes!

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Storefront for Art and Architecture.]

And of course, a huge thanks to Bettina and her entire crew of For Your Art who really helped bring Postopolis! to its mantle there at the Standard and treated us all like rockstars! (that's a serious rarity for this guy) – your constant attention and energy was greatly felt, and I can’t show my appreciation enough.

So, more of my notes, reflections, and thoughts over what actually came out of Postopolis! this time around will infiltrate my regular postings in the future, but for now I can’t help but to wring a bit of juice out from my sodden brain that’s still a bit cramped from all the computing I tried to do in that 30 or so hours of listening and engaging with everyone who showed up last week with their range of perspectives. Just to be a listener for that long was enough to test the concentrated fortitude of even the most focused minds, I think. For me, it was akin (I imagine) to having an entire hard drive downloaded into my brain filling it up with applications I’ve never used before, files I’m still trying to figure out how to open – a mini encyclopedia of space-related projects inserted behind my lobes that will take some time to figure out how to truly discern and wield their power; Postopolis!, in my experience, is like a form of Matrix-style cyborgian learning (no external jack required). I’m a little drained.

[Image: Dan Hill (The He-Man stenographer of Postopolis!) in action. Photo by Storefront for Art and Architecture.]

I still have no idea how Dan is able to not only take it all in but to get it down on paper and then magnify it with his own rich observations; or how Geoff (who largely twittered the entire thing!) was able to balance his listening powers with his writerly fingertips while also keeping his own questions freshly formatted in tact on the forefront of his brain. I just don’t have that partition-ability, I suppose. I guess I aint no Neo for the next millennium. Sorry, Dennis (as much as I would like to be, I’m hardly the genius you think I am).

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Storefront for Art and Architecture.]

Anyway, the rooftop was simply divine and I'm having trouble being a way from it now, despite the fact it was a little early in the year to take full advantage of, meaning that each night was laced with near limb-crippling winds that almost froze the most important parts of our bodies off; in such conditions you could have easily tested some serious design in airborne architecture up there. But, with bedspreads from rooms pulled up to some peoples' necks, and constant drizzles of wine and vodka, or for me a sweet-ass little sweater I picked up from a vendor for ten bucks, we all survived.

The other aspect of the rooftop which was wild in such a perfeclty LA strutted sort of way was how completely different each side of the space was, culturally: there was the Postopolis! crew, a dense mingling of spatial-heads of sorts freezing on the Astroturf on one side, and then there was this whole other funky LA wing that got to hang out under the immoveable heat lamps on the other, from midday business types, to blingy G'd-out wannabe thug-types, to over-perfumed short skirts and gold necklaces slung around macho necks, excessive gelled-hair, assorted bicep landscapes, and some very obnoxious partiers in leopard spotted tank tops who stumbled and spilled their drinks all over you rather than get them down even remotely close to their chins. But, without being too critical, we were vastly two different worlds up there and it was all part of the little urban island we had managed to create. Of course, I miss every bit of it now, hotel drunkards and all.

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Dan Hill.]

And it goes without saying, it wouldn’t be Postopolis! if the environment itself didn’t somehow have a huge say in our experience – it’s part of the concept, right? Tough to talk about cities, space, and place with any seriousness if you can't reflect on the immediate context itself, maybe even better perhaps when by force.

The first time in New York, the Storefront in May -- even with its perforated walls -- was practically a confection oven. While various sirens and truck engines grumbled past the gallery in a constant flow of heavy mechanized sound-objects, rattling the gallery’s foundation to the core while also vying for supremacy over or own noise output, the walls and everything they surrounded dripped in buckets of sweat. The Storefront in this sense literally gave its own presentation for Postopolis! – as if the gallery was the quiet keynote speaker of the whole thing; and for its grand finale (as you may or may not recall) the ceiling actually crumbled with tiny pieces that fell onto the head of Jeff Byles as he very appropriately read a chapter from his book Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition.

It was perfect, and there was that same sort of serendipity here, too. Only this time the white noise of Manhattan’s dense auto congestion was replaced by a constant swarming of LA's helicopters that cut through the narrow airspaces over our heads like mutant urban insects, while the Standard’s resident dj’s on the other side of the rooftop seemed to beckon them with cliché dance floor tracks, not to mention some hilariously timed wafts of dope smoke that blanketed our haven one night from a pool party around the corner (or from somewhere), or the occasional misfirings in amplitude of the speakers – it was all a quintessentially environmental experience. And the Standard itself was the headline.

And, much like Byles' experience, on Saturday, while Christian Moeller (invited by Regine Debatty, author of -- still to this day -- the coolest blog out there - we-make-money-not-art) was presenting his work, which combines art and in some cases large scale robotics (one project of which was designed to use vibrations in order to communicate through the user’s body directly) and, after he'd just told the audience he “had a fascination for technical fuck-ups”, the strangest thing kept happening: every time he would go to touch his laptop to forward the next slide of his presentation he would receive a crazy shock! It was hilarious, you could actually hear it, and bizarrely timed, since we hadn’t seen anyone else get shocked like that. And it kept happening! And I think he actually got a perverse thrill out of it! It was crazy.

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Dan Hill.]

Anyway, Dan described the rooftop scenario quite well when he alluded to it becoming a sort of nocturnal nest that by night drew the buildings around us in closer with all the lights that came on after dark, 'like a canopy', he said; an intimacy with downtown architecture that could only exist between the time the sun went down and came back up again. It did have this feeling that Postopolis! sort of invited the buildings onto the tips of their chairs around us to have a closer gander too, as if our little series of talks was too interesting even for them not to take notice; as if they knew this had everything to do with them in some sense, and so (despite their immobility) even their curiosity could not be contained or left unevident. In spite of the chill factor, this closeness to the buildings was quite warming I thought, and at times I felt like Postopolis! was as much for the surroundings themselves as they were for anyone else. The towers around us created a kind of peripheral fireplace (though certainly emitted more by light than heat), and gave off a coziness that kind of sealed Postopolis! in its own world, in a way.

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Dan Hill.]

This vantage led Geoff to imagine a cool series of lectures one might give from the Standard’s rooftop referencing the surrounding buildings in a way they’re not often talked about; to point out, for example, a stratified history about their many lesser known significances and meanings; to create a “narrative planetarium”, he says, whereby stories about certain rooms, or archways all around the rooftop, or the secrets of other nearby rooftops, etc., could be revealed, as if the buildings around us were a library of mysterious histories that seemed to stare at us from every angle and in a way beg to be revealed. (G, that would be amazing, when you get down there you and Matt should make something like that happen!)

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Dan Hill.]

I kind of imagined Postopolis! as having the opposite effect, in the sense that we had drawn the attention of the buildings our way. Once the sun fell and all the lights popped on inside a thousand high rise windows around us, I got the feeling that our little show had become a kind of welcomed distraction for all those who remained trapped in their cubicles on those nights, filed away on the 22nd floor behind their desks, stuck doing overtime behind all that steel and glass, or finishing up some useless report, who just craved distraction out of the corners of their eyes. I’d like to think that our projections on the hotel’s wall was watched by more than just us, and all those building lights that piled in over our shoulders in a way represented some anonymous audience, who might have been watching it from their office windows; or, perhaps those lit windows floating in the dark in a stretched and fragmented checkered pattern represented an informal mapping of the online attendants who were watching the live stream on the Storefront website, their visibility blipping on and off. The building lights as visualization of our virtual audience.

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Dan Hill.]

It’s ridiculous, I know, but what if a janitor inside a building across the street discovered a new hyper-efficient way for vacuuming the office-scape of a thousand cubicles just because he found himself taking a much needed break for a moment to glance at the amazing mapping work of Stamen Design; or, a security guard got re-inspired to tinker with his passion for engineering because he stopped while making his nightly rounds to glimpse the curious robotics that were crawling in place on the side of the hotel across the street...

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Dan Hill.]

... what if another person was so engaged by Ted Kane’s documentation of cell phone towers disguised as palm trees they actually forgot to go home for an extra hour!?; beyond casual respite, what if Postopolis! prevented a crime of some sort, distracted a burglar, or caused an insider trader who was too entranced by Matt Coolidge’s incredible video of the Texas oilscape to pay close enough attention to the privileged numbers he’d received in time to place a lucrative sell order overseas? Secret affairs between bank managers and their secretaries on upper floors had not taken place one night because they were simply too enthralled with the sexy sarcastic images of C-Lab.

Absurd, I know, but I like the idea of the presentations having a little unknown effect this way, leaving a hidden mark on the city around us. I imagine a financier sitting atop his own opulent nest late night peering through a telescope down at our affair and coming to a realization about the possibilities for far more interesting projects he could be spending his millions on. (In case you are reading, Mr. Gecko, we are open to receiving donations for our next show.)

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Dan Hill.]

And even though many of the onlookers from such anonymous spaces could not hear anything that was being said to them (or maybe they could, our projected audio was actually really good), I wonder about the prospect of the visuals alone leaving a vague imprint that might lead to other intangible actions later on. Or, if all it provided was a little late night eye candy for those sorry enough to still be working that late, then that’s excellent too.

[Image: Standard Hotel Rooftop, LA. Photo by Dan Hill.]

But, what if the buildings themselves took note in some way, as if Postopolis!’ images were a kind of ritual seance that conjured a series of architectural dreams to the city’s surface, a collective unconsciousness that all buildings could identify with, and that we tickled LA’s downtown urbanism in a silly psycho-architectural sort of way, with notions of what things still could be, gave the old school bank towers and corporate HQ structures at the very least a bit of constructive entertainment, something to chew on for a few nights when buildings dream – something new to stare at. As if we had turned the Standard into an architectural crystal ball, though, hardly pretending to pitch any future. Just little hints at possibility. OK, I’m getting carried away, but - call me crazy, I’d like to think our little show brought those buildings to life in some way last week. It sure felt like they brought us to life, like there was a crazy feedback loop of some kind at work there. All of which, I guess, is really just a long long way of saying: it was a great spot. More soon enough.


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