New City, 2014
Multiple channel video installation
New City is a series of animated skylines of the near future. In intricate detail they depict a speculative urbanism, an exaggerated version of the present, in which we can project new cultural trends, environmental, political and economic forces. Photographs taken on expeditions around the world with nomadic studio Unknown Fields, to document these emerging phenomena and weak signals have been meticulously stitched together and extrapolated to form each city skyline. In this way ‘New City’ slips between the real and the imagined, between the documentary and the visionary, where speculative fictions become a way of exploring a world that the everyday struggles to grasp. To accompany the animations the authors Jeff Noon, Pat Cadigan and Tim Maughan have been invited to inhabit each skyline, to breathe life into its characters and cultures and give form to its streets and spaces through a suggestive narrative fragment. Original New City soundscapes have been developed by Coldcut.
Edgelands: The Symbiant
By Jeff Noon
I keep to the shadows of the township, fearful of being seen, a stranger.
The waste pits. This is where the digital world comes to die, and even at this time of night youngsters are digging for scraps of information, anything they can salvage and hope to sell on. Two of them are fighting over a morsel of text. I see the face of a one-time film star, a spectral mask floating in the air like insect silk.
A figure steps forward. Payment is made and I follow her in silence towards a row of sealed storage units. She breaks a padlock with a pair of cutters and then leaves me. My scanner bleeps. I’m close now, I can sense it. It’s dark inside and it takes my eyes a while to adjust. But then I see him, my symbiant. He’s sitting there, perfectly still, his body glowing with a faint blue light. My friend, I have not seen you in so long a time. His eyes flicker; I can only hope its recognition. Portions of his face are missing so I can see the hollowness within. It’s painful to witness. But the scars on his left wrist match my own exactly; we are both survivors of the same suicide. A few strands of fragile code in my scanner are the connecting tissue between us.
At the height of the digital era we all carried these phantoms with us: our downloaded selves given a semblance of life. We were symbiotic companions, each feeding off and supporting the other. But now, living in the aftermath of the system crash, we are bereft. Who would not do what I have done, following rumours of an almost perfect ethereal body found wandering at the city’s limits? A body with my name, and my face.
I take his hand and urge him to his feet. He’s weightless. It feels as though I’m touching at light itself, at colour. I retrace my steps, but a group of men are approaching. I fear these are his new owners, seeking to protect their asset. So I turn in the opposite direction. The men shout after us, but we are running now, away from the edgelands and into the fields beyond. A veil of mist closes around us.
I rest beside an abandoned caravan to catch my breath, and my ghost hovers before me. My face, his face. We touch our wrists at the old wound and fuse together, one inside the other. When I wake up some time later, lying on a fold-out bed, I have no sense at all of being separate. What now? We have yet to decide.
Looking back at the city’s skyline we see the ghosts rising from the outer regions, so many flickers of light, dots of colour, notes of music, images, words, fragments, drifting towards the vast shining edifices of the central zone and the financial district. The moon’s reflected blue sphere calls to them from each segment of polished glass.
Tomorrows Thoughts Today
Soundscapes by Coldcut with additional sound design by Aneek Thapar
Curated by Karen Verschooren and produced for Z33, Future Fictions Exhibition