[ISEA2022] Paper: Lawrence Bird — Possible City: legacies of trauma in media space


Full Paper. Session: Futures and Heritages / Meta interfaces and media spaces

Keywords: Cinema, urban space, representation, colonialism

Why is the gritty environment of Winnipeg, Canada, repeatedly harvested to tell cinematic stories of heist, murder, apocalypse? What crime do these spaces actually hide? The paper explores this question and how independent film, and architecture, have more directly addressed the terrible legacy behind the media space of this city.

Electronic art occupies a transmedial space with other media including film, television, streaming video and, as the paper asserts, architecture. These forms of media are charged with the politics and cultural value of space, and these are often mediated through the image of the city: a media-space. This paper takes as its lens the mediated image of a mid-size, mid-western city: Winnipeg, Canada. It sets up a discussion of the image of this city by considering key examples of (industry-based) narrative media shot here, before moving on to works of independent film and media art. Industry film frequently repurposes Winnipeg’s urban spaces to depict other cities – Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit – to tell stories of crime, and worse. The paper makes the case that what visiting filmmakers are in fact “buying” is a heritage of historical pain: the legacy of colonialism embodied in urban space, indeed hidden there in plain sight. This legacy has only begun to be visible to most Canadians, but it has been there for all to see as harvested and displayed on the screen, a sign or symptom of a deep malaise. A more complex relationship between city and image is revealed by what is done with the same urban spaces by independent film artists – and architects. Their crop, which is explored last, exposes more completely the potential for new relationships between city and image, buyer and seller, authenticity and fiction, colonial legacy and possible city.

  • Lawrence Bird (Canada) practices in architecture, urban design and media art. His artistic practise focuses on relationships of image to space, materiality and the body, often exploiting broken digital systems. His work has been installed at RAW:Gallery (Winnipeg), Inter/Access Gallery (Toronto), Furtherfield Gallery (London, UK), Greenwich Royal Naval Hospital (UK), Espace Architecture La Cambre Horta (Brussels), and the International Symposium on Electronic Art 2017 (Manizales, Colombia). His design practise has spanned from work at Pentagram Design on the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (1988, 1989-1990) to his current contributions at Sputnik Architecture on cultural and heritage sites in Western Canada (2019-present). Lawrence has a PhD in History & Theory of Architecture and a professional degree in architecture from McGill University, as well as an MSc (City Design & Social Science) from London School of Economics. His research has been funded by SSHRC, FQRSC, and the Canada Council for the Arts. https://www.linkedin.com/in/lawrencebird