press release

R e a l F i c t i o n s "Where is the cinema? It is all around you outside, all over the city, that marvelous, continuous performance of films and scenarios." 1

Jean Baudrillard wrote this in 1986, in an account of his travels across the USA. In the course of interrogating the relation of the American landscape to its celluloid double, Baudrillard cites a palimpsest of images from the cinema to the snapshot that have fused with existing topographies from the American West to midtown Manhattan. At the same time the proliferating presence of reproductions in the experience of our immediate surroundings and our perception of places never visited, alongside the homogenizing effects of a global film industry, has created a global urban vernacular rooted in images of the generic city at once anonymous and iconic. Today cities like Vancouver are important locations for the film industry because of the ease with which they can stand in for other cities in the collective imaginary. Since Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), film directors have exploited the confusion of real and imagined cities. In 1946, Howard Hawks was able to recreate the neighborhood of Bunker Hill in Los Angeles and film his entire screen adaptation of The Big Sleep on the Warner Brothers' Burbank lot, while Jean-Luc Godard created a generic future city solely through images shot on location inParis for Alphaville (1965).

As Baudrillard reflects, the city experienced in the darkness of the cinema constantly overlaps and intrudes into the daylight of the sidewalk — literally, as in the case of the Hollywood Redevelopment Project (ongoing since 1986), an urban renewal project that conflates Hollywood's imagined past with a future urban landscape. The aim of the HRP is to create a geography out of a set of signs, or as Josh Stenger puts it, "a virtually instant and instantly nostalgic commercial landscape.2 that imposes a thematized urban history onto existing social and economic topographies, and affirms consumption, spectatorship, and tourism as the dominant forms of urban experience.

This constant pressure of a collective imaginary grounded in cinematic imagery is explored by Matthias Müller in his film, Vacancy (1998). Seamlessly weaving found footage of the capital city of Brazil — Brasilia — from 1960, the year that the city was inaugurated, with recent documentation made by the artist, this film offers a complex impression of an entire city invested in its own image. Brasilia was designed and built from scratch by the modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, and represents the most comprehensive realization of a modernist utopian model of social urban planning. Niemeyer oversaw every detail, from the footprint of the city (when seen from the air it was supposed to resemble the outline of a bird in flight) to the color and shape of the gravestones in the city's cemetery. Müller explores the myth and history surrounding the planned city, now a world heritage site, as it is mediated by the visual devices of film. Vacancy becomes an examination of the impact of cinematic imagery on the way we experience (as consumer, spectator, tourist) cities that is paralleled in Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's film, Riyo (1999), which is set in contemporary Kyoto.

Baudrillard's invocation of cinema in relation to the American urban landscape underscores a wider critical engagement with image culture at large, but the same time it reveals the mutual entanglement of reality and fiction, and our complicit involvement with this, as part of the contemporary urban experience. Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno explore this set of relations in Anna Sanders (1996), the project that is simultaneously a magazine structured like a film and a character from a hypothetical film called History of a Feeling. Within the parameters of this fictional scenario, Huyghe and Parreno explore the social and imaginary possibilities inherent in a condition of virtualization that has its roots in the cinematic experience. Anna Sanders is a fictional construct brought into the realm of the real, in a way that is indebted to the virtual constructs of cinema. And like most of us, Anna Sanders inhabits the gap between mass-media product and actual lived experience.

Hannah Starkey makes photographs that also exist between fiction and reality. Set in unspecific urban locations, using ordinary people, her images reconstruct observed scenarios that are characteristically 'non-events,' animated only by the thoughts of her characters. While they reveal an acute sensitivity to the social, cultural and economic conditions of contemporary urban life, Starkey's pictures also rely on the narrative licenseof staged photography. Invisible dramas lace the slavishly specific details of each scene as it hovers in the twilight of cinematic fantasy.

In 1986, Michel Foucault published a short essay entitled "Other Spaces," in which he identified commonplace sites, ranging from a public park to the movie theater, where the mythical and real contestation of space occurs. Foucault used the term heterotopia to identify these places which are characterized by multiple contradictory uses and realities held in tension. As he put it, heterotopias stand in relation to all others in such a way as to "suspend, neutralize, or invert the set of relationships that define them."3 This state of inversion is keenly felt in Martin Boyce's installations. In Our Love is Like the Earth, the Rain, the Trees and the Birth (2003), Boyce conjures a dream-like municipal landscape using industrially fabricated materials and the languages of classic design, cinema and architecture. Lending familiar materials a fantastical air with his dark, whimsical aesthetic, Boyce brings a critical engagement with the social, cultural, and ideological relationships invested in urban sites into tension with an untethered imagination. Bridget Smith began photographing empty movie theaters in the early 1990's. Documenting these spaces when the film wasn't showing, focusing instead on the atmosphere and glamour of the setting, from the architectural features to the theatrical use of light, color and texture in these palaces Smith's images acknowledge the implicitly heterotopic nature of the cinematic spectacle. As Foucault notes, the physical details alone embody this: on a two-dimensional screen at the end of a dark, windowless hall is projected another three-dimensional space: two realities, two temporalities, and two locations seamlessly interwoven. Probing the physical reality of spectacle, from movietheaters to glamour studios, model homes, themed motel rooms or the cityscape of Las Vegas, Smith's camera exposes mechanisms of illusion and escapism at the heart of a heterotopic contemporary urban life.

1. Josh Stenger, "Return to Oz: The Hollywood Redevelopment Project, or Film History as Urban Renewal," in Cinema and the City ed. Mark Shiel & Tony Fitzmaurice (Blackwell:Oxford, UK, 2001): 59-72. 2. Jean Baudrillard, America (London: Verso, 1988): 56 3. Michel Foucault, "Other Spaces," in Lotus International v. 48-49 (1986): 9-17


Sodium Dreams

mit Knut Asdam, Julie Becker, Sarah Dobai, Martin Boyce, Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, Pierre Huyghe, Mark Lewis, Sarah Morris, Matthias Müller, Philippe Parreno, Bridget Smith, Hannah Starkey