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Urban Squares Essay
 
 

I was born in a big city as the third generation of ‘urban people’ which probably makes me a suitable person for this story. during my time at university I was heavily influenced by two of my professors, ranko radovic, a long-time chair of the international association of urban planners and bogdan bogdanovic, an architect and leading world expert in urban theory. in the last 25 years, urban life and the city itself were a major source of inspiration for my artistic work.

another important influence was leonid sejka, an artist belonging to the group “mediala”. in his work “grad–djubriste–zamak” (city– dump–castle), a theoretical essay for his visual art, he described his work with the expression: “transsit clasificando”, meaning classifying while in transit in latin. this was merely the beginning due to his untimely death at 42, at the peak of his career. I am, maybe, continuing along that path.

the primary goal of my “transsit clasificando” is to examine the artistic and visual values and social contribution of city squares to the development of urban life.

HISTORY

the first urban formations started appearing at least 6000 years ago. within urban areas open public space always existed and it served a very important purpose. along with the development of human society and the development of cities, the squares acquired more and more functions. at first, the squares were established at the crossroads of important trade routes where exchange of goods as well as ideas took place. for example, phoenician trades–people invented numerical and linguistic pictographic inscriptions out of the need to record transactions. another very important function of the public square was that it served as an opportunity to exercise the power of rulers with military processions and parades.

wars and inventions of dangerous weapons, where the ambition was not only to capture women and goods, but to destroy enemies, led to cities surrounded by thick walls and elaborate systems of defense. these became very densely populated, but even under these conditions there was always room for an open public space. its functions were expanding too. major places of worship were placed there, squares were used as permanent or temporary markets, monuments to important predecessors were erected and revolutions or contra-revolutions were staged. the squares became the location of royal courts, government buildings and city halls as manifestations of wealth and power. they were also used for races, like the palio race in siena, bull fights, executions, or even just to collect rain water in large underground cisterns.

in recent times theaters, restaurants and museums are also finding their place on the squares. cities themselves, are actually becoming museums, a collection of human experiences that preserve numerous cultural values. particularly since the invention of motorized traffic, the individual vehicle has almost destroyed most of the open public spaces. suddenly human proportions and distances are less important. a car parking at one point had more value than the accumulated historical inheritance – human cooperation, technological processes, architectural and urban planning – that a square embodies.

cities, especially metropolis or ecumenopolis of tomorrow, can be compared to living organisms. all the organs are represented in the form of streets, buildings and inhabitants, while the square is definitely a city’s heart and soul. as any other living being it needs attention, protection and nourishment.

INSPIRATION

 

1. my family started collecting postcards when I was very young. in yugoslavia where I grew up in the fifties, it was extremely rare to travel abroad or to receive mail from foreign countries. even still we made a significant collection, of 4000 - 5000 carefully classified cards. france, england, germany even u.s.a and brazil all had representation! there was one particular postcard which captured my imagination with mysterious monument and the inscription “rossio, lisbon”. that was the only postcard from portugal, a country seldom visited in those times because of the closed regime of dictator salazar. that postcard was always in my subconscious even later when I started traveling intensively. it was the year 2000 when I finally visited that square.

2. part of my artistic expression was always photography. there was a period in my life when I was exclusively supporting myself with the sale of photographic work. not that long ago, when I was examining my old phots I realized which images I was most drawn to–those with most life in them, taken in various squares of over a 50 countries that I visited.

3. I have throughout my life been an avid collector of stones, postcards, small objects, and especially deity figurines [small gods], which to me served as symbolic icons of rich sensual importance. they are a treasury of memories that with analysis and classification becomes a record and reminder of other cultures, important experiences and markers of the passage of time.

4. I was in constant close contact with technology, particularly after my move to canada in 1993. I began making quicktimeVR panoramas very early when it was first introduced as a new technology. that proved to be a perfect medium for this collection.

THIS COLLECTION

my first quicktimeVR panorama of a square was campo san martin, venezia. it was made half an hour after my visit to the “biennale di venezia”, an artistic festival of all that the world has to offer during that year related to the visual arts. there it was, the start! from then on I began collecting them. to complete the collection I also needed a classification system. an evaluation method was developed with criteria such as sociability, uses, activities, access, comfort and image in mind. developing a classification system of types was much more difficult then I originally anticipated. starting with history was a logical solution, but I noticed that with time, functions constantly changed, sometimes very rapidly. the seven types: ceremonial, cathedral, social, residential, court yards, parks and street shopping, that I am using here, manly take into account contemporary functions, physical structure and values. for more details about classification system go here.

I visited most of the squares presented here and observations were based on my professional knowledge but there was always something else, some value [psychogepgraphy] that was not easy to define.
finally, in 2005, I visited the biennale of architecture in rotterdam, nederland and the answer was found! presented in “mare nostrum” exhibit and accompanying papers. the role of tourism industry in urban life was examined. the influence of tourism on the sustainable environmental, cultural and economic development of the city proved to be extremely important. in order to reflect this, the “tourist pleasure degree” was added to the evaluation method.

a comment I recently read by a londoner best illustrates this point: “tourist-magnets like covent garden also provide an unintended urban function; by drawing in large numbers of tourists, they keep other areas of the city (even those streets relatively close by) undisturbed. londoners can detour around the covent garden area and get on with their regular business. - mary sz”

finally, if these images moves anybody in any way, artistic, observational or motivational, I will consider my work not in vain. as nigel coates says in the “guide to extacity” – “the city is nothing if you do not interpret it with passion!”

 

aleksandar janicijevic, toronto, october 2005

 














 

 
               
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urban squares initiative is licensed under a creative commons attribution-share alike 2.5 canada license.
 
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Last time updated on June 9, 2017 23:49