Monday, 18 June 2012

Contemporary Urban Space - 'The Urban Jungle'

Recently I danced in two urban spaces in Berlin: the first was an underground venue that used to be a brewery, re-claimed as a site for experimental theatre and music. The second was in a park - Mauer Park or "wall park" next to the old divide between East and West Berlin. Both times I was dancing with another person and both times the reaction between people passing by was totally different, yet what we were doing was pretty much the same. Using hard concrete surfaces as our 'stage' and finding ways for our bodies to engage in not such a friendly environment. We were trying to move softly in contrast to the spaces we chose to work in. The classic reaction we received in the park was surprise we weren't tripping on something - because whatever it was that inspired us to do what we were doing, the guy who commented wanted to get some. In some ways could be considered a compliment, but in other ways points to a less than healthy system of expected social control and hierarchy. In this instance, the body is the clear locus for discussion of our physical engagement in our surroundings. It constantly shocks me how unused to seeing anything other than day to day movements in urban spaces we are. I would for the sake of argument define everyday movements in a western urban context as walking, sitting (not on the ground - park benches are acceptable), standing (but not loitering - defined as standing without purpose) and possibly running - but only after a bus or a thief. If you aren't running after a bus or wearing exercise clothes then it's quite possible you are the thief. I have struggled with these limited expectations of human activity, being moved on from urban spaces before for 'suspicious' activities I've been taking part in. My artistic practice being physical there are indeed socio -political questions that arise in relation to shared public urban spaces that I can't ignore. 

The phrase 'concrete jungle' is one that I personally would like to embrace but even this phrase is not without it's problems. A jungle , from a traditionalist western perspective, being something that is unruly and needs to be tamed. Where the strongest survive and where danger and beauty are synonymous with 'the exotic'. I would like to instead embrace the term 'concrete jungle' from a contemporary western point of view which acknowledges jungle as being a place of diversity and complex systems where the intelligence of the organisms that live there allow millions of different species to co-exist in balance with one another. Furthermore I'd like to celebrate the phrase 'concrete jungle' as being a place where the intelligence of human beings as a species can develop greater awareness through creative practices and this no-doubt involves a questioning and exploration of perceived codes of conduct from a less than contemporary traditionalist viewpoint.