urban grid -personal city
Maria Theresia Litschauer's installation at the Neue Galerie in Graz

Maria Theresia Litschauer's austere, gridlike installation - 76 photos of New York City, each 30 x 40 cm - creates a distinct counterpoint to the splendid illusionistic ceiling fresco which adorns the Neue Galerie's Baroque stairwell. The photographs are combined to make a four-part assemblage consisting of 18 modules with three or four pictures in each, and depict sections of arbitrary skyscraper facades and portraits of friends who are also artists. The way the modules have been arranged immediately calls to mind the Cartesian co-ordinate system of a structured urban ground plan. However, what appears at first sight to be a fixed urban planning concept is actually a flexible system of modules which can be broken down into its different basic elements and then fitted back together to create new correlations: the city in a time of upheaval, constantly shifting and changing.

The artist, who regularly spends a few months of the year living in New York, uses her work to reflect phenomena such as the quality of place and displacement. She asks the fundamental question: what is a place? What is a non-place? What is an non-site? Is the place our home, and is the uncanny the non-site? Do we live in places and spend our lives in non-sites? What is the order of places? Is there a secret order to places? How does this differ from the official order? Are there secret and official places in cities? And which of these are private places? Where does the subject feel more at home? Places are constituted socially, and are where people communicate with each other. Places are spaces with atmosphere, or which have an ambience; they are perceived emotionally and in a way which creates identity, which determines a cultural memory. Architecture is the facade and the face of this memory. Architecture is the medium and simulacrum of memory. Hence, cities are simulated all over the world: one only has to think of the Disney theme parks in the USA, Japan or France, where the myth of the idyllic small town is being revived as a backdrop, or of the hyper-realistic city scenery of the fictitious Venice recreated so spectacularly in Las Vegas.

A city with quality of place is generally described as urban. Ever since the advent of international situationism, urbanism has repeatedly been the central theme of art; a theme which is now gaining in its relevance and topicality again. The "myth of the metropolis" 1) is being re-examined precisely because of globalisation, because of the widespread internationalisation creating a "world culture" - which actually means a range of cultures existing alongside and on top of one another. The global tide of information, it seems, is re-arming the conflict between horizontal and vertical cities. It would appear that virtual cities are creating a vortex which swallows up the real cities. 2) In reality, however, the spectre of the city in the age of globalisation lives on all the more intensively when the image and function of a city likewise undergo fundamental changes; there is no longer any control over history, any inevitability, any certainty of values. Today everything is just a fragment, as indicated in Litschauer's work. In this historical moment we are under the pressure of globalisation experiencing exactly this transition of cities as places of production into cities as places of transaction, of exchange, and of consumption. Cities are increasingly becoming centres of commerce and recreation. The inhabitants' behaviour and habits are also caught up in this process - these are people who perceive the city principally as a medium of enjoyment, of entertainment, and of leisure activities. Inhabitants, drifters and tourists expect the chance to enjoy 'the city experience'. This has a knock-on effect on the relationship between the city and its inhabitants, the relationship between people and their urban space. On the one hand, today's ubiquitous surveillance techniques are increasing an anonymous control apparat's potential to monitor us, creating a world in which the individual appears to get lost. Simultaneously, however, the dynamic flexibility of urban technology is giving us each as individuals a new lease of life. The city is becoming part of a world of images which we can dive into, and which we ourselves can help to design, partly at least, in our role as active players in exchange and consumption. In the mediatised city, public and private space penetrate one another in a new way. The urban characteristics which originated from the ancient civil tradition of the polis, and which then developed around the agora (public sphere), where a functionally and aesthetically defined boundary was drawn between sacred and secular worlds: these are factors which have now lost their relevance. The polis, initially the product of a policy which created a sense of communality, is today breaking down into places of subjective enjoyment and into zones of particularity. The rhythmic change of open squares, narrow streets, of vistas and axes, of zones of slowness and zones of speed, of places of spirituality and encounter, such as one can experience in the old cities of Europe, apparently nowadays seems little more than sluggish and ineffectual urban texture. New, rationally thought-out space modules, equipped according to function, are building up on the periphery, like islands; sterile shopping malls, commercial centres with acres of car parks, owner-occupied housing estates, concrete blocks or leisure and entertainment complexes are erected to accommodate a mobile society which is hungry for "experience". This concept of a consumer-oriented development of cities, practised since the 1970s, is perceived also as a loss of quality of place. People leave the cities in order to live in the suburbs, and the traffic jams grow accordingly.

"The flexible man", according to Richard Sennett 3), is becoming a variable combination in urban function areas. The city's script is being sequenced, like the hereditary script of DNA is in genetic engineering. Is the fate of the subject in this urban context today being transformed into a chronology of coincidence? Does the fragment as grid define the life of man in the modern city? Is the urban grid a result of fragments? The fate of the individual is becoming part of this urban texture; the questions Litschauer poses are: to what extent do urban text and individual signature cancel each other out, or complement each other, and how much of a voice can the subject still create within an urban environment.
Christa Steinle

1) Gotthard Fuchs, Bernhard Moltmann, Walter Prigge (Ed.), Mythos Metropole. Edition Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a. M., 1995. 2) See Peter Weibel, Die virtuelle Stadt im telematischen Raum. op.cit., pp.209-228. 3. Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York 1974.