It’s been an interesting few months for opening up the discourse around the Vernacular Aesthetics of the Global City and indeed my registration document for my Doctorate is now due, and most likely called ‘Global Vernacular Aesthetics’. A nice contradictory title!
In April I was privileged to present a paper and my short film The Brand Nobody Knows (discussed in much detail in other parts of this blog) at the Association of Art Historians Conference 2017 at Loughborough University. The stream was convened by Dr. Robert Harland and called The Object of Urban Visual Culture. It was really fruitful looking at my concepts of urban global vernacular visual culture via urban planner Kevin Lynch’s notion of the ‘city image’ and ‘imageability’ (1960). I argued that the kinds of global vernacular aesthetics I investigate in my work are frequently thought of as visual pollution, and lack the kind of ‘legibility’ and ‘clarity’ that Lynch holds dear for individuals to make a sense of place. Whilst Lynch accepts that one cannot fully account for how each citizen ‘images’ a city (and he also notes the limits of his sample in his research) his notion of imageability cannot fully take into account the complexities of global cities in the twenty-first century. I argued that in a superdiverse global city such as London, some 60 years after Lynch’s text was published, notions of imageability must be radically updated. Lynch did not, and perhaps could not have, predicted how mass migration and mobile networked technology has produced what we might think of as distributed subjectivity. One cannot think of oneself singularly, in only one place at a time, but scattered across and attached to a variety of time zones, nations, countries, languages, social relations and digital spaces.
The imageable city and the powerful brand are at odds with one another. Vernacular aesthetics (as long as they are not squashed by ‘regeneration’) are useful in resisting the power of the brand. Ultimately I argued that the way ‘successful’ brands generate images on behalf of consumers has some relationship to imageability, however I am certain that if Lynch was working today he would develop his notion that “The observer himself should play an active role in perceiving the world and have a creative part in developing his image. He should have the power to change that image to fit changing needs.” (1960, p.6).
My paper is still somewhat unpolished, but I will post when complete but in the meantime here is a link to the presentation.
There was plenty of interesting discussion in the stream, not least about what ‘brand value’ could mean in the context of global vernacular aesthetics.
Lynch, K. (1960) The image of the city. Cambridge, Mass, London, England: MIT Press