THE YOUNG FAMILY, by Patricia Piccinini
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The City in the Age of Touristic Reproduction
Boris Groys
The tourist and the city dweller become identical.

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Steven Rand
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Charles Esche
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Constantin Luser


Utopia with Lara Croft and some other monsters and Aliens
Marina Gržinić
The re-direction of desires, facts & bodies in the global world.

Žarko Paić
How to envision utopia, and not run away from society’s real repression / depression into a ghetto or exile for fantastic outsiders?

Zoran Roško
The rejection of human will, civilisation, & the search for what we have left.


The City in the Age of Touristic Reproduction

Cities originally came about as projects for the future: People moved from the country into the city in order to escape the ancient forces of nature and to build a new future that they could shape and control themselves. The entire course of human history until the present has been defined by this movement from the country into the city - a dynamic to which history in fact owes its direction. Although life in the country has repeatedly been stylized as the golden era of harmony and 'natural' contentment, such embellished memories of a life spent in nature have never restrained people from continuing on their originally chosen historical path. In this respect, the city per se possesses an intrinsically utopian dimension by virtue of being situated outside the natural order. The city is located in the ou-topos. City walls once delineated the place where a city was built, clearly designating its utopian - ou-topian character. Indeed, the more utopian a city was signalled to be, the harder it was made to reach and enter this city, be it the Tibetan city of Lhasa, the celestial city of Jerusalem or Shambala in India. Traditionally cities isolated themselves from the rest of the world in order to make their own way into the future. So, a genuine city is not only utopian, it is also anti-tourist: it dissociates itself from space and moves through time.

The struggle with nature, of course, did not cease inside the city either. At the beginning of his Discourse on Method, Descartes already observed that since historically evolved cities were not entirely immune to the irrationality of the natural order they would in fact need to be completely demolished if a new, rational and consummate city were to be erected on the vacated site. Later on, Le Corbusier called for the demolition of all historical cities - including Paris - to make way for new rational cities destined to be built in their place. Hence the utopian dream of the total rationality, transparency and controllability of an urban environment unleashed a historical dynamism that is manifested in the perpetual transformation of all realms of urban life: the quest for utopia forces the city into a permanent process of surpassing and destroying itself - which is why the city has become the natural venue for revolutions, upheavals, constant new beginnings, fleeting fashion and incessantly changing lifestyles. Built as a haven of security the city soon became the stage for criminality, instability, destruction, anarchy and terrorism. Accordingly the city presents itself as a blend of utopia and dystopia, whereby modernity undoubtedly cherish and applaud its dystopian rather than its utopian aspects - urban decadence, danger and haunting eeriness. This city of eternal temporariness has frequently been depicted in literature and staged in the cinema: this is the city we know, for instance, from Blade Runner or Terminator (1 and 2), where permission is constantly being given for everything to be blown up or razed to the ground, simply because people are tirelessly engaged in the endeavour to clear a space for what is expected to happen next, for future developments. And over and over again the arrival of the future is impeded and delayed because the remains of the city's previously built fabric can never be fully removed, making it forever impossible to complete the current preparation phase. If indeed anything of any permanence exists in our cities, it is ultimately only in such constant preparations for the creation of something that promises to last a long time, it is in the perpetual postponement of a final solution, the never-ending adjustments, the eternal repairs and the constantly piecemeal adaptation to new constraints.

In modern times, however, this utopian impulse, the quest for an ideal city, has grown progressively weaker and gradually been supplanted by the fascination of tourism. Today, when we cease to be satisfied with the life that is offered to us in our own cities, we no longer strive to change, revolutionize or rebuild this city; instead, we simply move to a new city - for a short period or forever - in search of what we miss in our home city. Mobility between cities - in all shades of tourism and migration - has radically altered our relationship to the city as well as the cities themselves. It is globalization and mobility that have fundamentally called the utopian character of the city into question by reinscribing the urban ou-topos into the topography of globalized space. It is no coincidence that in his reflections on this globalized world McLuhan coined the term 'global village' - as opposed to global city. For the tourist and the migrant alike, it is the country in which the city stands that has once more become the key issue.

It was primarily the first phase of modern tourism - which I will now term as romantic tourism - that spawned a distinctly anti-utopian attitude towards the city. Romantic tourism in its 19th-century guise cast a certain paralysis over the city which was commonly viewed as an aggregate of tourist attractions. The romantic tourist is not in search of universal utopian models but of cultural differences and local identities. His gaze is not utopian but conservative - directed not at the future but at past provenance. Romantic tourism is a machine designed to transform temporariness into permanence, fleetingness into timelessness, ephemerality into monumentality. When a tourist passes through a city, the place is exposed to his gaze as something that lacks history that is eternal, amounting to a sum of edifices that have always been there and will always remain as they are at the very moment of his arrival, for the tourist is unable to keep track of a city's historical transformation or to perceive the utopian impulse propelling the city into the future. So it can be said that romantic tourism abolishes utopia precisely by bringing us to see it as fulfilled. The touristic gaze romanticizes, monumentalizes and eternalizes everything that comes within its range. In turn, the city adapts to this materialized utopia, to the medusan gaze of the romantic tourist.

A city's monuments, after all, have not always been standing there simply waiting for tourists to see them; instead, it was tourism that created these monuments. It is tourism that monumentalizes a city: the gaze of the passing tourist transforms the relentlessly fluid, incessantly changing urban life into a monumental image of eternity. The growing volume of tourism also speeds up the process of monumentalization.

We are now witnesses to a sheer explosion of eternity or, to put it more succinctly, of eternalization in our cities. It is no longer only such famed monuments as the Eiffel Tower or Cologne Cathedral that seem to cry out for preservation, but in fact anything that sparks a sense of familiarity in us - after all, that's how things always used to be and that's how they will stay. Even when you go, for example, to New York and visit the South Bronx and see drug dealers shooting each other (or at least looking as if they are about to shoot each other), such scenes are imbued with the dignified aura of monumentality The first thing that strikes you is, yes, that's how things always used to be here and that's how they will stay - all these colorful types, the picturesque city ruins and danger looming at every corner. At a later date, you might read in the papers that this district is due to be 'gentrified,' and your reaction would be one of shock and sadness, similar to what you would feel on hearing that Cologne Cathedral or the Eiffel Tower were to be demolished to make way for a department store. You think, here is a slice of authentic, unique and different life that is going to be destroyed, and once again everything is about to be flattened and rendered banal; what was once monumental and eternal is soon to be irrevocably lost. But such mourning would be premature. For on your next visit to the now gentrified area, you say: how marvellously insipid, ugly and banal everything is here - it clearly must have always been as insipid as this, and will always remain so. With which the area is instantly re-monumentalized - because on one's travels everydayness and banality are always experienced as being equally monumental as that which is aesthetically exceptional. Rather than being guided by some intrinsic quality pertaining to a monument, our sense of monumentality is derived from the relentless process of monumentalization, de-monumentalization and re-monumentalization that is unleashed by the romantic tourist's gaze.

Incidentally, it was Kant - in his theory of the sublime in Critique of Judgement - who first philosophically assessed the figure of the globally roaming tourist in search of aesthetic experiences. He describes the romantic tourist as someone who perceives even his own demise as a possible travel destination and possesses the capacity to experience it as a sublime event. As examples of mathematical sublimity Kant cites mountains or oceans, phenomena that appear to dwarf normal human proportions. As instances of dynamic sublimity he quotes colossal natural events such as storms, volcanic eruptions and other catastrophes whose overpowering force directly threatens our lives. Yet as destinations visited by the romantic tourist, these threats are not in themselves sublime - just as urban monuments are not intrinsically monumental either. According to Kant sublimity lies not in 'anything in nature' but in the 'capacity we have within us' to judge and enjoy without fear the very things that threaten us. Hence the subject of Kant's infinite ideas of reason is the tourist who repeatedly embarks on journeys in search of the extraordinary of enormity and danger in order to confirm his own superiority and sublimity in regard to nature. But in another section of this treatise Kant also points out that, for instance, the inhabitants of the Alps, who have spent their entire lives in the mountains, by no means regard them as sublime and 'without hesitation' consider 'all worshippers of icy peaks to be fools.' Indeed, in Kant's age the romantic tourist's gaze still differed radically from that of the mountain dweller. With his globalized gaze the tourist views the figure of the Swiss peasant, for instance, as a feature of the landscape - and thereby does not disturb him. To the Swiss peasant kept busy by and taking care of his immediate surroundings the romantic tourist is simply a fool and an idiot he is unable to take seriously. But in the meantime, as we well know, this situation has again completely changed. Even though the inhabitants of any particular region might still regard internationally roaming tourists as fools, nonetheless they increasingly sense the need - no doubt for economic reasons - to assimilate the globalized gaze pointed at them and to adjust their own way of life to the aesthetic predilections of their visitors, the travellers and tourists. Besides which, mountain dwellers have now also started to travel and are becoming tourists too.

The times in which we live are thus an era of post-romantic (i.e. comfortable) and total tourism, marking a new phase in the history of the relations between the urban ou-topos and the world's topography. This new phase is in fact not hard to characterize: rather than the individual romantic tourist, it is instead all manner of people, things, signs and images drawn from all kinds of local cultures that are now leaving their places of origin and undertaking journeys around the world. The rigid distinction between romantic world travellers and a locally based, sedentary population is rapidly being erased. Cities are no longer waiting for the arrival of the tourist - they too are also starting to join global circulation, to reproduce themselves on a world scale and to expand in all directions. As they do so, their movement and proliferation are happening at a much faster pace than the individual romantic tourist was ever capable of. This fact now prompts the widespread outcry that all cities now increasingly resemble one another and are beginning to homogenize, with the result that when a tourist arrives in a new city he ends up seeing the same things as he encountered in all the other cities. This experience of similarity among all contemporary cities often misleads the observer to assume that the globalization process is erasing local cultural idiosyncrasies, identities and differences. The truth is not that these distinctions have disappeared, but that they in turn have also embarked on a journey, started to reproduce themselves and to expand.

For quite a while now we have been able to enjoy the delights of Chinese cooking not only in China, but also in New York, Paris and Dortmund. On speculating in which cultural surroundings Chinese food tastes best, the answer is not necessarily 'China.' If we go to China today and mainly fail to experience Chinese cities as being exotic, this is by no means simply because these places have been strongly shaped by international modern architecture of Western origin, but also because much of what one witnesses there as 'authentically Chinese' has long been familiar to visitors from America or Europe, where such Chinese attributes can be found in any town or city. So, far from becoming extinct, local features have in fact become global. The differences between various cities have turned into inner-city differences. The result is a global world city that has replaced the global village. This world city operates like a reproductive machine that relatively swiftly multiplies any local attribute of one particular city in all other cities around the world. Thus, in the course of time, quite dissimilar cities begin to resemble one another, without any particular city serving as a prototypical model for all the others. As soon as a new strain of rap music emerges in some borough of New York it promptly begins to influence the acoustic environment of other cities - just as each new sect in India swiftly breeds and spreads its ashrams throughout the entire world.

But above all, it is today's artists and intellectuals that are spending most of their time in transit - rushing from one exhibition to the next, from one project to another, from one lecture to the next or from one local cultural context to another. All active participants in today's cultural world are now expected to offer their productive output to a global audience, to be prepared to be constantly on the move from one venue to the next and to present their work with equal persuasion; regardless of where they are. A life spent in transit like this is bound up with equal degrees of hope and fear. On the one hand, artists are now given the possibility of evading the pressure of prevailing local tastes in a relatively painless way. Thanks to modern means of communication they can seek out like-minded associates from all over the world instead of having to adjust to the tastes and cultural orientation of their immediate surroundings. This, incidentally, also explains the somewhat de-politicized condition of contemporary art that is so frequently deplored. In former times artists compensated for the lack of response to their work among people of their own culture by projecting their aspirations largely on the future dreaming of political changes that would one day spawn a new and future viewer of their work. Today the utopian impulse has shifted direction: acknowledgement is no longer sought in time, but in space: Globalization has replaced the future as the site of utopia. So, rather than practising avant-garde politics based on the future, we now embrace the politics of travel, migration and nomadic life, paradoxically rekindling the utopian dimension that had ostensibly died out in the era of romantic tourism.

This means that as travellers we are now observers, not so much of various local settings, than of our fellow travellers, all caught up in a permanent global journey that has become identical with life in the world city. Moreover, present-day urban architecture has now begun to move faster than its viewers. This architecture is almost always already there before the tourists arrive. In the time race between tourists and architecture it is now the tourist who loses. Although the tourist is annoyed to encounter the same architecture everywhere he goes, he is also amazed to see how successful a certain type of architecture has proved to be in a wide range of disparate cultural settings. We are now prepared to be attracted and persuaded particularly by artistic strategies capable of producing art that achieves the same degree of success regardless of the cultural context and conditions in which it is viewed. What fascinates us nowadays is precisely not locally defined differences and cultural identities but artistic forms that persistently manage to assert their own specific identity and integrity wherever they are presented. Since we have all become tourists capable only of observing other tourists, what especially impresses us about all things, customs and practices is their capacity for reproduction, dissemination, self-preservation and survival under the most diverse local conditions.

With this, the strategies of post-romantic, total tourism are now supplanting the old strategies of utopia and enlightenment. Redundant architectural and artistic styles, political prejudices, religious myths and traditional customs are no longer meant to be transcended in the name of universality but to be touristically reproduced and globally disseminated. Today's world city is homogenous without being universal. People formerly believed that attaining the universality of ideas and creativity depended on the individual transcending his own local traditions in the name of universal validity. Consequently, the utopia hailed by the radical avant-garde was reductive: one was first expected to aspire to a pure, elemental form stripped of all historical and local traits in order to claim its universal and global validity. This too was how classical modernist art proceeded - first reduce something to its essence, then spread it around the world. Today's art and architecture, by contrast, are globally disseminated without even first bothering with any such reduction to some universally valid essence. The possibilities of global networking, mobility, reproduction and distribution have rendered traditional calls for the universality of form or content utterly obsolete. Nowadays any cultural phenomenon can proliferate without being required to make claims for its own universality. Universal thinking is being supplanted by the universal media dissemination of any kind of local ideas whatsoever. The universality of artistic form is being displaced by the global reproduction of any kind of local form whatsoever. As a result, while today's viewers are constantly confronted with the same urban surroundings, it is impossible to say whether the formal character of these surroundings is in any sense 'universal.' In the postmodernist period, all architecture following in the footsteps of Bauhaus was criticized for being monotonous and reductive - as architecture that first levelled and then erased all local identities. But today the whole plethora of local styles is spreading at the same global pace as the International Style once did on its own. As a consequence of total tourism we are now witnessing the emergence of a homogeneity bereft of all universality, an utterly new and up-to-date development. Accordingly, in the context of total tourism we once more encounter a utopia, but one which radically differs from the static, immobile utopia of the city that demarcates itself from the remaining topography and is segregated from the rest of the country. Thus we now all live in a world city where living and travelling have become synonymous, where there is no longer any perceptible difference between the city's residents and its visitors. The utopia of an eternal universal order has been replaced by the utopia of constant global mobility. In turn, the dystopian dimension of this utopia has also changed - terrorist cells and designer drugs now proliferate in cities all around the world at the same pace as, say, Prada boutiques.

Interestingly, as early as the beginning of the 20th century several radical utopians in the Russian avant-garde put forward plans for future cities where all apartments and houses would be, firstly, uniform in design and, secondly, mobile. In an astonishing manner their designs made the touristic journey synonymous with its destination. In a similar vein the poet Vladimir Khlebnikov proposed that all inhabitants of Russia be lodged inside glass cells mounted on wheels, allowing them to travel freely everywhere and to see everything, but without in any way obstructing their visibility to others. With this, the tourist and the city dweller become identical - and all the tourist is capable of seeing is other tourists. Incidentally, Kazimir Maljević took Khlebnikov's project one step further when he suggested placing every single person inside an individual cosmic vessel to keep him constantly floating in space and allow him to fiy from one planet to the next. His proposal would irrevocably turn the human subject into an eternal tourist on a never-ending journey whereby - insulated within his very own, yet always identical cell - he would become a monument in himself. We encounter an analogous vision in the popular TV series Star Trek, where the spaceship Enterprise has become a constantly moving, utopian, monumental space that never alters throughout all this series' countless episodes, even though - or precisely because - it is always moving at the speed of light. In this instance, utopia pursues the strategy of transcending the antagonism between immobility and travelling; between sedentary and nomadic life, between comfort and danger, between the city and the countryside - as the creation of a total space in which the topography of the earth's surface becomes identical with the ou-topos of the eternal city.

In a striking fashion, such a utopian transcendence of nature was already being considered in the period of German Romanticism. Evidence of this can be found in a passage in Aesthetics of the Ugly (1853) written by the Hegel disciple, Karl Rosenkranz: "Take, for example, our earth which, in order to be beautiful as a body, would need to be a perfect sphere. But it is not. It is flattened at both poles and swollen around the equator, besides which the elevations of its surface are extremely uneven. From a purely stereometric point of view, the profile of the earth's crust reveals to us the most haphazard confusion of elevations and depressions with all manner of incalculable contours. Hence, where the surface of the moon with its disarray of heights and depths is concerned, we are equally unable to state whether it is beautiful, etc." At the time this was written mankind was technologically still far removed from the possibility of space travel. Here, altogether in the spirit of an avant-garde utopia or a sci-fi movie, the agent of global aesthetic contemplation is nonetheless depicted as an alien that has just arrived in a rocket from outer space and then, observing from a comfortable distance, forms an aesthetic judgement of our galaxy's appearance. Of course, this alien is imputed to have distinctly classical tastes, which is why it fails to consider our planet and its immediate surroundings as especially beautiful. But regardless of the alien's final aesthetic judgement, one thing is clear: this is a first manifestation of the gaze of the consummate urban dweller who, constantly in motion in the ou-topos of black cosmic space, peers down at the topography of our world from a touristic, aesthetic distance.

Translated from German by Nastasa Medved.


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"my wife" drawing 2003
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Private utopia
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