Beth McLendon, Seth Ellis: Shift City

  • ©, Beth McLendon and Seth Ellis, Shift City

Artist Statement:

    The shape of a city at a single moment is a freeze-frame, a snapshot, of that city’s spatial language, in the same way that a dictionary is a snapshot of a verbal language. The language itself is in constant transformation; the language that exists at this moment contains within itself the ruins of every previous moment, the archaic usages, the forgotten expressions that have lost all meaning except as a faint twinge in the minds of those who live in that place and remember that phrase — or, in a city, that building, that alley, that shape of the skyline, from their childhood. Shift City is a project! Mended to create a city native to the Internet, an environment not just navigable but inhabitable as a cultural context. Thus far, cyberspace, as represented in the public consciousness by the Internet, has functioned largely as a medium for the dissemination of information; the illusion is presented of a single, self-contained endless’field of information, representation and analysis. No longer does the photograph of a building, for instance, exist in isolation as an object of contemplation; it becomes a single object lost in a sea of images, interwoven with words sometimes indistinguishable from the images themselves. Out of the myriad fragments of information arises a new context, with its own inherent meaning. The “space” of cyberspace is filled. Space acquires meaning not by assuming the illusions of depth or navigability, but through its ability to contain narrative. Shift City borrows the notion of motif from folklore as an object, place or person that implies a narrative from which it is part. The implementation of motifs, placed in relation to each other, arising from the context of the artist but not merely expressive of it, allows the audience to arrange their own meaning out of the perception of various pieces whose relation is specific but implicit. The Shift City Website consists of a series of maps, each transparent, layered onto each other, so that the total juxtaposition of layers add up to a representation of both the physical and cultural contexts of a city. Each map has a different character (“traffic”, “hydrants”, “history”), and is made up of links to individual projects representing in words and images a physical or narrative motif taken from the experiences of the artists in New York and Dublin. One project, for instance, explores a single room; an element in the “skyline” map meditates on the nature of television antennas. Internet installations like Shift City exist in both space and time; virtual architecture gains an implicit narrative through the audience’s sequential experience of the space, and hypertext narrative acquires a space in which to unfold. In this way the new electric arts form a new environment that celebrates, in Marcos Novak’s words,”a liberating and confident openness to discontinuity”. The maps of Shift City, seen at any one moment, are a snapshot of an ongoing building process; Shift City could continue to grow and transform on the Internet forever.