Monthly Archives: February 2015

Revoir Paris: From Hausmann to Schuiten and Peeters

Schuiten &  Peeters "Les halles de baltard et le paris perdu" in Revoir Paris Casterman 2012
Schuiten & Peeters “Les halles de baltard et le paris perdu” in Revoir Paris Casterman 2012

In this exhibition ‘Revoir Paris’, François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, authors of Cités Obscures and responsible for the redecoration of the Paris Metro station Arts et Métiers, display their futuristic vision of Paris, the City of Light. They present a dialogue between their own illustrations alongside two centuries of architectural drawings and planning projects for Paris. The metamorphosis of Paris since the work of Haussmann is illustrated by original historical documents which contrast with their latest illustrations.

While the images are fanciful, the aesthetic betrays a nostalgia for steam-age mechanisms that highlight a bygone, Euclidean world of visible cause and effect.  Chauffeured, air-borne vehicles that are magically aloft above the masses on streets  are almost direct visual metaphors for Imperial metropolitan upper-class privilege and an omniscient planners-eye view that is freed from the exigencies of everyday life to engage creatively to create an economically-nostalgic cultural topology from the historical time and space of the city.

At the same moment, the “re-naturalisation” of late 20th century monuments – the Grands Projets such as the brutalist towers and anti-human ritual promenades, ramps and airport-like distances and inconvenience of the new Bibliothèque National suggests an ecological vision of another future, reminiscent of scenes from Sleeping Beauty.  It would be interesting to compare and contrast this with the indigenous ecology of Sheridan and Longboat (Space and Culture 2014 issue 3).

Schuiten and Peeters la-bnf-en-2045
Much improved over the prison-like library: Schuiten and Peeters: Bibliothèque Nationale en 2046.

The comic book has long maintained close ties with the space of the city and utopia. Playing with late 19th and early 20th century images and symbols of urban modernity – that of Jules Verne, Robida or Le Corbusier – Schuiten and Peeters’ art depicts a kind of steam-punk like retro-future where urban tissue and temporal strata intertwine. Imaginary futures and urban planning visions for Paris appear in the illustrations of Pâhry alongside purely imaginary cities like Samaris, Urbicande and Calvani (see Coleman on Lefebvre’s utopianism in Space and Culture 2013 issue 3). The planning images for Paris cover two centuries, from Haussmann to projects for Greater Paris, through the utopian urbanism of Hector Horeau and Auguste Perret and the projects of Le Corbusier or Jean Nouvel.

A. Robida - Cover (Paris) Le Vingtième Siècle
A. Robida (1848-1926) – Cover (Paris) Le Vingtième Siècle

The exhibition includes seven sections:

  • Métamorphoses capitales: Haussmann’s construction sites in Paris
  • À la rencontre du monde: Meet the world, the five universal exhibitions between 1855 and 1900;
  • Une métropole en mouvement: A city on the move – New mobility, the railway at the Metropolitan;
  • Le regard aérien: The aerial view, Aéropolis and the dream of a vertical city;
  • Au-delà des enceintes: Beyond the speakers: the gates of Paris, and the organization of the territory;
  • L’esprit de l’utopie: The spirit of utopia – freeing and reinventing the city;
  • Une ville monde: A world city: Greater Paris and beyond.

Until 9 March 2015 at Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine

Catalogue: Revoir Paris (Casterman 2014)

-Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Recollections of a Child from the First Nuclear Age

In a 2014 article, “Honey, You’re Scaring the Kids,” Rebecca Onion wrote about the impact on children of a 1983 TV movie depicting nuclear warfare, and also about the adults who debated that impact.

In the fall of 1983, a TV movie ruined Alexander Zaitchik’s ninth birthday party. He wasn’t supposed to see The Day After, a two-hour film set in Lawrence, Kansas that follows a cast of everyday American characters into and through a nuclear strike, but he lingered at the top of the stairs as his family watched, catching snatches of the images and sounds.

Recalling the event years later, Zaitchik remembered his eight-year-old self anxiously playing through the circumstances of a nuclear attack. “If it happens in the afternoon, do we run toward home, or away from the city and the blast? If it happens at night, do we let our parents huddle over us in the basement, or do we stand on the rooftop, chests forward, praying the first shock wave dematerializes our family without pain?”

Preoccupied, Zaitchik wrote, he barely noticed his birthday celebration. “It was the first birthday party I felt no excitement over. The ice cream cake was tasteless. The Return of the Jedi action figures I unwrapped were pieces of plastic, destined to burn up with everything else.”

Disagreement over effects the movie might have had on children polarized on right-left lines, similar to controversy today about the affective consequences of climate-change messaging. Then, as now, a narrative juxtaposition of blind complacency with stark questions about human survival generated discomfort and politicized discord over the uses of anxiety. These conflicts were rooted in different evaluations both of children themselves, and of the role of emotion in public discourse:

Discussions of the movie’s impact revealed sharp lines between conservative voices who preferred to steer clear of what they termed emotional reactions (or, as William F. Buckley, Jr. would put it, “junk thought”) in policy discussions, and activists who found a bloodless conversation about the issues to be dangerous and inhuman.

Rebecca Onion notes that both conservatives and liberals, in quite different ways, used and still use children as things to think with, judge with, and feel with. Children furnished voices that were not their own. They were transformed into condensed imagery: on one hand, the Romanticist innocent and truth-teller; on the other, the irrational dependent:

For both sides, children’s fears stand in as a proxy for all of our emotional responses around issues of apocalyptic risk: our “hysterias,” nightmares, and forebodings. The idea that conservative ideology is free from such responses is part of a self-presentation deeply rooted in ideals of rational masculinity. Kids are afraid; moms are afraid; therapists make soothing noises; men know the truth of the risks, see the real possible futures, and act accordingly.

Continue reading Recollections of a Child from the First Nuclear Age

The Spatialisation of Memory

In 2011 van Dijk and Fias suggested an innovative working memory paradigm.  They showed for the first time that words to be remembered, when presented sequentially at the center of a screen, acquired a new spatial dimension: the first words of the sequence acquired a left spatial value while the last words acquired a right spatial value.  Alessandro Guida and Magali Lavielle-Guida assess this apparently cultural ‘left-right spatialisation’ of the first to last as well as the small to the large.  They make these findings easy to understand by relating them to ancient mnemonic methods such as the ‘memory house’ or ‘method of loci‘ practiced by Cicero and dating as far back as Simonides of Ceos (556 BC–448 BC).

-Rob Shields University of Alberta


van Dijck, J. P., and Fias, W. (2011). A working memory account for spatial-numerical associations. Cognition 119, 114–119. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.013