This presentation argues that the city we truly experience is only the small portion we are allowed into. Entire swaths of the built environment are off-limits to most people—sites of infrastructure, the remains of yesterday’s heavy industry, outmoded hospitals, dead shopping malls— representing the shadow side of urbanity. A few dedicated people defy the prohibitions against entering these spaces, creating an unsanctioned (and often illegal) practice of independent urban exploration and archaeology committed to investigating and documenting the largely unseen corners and vestiges of the city.
As much as these sites are the byproducts of social, economic, and technological progress, they tie back to phenomena that fascinated people of an earlier era—the shattered agorae of antiquity or the stripped medieval abbeys that littered the English countryside. The intrepid people who explore the ruins of the relatively recent past—not just from the industrial era, but now an even more recent service/retail age that dominated American culture until the crash of the late 00s—do so for their own desire to forge a unique relationship with the largely invisible city strata. But whether they lean towards libertarianism or the pursuit of an atmospheric environment for creating art, urban explorers engage with the built environment on such an extraordinary level that they invite—or perhaps actually perform—critique on our relationship to postmodern urbanity. Those who infiltrate these sites comment on the kinds of quotidian urban experience the rest of us normally have. “The Shadow City” explores the implications of their alternative use of urban space.
The School of Visual Arts MFA Design Criticism Department presented “Crossing the Line: The 2010 D-Crit Conference" organized by graduating D-Crit students at the SVA Theatre in New York City on Friday, April 30 2010.