Future Park I - Teach Me to Disappear
Opening: Saturday 28 August 2010 17.00-21.00
Park Talk I - 'One evening for pleasure'* Saturday 28 Augustus
Lecture by Robin Boyle (18.00-19.00)
Guided tour to Utrecht parks (19.00-20.30)
Reading ‘Detroit My Wilderness’ with Paul Elliman**
12 September 14.00-16.00
Park Talk II - Sjanghaipark***
Saturday 25 September, 14.00-15.30
Park Talk III – Cryptoforests****
Sunday 3 October 15.00-17.00
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join a Park Talk.
Future Park is a two-part project involving a series of events that explore the instrumentality of urban parks in relation to social policy and the shifting economic, political and cultural structure to imagine a post-capitalist city. The first is a project titled ‘Teach Me to Disappear’ by Paul Elliman and Nicole Macdonald.
Paul Elliman is an inquisitive collector and researcher of the various unclaimed languages and signs that may unintentionally and consequently form from man-made industrial and post-industrial systems. This includes the transformation of found industrial debris – the ‘ruins of empire’ as Elliman refers to them – into an endless font of typographical characters; or the sounds of emergency vehicles and traffic horns recovered by the human voice in sudden blasts of operatic siren mimicry. If it is our common language that defines the current social relations, what we are, and the systems within which we operate (Ivan Illich), it seems to be Paul Elliman’s work to seek another language to communicate with: a form of urban phenology, part ‘natural’ and part industrial, that almost requires us human beings to become another kind of species.
In the new project ‘Teach Me to Disappear’, Paul Elliman takes this enquiry further by focusing on Detroit in close collaboration with local artist and filmmaker Nicole Macdonald. Detroit is an archetypal post-industrial city with a crumbling infrastructure and dramatically decreasing population. Whilst many take a disquieting view of the city, Detroit urbanist Robin Boyle argues that it is a place ‘where a model of open spaces or, to use a term that comes up a lot here in Detroit, the urban prairie, starts to come into play.’ From a shared standpoint, Paul Elliman and Nicole Macdonald look into Detroit's abandoned Belle Isle Zoo, situated on the largest city island park in America, designed by the renowned NY Central Park-landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The closure of the zoo may be a typical symptom of the continued decline of Detroit through the loss of its public funds and amenities. However, Elliman and Macdonald entered the zoo not simply to witness the failure of a civilization in its state of ruin, but to encounter an abundant eco-system of flora and fauna that has since evolved there.
Populated with all sorts of animal families (like possums, shrews, snakes, voles, chipmunks, pipistrelles and other bats, red, grey and black squirrels, raccoons that swing through the trees, and a family of foxes that have made their home in the former lion's enclosure) as well as an impressive range of bird species (from elegant grey catbirds, indigo buntings, red cardinals and blue jays, orioles, goldfinches, chickadees, thrashers and nuthatches to a variety of thrushes, woodpeckers and warblers as well as red-tailed hawks and the endangered peregrine falcons), here is a section of Detroit thriving in the secret wilderness that has replaced the public pleasure park. Elliman and Macdonald have set out to document the various calls, gestures, signals and songs of the former zoo’s current inhabitants, residing and resounding freely in the dense, jungle-like overgrowth of the city's collapsing infrastructure. These are to be presented at Casco in the form of audio and video recordings, alongside several other references to the location and its inhabitants. Casco sets out to become a field trip camp from where a new urban language can be experienced, and where a city of “neo-liberal frustration”, in fact, provides many constructive examples from which to imagine the future of our own cities, intertwined as they inevitably are within dramatically changing economic and environmental conditions.
Paul Elliman (1961, UK) is a London-based artist and researcher whose practice often focuses on aspects of graphic design. He has exhibited widely in venues such as Tate Modern in London, the New Museum for Contemporary Art in New York, APAP in Anyang, South Korea, and Kunsthalle Basel and recently participated in the New York biennial Performa09. Elliman is also visiting critic at Yale University School of Art, New Haven, and a thesis supervisor at the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, Netherlands
Nicole Macdonald (1980, USA) is an artist, activist and filmmaker from Detroit, Michigan. Her recent film ‘A City to Yourself’, completed in 2008, has won several awards including Best Michigan Filmmaker at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Since 2006, Macdonald has been director of the Detroit Film Center. Working with the University of Michigan Ann Arbor Prison Creative Arts Project, Macdonald has lead art and media workshops for incarcerated youth at juvenile homes and adult prisons. She is also a qualified legal clerk specializing in bankruptcy law.
Robin Boyle (1952, UK) is an urbanist and researcher from Glasgow concerned with urban economic development, issues surrounding vacant land in central cities and national urban policy. Boyle is Professor and Chair of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Wayne State University in Detroit. Active in professional organizations, he is chapter of the Urban Land Institute and serves on the board of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. Since 2006, he is Chair of the Planning Board for Birmingham. Publications include ‘Privatism and Urban Policy in Britain and the United States’ (1989) and ‘Empowerment Zones - Picking the Winners’ (1995).
* The opening of 'Teach Me to Disappear' is also the occasion for the first Park Talk, a series of field trips to near parks with local experts and artists, taking place in the contexts of Future Park. The first Park Talk will begin with a lecture by Detroit urbanist Robin Boyle at Casco. After this lecture we will take off to walk along the parks in Utrecht, guided by botanist/artist Hans van Lunteren along with a loose gathering of local ornithologists, urbanists and (landscape)architects. Anyone who has got knowledge to share about subjects concering local parks, please feel free to contribute to this walk.
** During 'Detroit My Wilderness' we will discuss some of the propositions, thoughts, and methods evoked by Paul Elliman and Nicole Macdonald's project. A few major issues such as the potential of urban prairies (in Detroit), the equivocal concept of nature, and urban migration were addressed during the Park Talk on the day of the opening, accompanied by a lecture by Detroit Urbanist Robin Boyle, and require further investigation. This event will be such an occasion led by Elliman's own readings, a collection of referential texts now gathered at Casco as a kind phantom publication entitled 'Detroit My Wilderness', and that continue to inform the ongoing documentation of the abandoned city zoo. This event is Casco's contribution the Utrecht Uitfeest, the yearly festival for the opening of the cultural season in Utrecht.
*** The second Park Talk will be held at Sjanghaipark in Utrecht Overvecht this Saturday (the park’s 40th anniversary!) from 14.00 to 15.30, guided by Hans van Lunteren, an artist who, together with several sympathizers, has initiated and cared for the park since 1970. The park is formed on a typical lawn and was transformed into a diverse green zone where natural wilderness and its control on human inhabitation are constantly negotiated. The participation from neighbours, both for its design and use, has been crucial for the thriving life of this park in ongoing change.
Sjanghaipark is located on the corner Hongkongdreef/Shanghaidreef (click here for directions). You can come directly to the park by 14.00, otherwise please come to Casco by 13.30 to take public transport to the location together. Each year a resident’s working day is organised to keep the park well maintained. In celebration of Sjanghaipark’s 40th anniversary, this talk will have a festive touch. You are welcome to join this activity, before Park Talk, between 10.00 and 13.00.
****The Third Park Talk takes place at a 'cryptoforest' in Utrecht Westraven on 3 October, the last day of 'Teach Me to Disappear', Casco's current project with Paul Elliman and Nicole Macdonald. This talk will be led by Wilfried Hou je Bek together –also joined by Hans van Lunteren– who has developed an ongoing research project entitled 'cryptoforest' to identify hidden urban places where 'nature' is left to nourish its surrounding seeds and waste, over time. Westraven was an industrial area until a few years ago with several gasholders spread over its terrain. After their removal, it was taken over by wild plants to form a little urban forest.
Park Talk III starts at 15.00 from tram stop ‘P+R Westraven/Transferium Westraven’ (click here for directions). You may also join us at Casco at 14.00 to take public transport to the location together. Please remember to wear comfortable shoes because, we will be walking in a forest.