Author Archives: Matthew Blunderfield

site writing: the situated imagination

done! (sort of)

I wrote myself into weird little implosion with this. The art project itself went really well, and the majority of the critical reaction (built into the proposal, if it looks familiar) is lucid, drawing connections between the project and broader themes of the course. I’m still bewildered though by the question I ended with, and specifically the implications of narrative and standpoint theory within the context of science fiction and architectural space. It’s a start though.

and the term projects that have gone up so far are amazing! congratulations for having made this course a success.

the situated imagination

“What new books might we write, if we could learn to use objects and spaces, buildings and bodies…to make architecture from words on a page?” – Shelly Jackson

This question has guided my deliberations on how exactly to go about doing a final project for this course. I knew I wanted to make a narrative, and one that tangibly interfaced with more than just sheets of paper. I wanted to use the city, and all the facets of its infrastructure not only as a place of radical fantasy, but as a material thing in and of itself. I wanted to write on it and with it – to throw fragments of a narrative across sidewalks and along the walls of buildings, to use the city’s own syntax of doorways and stairwells and multi-level car-parks, to collide text and space in a way that figures reading as a physical praxis. I’d then map it – the narrative – and chart it through more abstract, fantastic and parallel landscapes – digital landscapes, imagined geographies – all woven together as an elaborate hypertext, where the end links to the beginning in a paradoxical teleology of infinite regress.

After running through this naive and probably over-ambitious, under-developed scenario in different ways, it’s finally been subsumed as a preamble to a project that may prove to be more grounded, comprehensible and, most importantly, doable.

Specifically, my ideas began to change as I fixated more on graffiti as a primary mode of displaying the project. The physical act of superimposing an image, or in this case a text-based narrative, over a preexisting surface seemed apt considering the amount of work we’ve looked at this term that takes up collage as means of revising and re-conceiving the urban landscape.

I wanted to work with the concept of the overlay through graffiti, and realized the most direct way of achieving this would be to actually post the graffiti onto walls, along the lines of swoon or or Shepard Fairey’s Obey (/Obama) posters. I considered writing short, site-specific stories and then gluing the pages in the location they narrate, with piles of looseleaf on the ground, as if the walls were shedding memories: A kid drawing pictures in chalk, careless fingers dragged across by passerby, a bloody fight, a hustler’s date, a drifter’s muttered lamentations…

It made me realize how there wasn’t necessarily a need for completely fabricated memories – that the city is already marked up with its own stories, with the ceaseless flow of people imprinting its own kind of graffiti. The street, the walls, the sidewalk are all documents.

This pulled at a memory of my own – of a news story that ran this past December, about a homeless woman who’d burned to death downtown inside a makeshift shelter, on the corner of Hornby and Davie street. She had lit some candles to keep warm, fallen asleep, and burned alive inside her shopping cart. The absurd, horrific story had almost as much affect as the photographs of the wall the woman had been lying against. It was stained black.

I was, and still am, morbidly fascinated by the mark – I had this impulse after reading the story to go downtown to see it, to touch the soot, to look. And now I ask myself what it was exactly that I wanted to see – it was the news article that gave me the background of the event, its context, location, and most importantly its narrative. I wanted to see the story, or a fragment of it, as manifest in its remains.

The stain itself is an ambiguous black mark, but the words I read in the paper, and the words I’m reading right now in blogs, forums, and international press all act as means of writing the corner of Hornby and Davie street. Specifically, the black mark outlines a territory for this aggregate narrative – a locus or site for the words describing it. I want to bring the story a new publicity though, by overlaying a compiled account of it from the public realm of the internet onto that of the street. Alternately, I want to tear away the concrete surface of the wall, to expose an imagined underlying narrative structure.

I’m going to fill the space marked off by the burns – an incomprehensible space considering the experience inscribed there – constructing a narrative to fit within the borders of a blackened, unknown territory.  I’m going to fill it with a patchwork of words distilled from its coverage in a kind of textual catharsis, enabling the possibility of both an analytical and affective process of delineating or mapping the event through words.

There is a range of directions the critical component of the project could take. Materially, I want to explore changing notions of news-media – printing web content on blank newsprint to gesture at the ephemerality of stories like this, regardless of them being archived elsewhere. The conflict of public/private is pressing too, as is that of detournment/defacement. The idea of the memorial as a public installation is taken up, alongside a consideration of the materiality of words, the physicality of text and its ability to quite literally form monuments

But then there’s the question of what exactly science fiction has to do with it. I want to go about answering this question by fixating on the marginalized, alienated position of the the homeless woman, who had appeared in the city weeks earlier and was known only as “Tracey”. Her liminality is compounded by the strangeness and unfathomable nature of her death, and framed absurdly by the idea that Vancouver is one of the most livable cities on the planet. One journalist responded to circumstances of Tracy’s death and the poverty that defined her life by stating, poignantly, that “It is truly another world.”

It is this this idea of ‘other worlds’ that figures so prominently in science fiction, where a large part of the genre’s work consists re-imagining and conceptualizing alternate places, states and subjectivities. Considering the possibility that public art, and graffiti in particular, can function as a means of this engagement with and understanting of what could be considered other-world positions, may afford us, an audience of pedestrians/readers, an alternate standpoint. In effect, the installation could act as a means of shifting perspective towards the margins, centralizing the narrative of Tracey’s death by fixating on the site as itself a textual and narrative medium. What sense could be made of urban space and the people that inhabit it through a situated imagining of one moment in the city?

In Search of the Continuous Monument (or, the grid as speculative architecture)

In the late 1960’s, a group of radical Florentine architects by the name of Superstudio proposed to wrap the world in an endless grid – producing a series of fantastical renderings depicting a hulking, crystalline superstructure built over everyday environments.

Called The Continuous Monument, it put to question Modernist doctrines of the 20th century, acting as a hyperbole of the movement’s ahistorical aesthetic as well as its uptopic ambitions. Overlaying real landscapes, the Monument becomes one of disillusionment and acculturation, minimalism and functionality – simultaneously tracing the faults of Modernism while finding within it some ideological platform upon which Superstudio could further develop its own praxis of radically re-imagining architectural production.

In this spirit of critique and co-opting, I want to try and understand the Continuous Monument as a structure that crosses the boundaries of the world it was originally rendered in, and think of it instead as a structure traversing a range of other fictional landscapes. Assuming that through its own relentless fabrication it has in fact permeated ‘other worlds’ of popular fiction, how might we make sense of the Continuous Monument, what it means and how it works more broadly in considering the grid as a speculative architecture?


The grid is, above all, a conceptual speculation…in its indifference to topography, to what exists, it claims the superiority of mental construction over reality”  – Rem Koolhaas, Delerious New York

The grid is fundamentally a symbol of fabrication – an artificial structure that holds its own determinacy and potentiality. It can be thought of as denoting social convention and conservatism – The denizens of a given society (OneState, Diaspar, or Middle-Class North America for example) being ‘squares’ in a picnic-blanket grid of social strictures that expands into notions of the (social, political, electrical) power grid we are in reality both bound by and woefully dependent on. Living ‘off-grid’ then, implies the kind of transcendental lifestyle seen as both virtuously and threateningly subversive, encompassed by a range of figures from Thoreau to the Unibomber. In the quote above though, Koolhaas is referring specifically to the grid plan characteristic of modern cities. The structured, hierarchic system of blocks supersedes the natural landscape that lies beneath it, in a way that frames the grid as already unreal. The grid is set up as a kind of game-board on which the metropolis plays its own development. The city grid becomes the game-board of urbanism.

In an endless speculation of design action and user reaction, this imagined interplay frames the grid as a place of strategy and competition, in line with an array of parameters (economic, social, political etc.) that define the grid itself as a quintessential game space. This brings us to what is arguably the most iconic gridscape in recent science fiction:

YouTube Preview Image

Tron’s light cycle arena enables something like an object-lesson on the dynamics of interaction in strategic situations – a hugely oversimplified, albeit relevant sketch of game theory. Simply put, the grid becomes a not only a mental construct, but a structure with innate theory and parameters as well – all visibly demarcated in its ruled and intersecting lines.

In this light, the grid takes on a more autonomous expression – as a thing or entity unto itself – coming to delineate meaning through its own geometrical language. This is another way of saying the grid becomes weirder. When juxtaposed with the banal and familiar, the grid seems auratic, even sentient, as is the case in the final scenes of 2001 A Space Odyssey:

The backlit grid is ideologically opposed to the surroundings it upholds; densely traditional neoclassical designs – the furnature, the paintings, the ornament etc. – become objectified and suspended as mere incidentals in a far more abstract and alien environment. Kubrick has the protagonist traverse the area as an astronaut, taking advantage of the suit’s visually and aurally hermetic perspective, while further adding to the sense of this place as being somehow outside or beyond comprehension. The grid essentially sets the room up as a frontier populated by the trappings of domesticity and tradition – a disruptive, incongruent depiction that works to interrogate and subvert ideas of convention and normality. The grid itself is the prototype for understanding the arbitrariness of the normal when juxtaposed upon a surface of total possibility.

This brings us to what is likely the most abstract manifestation of the grid – and one that was at first comprised a fictional environment before drifting into the banality of the (hyper)real: Cyberspace. Coined by William Gibson, and popularized in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, the word is now ubiquitous (probably to the point of cliché) as a synonym for the internet. the descriptions of it being a “consensual hallucination” of “disembodied consciousness”, Cyberspace to Gibson is structurally characterized by its now-infamous description as a “grid-space” or “matrix” full of “bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void” – outlining an abstract space as imagined through an iconography of the grid. Gibson goes so far as to evoke, in full circle, images of the urban grid in his conception the internet, colliding and equating the two geographies:

“Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”


Its funny the way that tangents work; while perhaps speaking more to the meanings of the grid in general, I think these extrapolations enable a re-conception of Superstudio’s provocative work as well, where the Continuous Monument can begin to be understood through associations of the grid in its many permutations, fictional and otherwise.

Camouflage Class

A 1943 “camouflage class” at NYU – students prepare for jobs in the Army or in industry by making models from aerial photographs. The models are themselves photographed and used to develop camouflage schemes; simulacrum of a landscape, encrypted with the fantasies of war.

A lot of artists have grappled with the effects of facsimile in this context – from Don Delillo’s most photographed barn in America, to the photography of Oliver Boeburg and Thomas Demand. In each case, with the continued replication of a scene comes a peeling-away of its original signification; uncanny and auratic, it becomes a place of unbridled potential, unsettled and pushed into a realm of the fictive and imaginary, hitherto camouflaged in geometries and landscapes of the everyday.

The Ebb of Memory

“The sharp upswing in all of this record-keeping – both active and passive – are redefining one of the core elements of what it means to be human, namely to remember. We are moving towards a culture that has outsourced this essential quality of existence to machines, to a vast and distributed prosthesis. This infrastructure exists right now, but very soon we’ll be living with the first adult generation whose entire lives are embedded in it…For the next generation, it will be impossible to forget it, and harder to remember.”

Via things: Kevin Slavin writes on digital archiving and recollection. (scroll to the bottom)