The exhibition catalog for Automatic Cities: The architectural imaginary in contemporary art, which ran from Sept 29, 2009 – Jan. 31, 2010, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, was written by curator Robin Clark, and contains an essay by Giuliana Bruno. Here is an excerpt from Bruno’s essay, “Construction Sites: Fabricating the Architectural Imaginary in Art.”
An urban image is created by the work of history and the flow of memory. This is because the city of images comprises in its space all of its past histories, with their intricate layers of stories. The urban imaginary is a palimpsest of mutable fictions floating in space and residing in time. Mnemonic narratives condense in space, and their material residue seeps into the imaginative construction of a place. The density of historical and mnemonic interactions builds up the architectural imaginary of a city. The process becomes visible in the visual arts, which are capable of capturing temporality and memory. Artworks can fabricate traces of existence and exhibit the sedimentation of time. In art we can feel the texture of an image and the substance of a place when layered forms come to be visible on the surface and mnemonic coatings become palpable to our sensing. The actual folds of history and the fabric of memory can thus be “architected” in art, which can expose the density of time that becomes space.
Wow! I know, right? But wait, there’s more…
In this sense an architectural imaginary is a visual repository that is active: it is an archive open to the activities of digging, re-viewing, and re-visioning in art. In this urban archive, doors are always unlocked to the possibility of re-imagining spaces, and archaeology here is not simply about going back into the past; rather it enables us to look in other directions, and especially forward into the future, in active retrospective motion. This is because the urban archive contains more than what has actually occurred or already happened. It is made up of trajectories of image-making that are varied, some not yet existing or materialized, others not even achievable. This construct contains even the unbuilt or the unrealized. In other words, the urban imaginary contains all kinds of potentialities and projections, which are creative forms of imagination. It is this potentially projective form of imagining that creates new urban archaeologies in art and makes the visual matrix that is the city a moving one.