City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

The notional mercury in the notional thermometer at Storefront exploded through the roof today. It’s unbelievably hot, effortlessly racing past 90 on the street, and probably more inside the gallery. The city has a humid, tropical feel, as if it were Manila more than Manhattan. You can almost slice and shape a chunk of the thick, damp air with your hands. Rain threatens but never delivers. The vinyl letters are peeling off the front of the gallery, perhaps in protest. Hang in there, fellas; one more day to go. My keyboard actually feels stickier in this heat, and I feel my note-taking slowing down a bit. Bear with me as I catch up on some lost time on Saturday morning.

Our Postopolis! bookmarks turn up (an innovation of Geoff’s, to hand out to punters) and we now have a laser pointer and everything, but Joseph’s Powerbook got dropped somehow – the screen burns out, there’s a DVD stuck inside and some minor keys are missing. Presenters have to make do. Thanksfully we had a few people (Blum, Sanders, Weschler) talking from hand-written or printed out notes today, which was not only lucky for us but also very engaging. The show is building momentum day by day, with each new session bringing new thoughts, or reinforcing new connections. I almost feel that we should just carry on inhabiting this space and keep the ball rolling, just inviting new speakers all the time. The advantage of doing this in New York is that we’d never run out of people.

I think the sign of a good conference is the way it constructs connections over different sessions, sometimes inadvertently, coincidentally, but sometimes as the speakers can fold ideas from earlier into their talk. (This isn’t a conference, as such, though I’m not sure how else to describe it. I like to think of it as a form of living exhibition, I suppose.) With Postopolis!, the drop-in nature means that many of the speakers aren’t there until near their slot, and maybe hang around a bit on the other side – but few are there the whole week. But the connections are building nonetheless, and by now, there’s a densely-woven latticework of connected themes and ideas emerging in my mind, and no doubt in the minds of others who have been to more than a few sessions.

Today we see more overlaps between maps, data, and representation, before the brilliant Lawrence Weschler ends the day by wisely weaning us off all this talk of systems, zooming out to focus on the intensely human convergences between people, history and culture. It’s a gently magnificent talk, and I now want to read everything he’s ever written, including shopping lists, birthday cards and tax returns.

Julia Solis started with drop-dead beautiful photos of abandoned spaces, with their live landscapes of mould, which look remarkably like the visualisations of Las Vegas that Eric Rodenbeck shows a few hours later. Eric hadn’t been there for Julia’s talk, but made the connection nonetheless. (Vegas looked like a nasty rash to me, for what it’s worth.) There was overlap between Kevin Slavin’s talk and Eric’s as well as Laura Kurgen’s. Andrew Blum gave a fabulous talk about place, with respect to Toronto and Daniel Libeskind’s Royal Ontario Museum. Our panel with Design Observer front line (Bierut, Drentell, Vanderbilt) went well, again picking up themes from earlier in the week (in this case, writing and blogging, streets signs in New York etc.) James Sanders continued this by rendering the contemporary city, or post-city, with a couple of clips from Shark Tale no less, and The Living literally made people gasp by giving a couple of science class live demos. In this case, a louvred ‘living glass’ wall that beautifully fanned open as you approached. More to follow on all these sessions.

Russell Davies was very kind to point at Postopolis! earlier in the week and noted that there was ‘something in the air’ about the kind of conferences and shows around at the moment. Indeed Russell is about to put on one of his own – Interesting2007 – which I’d recommend people keep an eye on, as it’ll be completely brilliant. However, I could quibble (very English, that) with some of the reference points Russell suggests (the Reboots, Barcamps etc.). While those gatherings are all good things, I’ve personally had little interest in them for years, and I know my fellow organisers will probably not even have heard of them (being from different disciplines, backgrounds.) A more likely influence, although rarely consciously noted by us in organising this, would have been the Archigram-style happenings of the late-60s, based around informal drop-in centres, a permeable space, right in the middle of the big, bad city. But they’re all in the same ball-park, as it were. And yes, we have wifi but it’s not open, and so 99% of the focus – except for your correspondent, frantically trying to get down notes – is on the speaker, the presentation, the questions, and I think that’s really healthy. I’m bored of a seeing a glassy-eyed crowd with heads angled down towards a screenful of IM, web, email, Flickr, Twittr, Shittr etc., as much as the neophyte in me would defend that practice as layering an ever-shifting information space over the physical space of the conference or some such bollocks. It’s been incredibly healthy to have this informal space, with focused, serious questions about important things, and not deflect that focus with screens, only with noisy New York in the rear window. The gaze is upwards, ears are cocked, the stance correct. Lawrence Weschler closed today’s session with an oblique reference to this, I think.

Bit of housekeeping: I’ve filed all these posts in a new category: Postopolis. And following from above point, we’re taking notes and photos during the show, but filing them afterwards. You may noticed I’ve been uploading photos to Flickr first, and the Storefront crew have been diligently doing the same with videos to YouTube; you can check these now, but I’ll go back in and adorn posts with the relevant photos, links and videos afterwards. I’d like to draw a diagram of all these waves of media fanning out from our show.


One response to “Postopolis!: Day Four”

  1. russell Avatar

    Good quibble. I’d buy that. I guess the reboots etc interest me because I’m only just finding out about them and my only other references are years of dreary marketing conferences where IM/wifi etc is a welcome respite from the droning arse on the stage. It’s the self-organised-ness and the ambition that excites me, that’s what seems to be in the air.
    You’ll be pleased to learn there’ll be no wifi at interesting2007. Though we’re offering to collect anything that people scribble, scan it and stick it up later.


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