The city is the future

New exhibition at Valencia's IVAM explores urban living around the planet

Ferran Bono
Valencia -
Menina na laje (2010), a photograph taken in Rio de Janeiro by Claudia Jaguaribe.
Menina na laje (2010), a photograph taken in Rio de Janeiro by Claudia Jaguaribe.CLAUDIA JAGUARIBE

Using a wide range of media, Ciudad total (or, Total city) brings together the work of artists and writers from all over the planet to explore the dizzy growth of cities over the last 50 years, and where they, and the growing percentage of the world's population who live in them, are headed.

The idea of the exhibition, says its curator, Miguel G. Cortés, is to "analyze the phenomenon, how these changes are affecting our lives in the big cities: the chaos, noise, density, crime, confinement, economic differences, the way that slums can be just a few feet away from exclusive areas, density, fluidity, and the freedom that a city offers us. We wanted to reflect all this; we aren't trying to demonize the city. We wanted to make people think about the major changes that cities have gone through in recent decades, and to change the way that we think about and live in cities."

"There are days when the pollution is so bad that you can't see across the road," says Mexican author Rubén Gallo about his country's capital, now home to 20 million of Mexico's 112 million people. "The city is one big traffic jam, and people are as afraid of the police as they are the criminals. It is a monster, an urban disaster, a postmodern nightmare," he says while at the same time celebrating Mexico City's vibrant arts scene.

Across the globe Indian writer Suketu Mehta describes Mumbai: "It is the personification of the megacities of the 21st century such as São Paulo, Lagos or Jakarta. All of them are subjected to uncontrolled migration, with tremendous infrastructure problems, and where most people live in shantytowns, which are often breeding grounds for extremism. We are talking about megalopolises that face very different challenges than those that dominated the 20th century, such as London, Paris, or New York."

My city is a monster, an urban disaster, a postmodern nightmare"

Brazilian anthropologist Teresa Pires do Rio Caldeira describes São Paulo, the economic powerhouse of the world's sixth-largest economy, as "a city of walls, a place where people are forced to put bars on their windows. This transformation of the urban landscape changes everything about the way we live. The act of walking through a multitude of anonymous people, which symbolizes the experience of living in a modern city, is governed by the city of walls. Tension, separation, discrimination and suspicion are the new characteristics of public life."

Cortés insists whether we like it or not, cities are the future: "We are immersed in a process of economic globalization and permanent information revolution in which the planet is tending toward a general urbanization (territorially articulated around city networks) which will radically alter the structure of space and society. In this regard, we can say that cities have ceased to be stable places with a clearly determined form and have instead become complex structures where mobility and mutation are two of the most significant features. Big cities have been transformed into immense urban concentrations that belong not only to a territory (network or virtual cities are becoming more important every day) but also to an intricate set of economic and social relations for which new approaches are required."

The exhibition is divided into five sections, beginning with Cosmopolis, which includes works by artists such as Thom Andersen, Francesco Jodice, Melanie Smith, Pedro Ortuño, Rem Koolhaas and HC Gilje, showing how we interact with public spaces in some of the largest metropolises in the world such as Los Angeles, Dubai, Mexico City, Mumbai, Lagos and Tokyo.

Topologías densas explores the problems of architectural concentration and human overpopulation through the work of Philippe Chancel, James Casebere, Julian Opie, Ángel Marcos, Melanie Smith and Claudia Jaguaribe. Espacios alineados looks at the impact of consumerism through the work of Robert Rauschenberg, Andreas Gursky, Martin Parr, José A. Hernández-Díez, Thomas Struth, Diller+Scofidio, Francesc Ruiz, Kentaro Taki and Harun Farock.

Tension, separation and suspicion are the characteristics of public life today"

Lugares fluidos examines how we move around our cities, and includes work by Fischli & Weiss, John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, Martha Rosler, Michael Wolf, Yin Xiuzhen, Jack Cronin, Marina Chernikova and Livia Corona. And finally Mundos virtuales offers a selection of installations and projections by Sven Påhlsson, Christophe Berdaguer and Marie Péjus, Olivo Barbieri, MVRDV, Annelies Štrba, H C Gilje, Dionisio González, Matt Mullican and Chris Burden that look at the role imagination plays in designing cities.

The latest UN State of World Population report says more than half of the global population now lives in cities, many of which are home to millions of inhabitants, especially in the Third World. "We are witnessing the development of an archipelago of city-regions of high technological capacity with a decisive influence. We are talking about enormous agglomerations of people in physical spaces described as cities which no longer have any centralized or concentrated structure, and instead are closely interconnected. Many of these new metropolises will be strung together as clusters alongside transport highways and services (such as airports, shopping centers, theme parks, business centers, etc.), in large agglomerations unequally distributed and diffusely organized throughout the geography of the world," says Cortés.

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