Images of cities: Erasing center and periphery
CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - June 4, 2005 - 12:00am
We are in the epoch of simultaneity. – Michel Foucault

One of the characteristics of modern life is the constant exposure to the realities of not just where we live but where everyone else lives. Twenty-four-hour broadcast news, print media, and the Internet plug us into a seemingly globalized world. We live not just our lives but those in New York, Paris, San Francisco, and Tokyo.

Corollary to this are the facts that first, these shared lives are increasingly urban in form – due to the phenomenal growth of cities worldwide – and secondly, more insidiously, this globalization is spread through portals controlled by developed countries and dominant cultures.

The production of knowledge and its dissemination by print and broadcast media are modulated by large multinational corporations based in these countries. We get not the whole truth but the truth as seen through the eyes of others. This globalization is institutionalized through a complex structure of businesses – and nations controlled by these many-tentacled, profit-fixated organizations.

This overarching hegemony covers not only the socio-economic aspects of our lives but the cultural as well. Curiously, however, in the realm of art, this globalization falls behind, technologically. The sites and settings of cultural convergence and the events that stimulate exchange of ideas, experience, and consumption of art are contained within large institutions in a limited number of "global" cities.

It is mostly through international art exhibitions in various biennales and trienales, along with traveling themed shows, that art and culture is shared. Such events and exhibitions can only be staged in countries (specifically cities within them) that have the cultural infrastructure and physical edifices built for them. Large capital is involved in gathering the artwork from all over the world, transporting, insuring, displaying, and then returning them. It is, therefore, only cities like Milan, Venice, New York, Paris, Osaka, Fukuoka, among others, that can carry these projects out and sustain them. The benefits – cultural capital that accrues every time such an event or exhibit is staged – are amassed in those cities. This attracts economic capital – along with the creative, intellectual and business-savvy classes from all over the globe who migrate to these cities – thus perpetuating the binaries of developed and developing (or underdeveloped), rich (culturally and economically) and poor, central (source of power and influence) and peripheral (the subject of this power and influence).

What can be done to counter this state of affairs? How can the one-way traffic of ideas and cultural influence be mitigated – even reversed? Manila-based artist and independent curator Judy Freya Sibayan came up with one possible alternative. She decided to use the power of the Internet to bypass the established processes of curating and mounting these art exhibits.

With the cooperation of cultural contacts in six countries, she has co-curated and made a reality of the project "600 Images/60 Artists/6 Curators/6 Cities: Bangkok,/Berlin/Bombay/London/Prague/Manila" which, according to her, "takes advantage of the Internet as a dematerialized and democratic space allowing for 1) borderless crossings, 2) freedom from the tyranny of real space and real objects, 3) digital information to be rhizomatically transmitted, trafficked, circulated, and networked to all parts of the world, and 4) great speed of access among a vast number of actors who "inhabit multiple localities but are intensely engaged digitally."

Sibayan contacted 10 artist/photographers (including this writer), with a wide spectrum of interests and inclinations, and asked them to submit 10 images each on the subject of the city. The six other co-curators did the same in their respective cities. The 600 images were then exchanged through the Internet and will be simultaneously exhibited this month in alternative venues (not large or established institutions).

As Sibayan explains, "In concept, the result is an ambitious experiment conducted with the minimum of resources. Eventually, what this project involves are individuals, not nations; restaurant/cafe galleries, not super-museums; the production and circulation of only social and cultural capital, not economic capital. It will not define places and spaces as in the binary notions of the local and the international, centers and peripheries. Thus, no hierarchy of power is established or maintained. All six cities are local. All six cities are centers."

This intervention is inspired by urban-economic scholar Saskia Sassen’s belief that "digital networking (can) contribute to produce a new spatiality for politics, for art, for cultural workers. In doing so they are contributing to the production of countergeographies of globalization."

The creation of these "countergeographies" has already been manifested in the way we are defining our Filipino identity through text messaging – all Filipinos around the globe are connected in one big texting community. Cultural expression through technology is, therefore, something we can appropriate – and have quickly appropriated. The potential, however, remains to be fully realized beyond the occasional political overthrow, maintenance of kinship ties, romance or humor. Sibayan seems to be taking the first steps to the larger goal of deconstructing the current world order of cultural dominance.

The exhibit is, indeed, an experiment. There is some apprehension from the curator herself as to the effect of the "medium" on the "message"– whether the art curated in this way will not be affected. It is, however, inevitable, it seems, that the process will interpellate both the art and the viewers. Sibayan, therefore, includes a running documentation of the exhibit via e-mail and live video feeds with a number of the other cities on line and in real time.

This simultaneity reflects the little-understood reality of contemporary urbanity – that of the inherent complexity of social, intellectual, and economic life within individual cities and comparatively between them. This "heterotopic" nature, says French philosopher Michel Foucault, is what pervades cities. He, says a Foucault scholar, interprets cities as places that "function in relation to all spaces that exist outside of them. At the same time that they mark a culturally definable space that is unlike any other space, they also act as microcosms reflecting larger cultural patterns or social orders."

Filipino cultural patterns are not evident to us Filipinos since most of us are not reflexive enough in seeking the truth of our urban (much less our national) condition. The images of Metropolitan Manila presented in the exhibit are more than just "artistic" representations of a dysfunctional reality. These images mirror the many layers of meaning and patterns of social behavior hidden across demographic divides. The alternative of bypassing conventional institutions also reflects the fact that we have weak ones – a further manifestation of the fragile modernity we have aspired to build.

The success of this and similar alternatives, in effect cultural coping mechanisms – like texting and the establishment of countless NGOs – does not detract from the fact that eventually, we will have to construct more robust frames for our national identity, create real places and communities, construct civic structures, and set up rational infrastructure networks that are culturally sensitive, inclusive, and socially sustainable.

As a corrective to western (or multinational corporations’) cultural and economic hegemony, interventions like Sibayan’s could break down the distance between center and periphery, erase the bias between developed and undeveloped, and usher in a new age of cities – where citizenship is globalized but simultaneously where local identity and cultural diversity are nurtured … and delightfully shared with the rest of the world.
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The six-city exhibit details are as follows:

Venue: Lumiere, Locsin Bldg., Makati Ave. corner Ayala Ave., Makati City, tel. no. 812-2976

Paulo Alcazaren, Poklong Anading, Eddie Boy Escudero, Mark Gary, Jezer Maducdoc, Neal Oshima, Neil Lucente, Claudine Sia, Jose Enrique Soriano, Yumi Roth, MM Yu

Exhibition dates:
June 6 —July 7

Lead curator:
Judy Freya Sibayan

Bangkok: Venues:
Gallery F-Stop @ Tamarind Café & British Council, Bangkok. Screen projections throughout the month of June.

Exhibition dates:
June 4 - 29

Liliane Zumkemi, Jerome Ming, Pinaree Sanpitak, Sutee Kunavichayanont, Montri Teomsombat, Tintin Cooper, Pratchaya Phinthong, Savinee Buranasilapin and Thomas Dannecker, Nabwong Chuaychuwong, Manit Sriwanichpoom

Varsha Nair

Berlin: Venue:
Prenzlauberg Museum

Exhibition dates:
June 4 -July 3

Susanne Ahner, Joergen Borg, Reiko Kammer, Thomas Ness, Peter Oehlmann, Christine Radack, Joachim Richau, Maria Sewcz, Matthias Wermke, Ulrich Wuest,

Karla Sachse

Venue: The Great Eastern Hotel

Exhibition dates:
May 31-June 23

Eldina Begic, Bill Blanco, Ivan Coleman, Miranda Gavin, Raimi Gbadamosi, Wanda Hu, Marcus Kern, Margareta Kern, David Ramkalawon, Saki Satomi Curator: Sara Haq

Los Angeles: Venue:
The Brewery

Exhibition dates:
May 28 -June 25

Annabelle Aylmer, Kireilyn Barber Jack Butler, Rachel Fermi, Bia Gayotto, Victoria Martin, Yong Soon Min, Mark Nelson, John O’Brien, Alan Valencia

Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza

Saigon: Venue:
Still to be confirmed

Hoang Duong Cam, Phuong M. Do, Ryuzo Fukuhara, David Hodkinson, Nguyen Nhu Huy, Fabrice Lecouffe, Bui The Trung Nam, Rich Streitmatter-Tran, Ngo Dinh Truc, Motoko Uda

Sue Hajdu

The printing of the Manila exhibition was made possible by Epson Philippines Corporation who provided the printers, paper, and ink. Master printer and photographer Billy Mondoñedo generously printed the 600 images.
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Feedback is welcome. E-mail the writer at

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