From dystopia to utopia | Fanciful Megalomania by Jonathan Gales

The film project Fanciful Megalomania is described by its author Jonathan Gales, as some “Fanciful drawings of construction sites“. Gales is a film maker and designer based in London. For his master degree at the Bartlett School of Architecture, he is researching on the mixed use of film, animation, music and photography. Gales says about his project “the film is focused around the city and his fanciful speculations of it”, and this statement just makes us think on the current visions that artist and architects have on the term “city”.

cit·y (st)
n. pl. cit·ies
1. A center of population, commerce, and culture; a town of significant size and importance.
2. The inhabitants of a city considered as a group.
3. An ancient Greek city-state.
4. Slang Used in combination as an intensive: The playing field was mud city after the big rain.

Seems like we don’t see the city just as “a center of population” anymore. Far away of the avant-garde discourse and aesthetic production, it looks like we’re facing a globally-oriented debate which shows the future of our cities dominated by ruins. A dystopic approach to our future.

Conflating real and imagined spatialities, Jonathan Gales is working on some graphic concepts that shows incomplete buildings, still under construction, being demolished alongside larger construction sites, alluding to a city that is increasing in development plans faster than it can be realised.

As Joseph Rykwert wrote:

City form, in other words, is not some autonomous organic growth, nor is it dictated by ineluctable economic laws. It is in fact and artifact- an artifact of a curious kind, compounded of willed and random events, imperfectly controlled. If it is related to physiology at all, it is more like a dream than anything else.

This way of perceiving the city, with its physiological implications within a new frame of our contemporary world, is now reflected in other disciplines, like video games, graphic novels and films.

The argument of Gales’ work is focused on a subject [patient] of a Centre of Attention, that will be situated on the site of the former Millbank prison as a reincarnation of the facility in the form of a contemporary panopticon. As he points: “The film will explore the patient’s perception of the city as a landscape of continuous construction and development. This will be shown as a fictional environment implied as an extension and exploration of the patients imagination.” And he adds:

The architecture of the centre will utilise embodied augmentation of vision based perception to construct and manipulate spatial environments around its users. Within the site of the Centre of Attention, augmentation of the built environment will reveal a series of virtual spaces detourned from Piranesi’s Carceri D’invenzione alongside the neoclassical architectural system of the Tate Britain.

An utopian city had always been a dream, a myth of architecture, and it was created in very different ways, as Gloria Bianchino wrote. So, the myth on the Centre of Atention is based on the lack of ability to interact and understand the surrounding environment and society.

This film also makes us think on Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera, a film from 1929 which presents urban life in Odessa and other Soviet cities with no actors. The narrative is quite different, but Vertov‘s dramatic fiction that aimed to create a futuristic city that would serve as a commentary on existing ideals in the Soviet world, ended up on an artificial city portraying electrification, industrialization, and the achievements of workers through hard labour. Is in this sense where we found some similarities that can be revisited.

Beyond all this writing, we can also go to Gales’ eVolo entry in 2010 where he literally buried a building to allow for increased green space at staggered heights throughout the city. So we can see that his speculative and ideological thoughts on the city are always far beyond from a simplistic approach of urban space and are designed to make us reflect on the kind of cities we are creating. He says on Notes on a crit:

Within my current project I am focussing on perception and imagination and began writing a treatment around how people perceive their environments and augmenting geometry within that to interact with them. I have decided now to focus on the imagined perception of an individual’s environment not merely a literal one around them. I feel this will allow me to explore my ideas about space that is in construction/maintenance/demolition further.

Working on “the idea that architecture is either unfinished, incomplete or broken.”, the Fanciful Megalomania graphics are always surrounded by scaffolds, labyrinths and cranes.

If we read again Joseph Rykwert’s book, we found this quote:

The modern city is a city of contradictions; it houses many ethnes, many cultures, and classes, many religions. This modern city is too fragmentary, too full of contrast and strife: it must therefore have many faces, not one […] The lack of any coherent, explicit images may therefore, in our circumstances, be a positive virtue, not a fault at all, or even a problem.

The growth of urban spaces, the use of digital platforms to map and plan new cities and all the technological changes we’re living are also transforming our perception of space, our ways on interact with the new topologies and topographies that surrounds us. This make interesting Rykwert‘s idea on turning this confusion in to something positive.

From dystopia to utopia and between all these cities of contradictions, we are curious to see what Gales’ patient will tell us after spending time on the Centre of Attention. We will looking forward to the end of the project and hopefully, share it here in a not-so-distant future.

UPDATE [June 29, 2011]

Our friend Jonathan Gales just sent us a note with the Megalomania video finished. Please take a look here:

Related readings and links:

[1] Jonathan Gales | BLOG
[2] Jonathan Gales | Films
[3] Man with a Moving Camera by Dziga Vertov | free on-line viewing


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