What would it look like if digital information was visible. An urban exodus is occurring in Lisbon. There has been a 90% increase in urban areas since 2010, as citizens leave the city centre. As the population decreases, importance lies in being able to identify with the city and those around us. Public spaces that connect people in daily life by providing common space to interact and bond within provide a backbone for Lisbon’s survival. This is most true of city squares, which encourage difference and act as forums for discussion. Rossio Square (interestingly, meaning land abandoned) in the Baixa was historically regarded as the centre of trade and public dialogue. Now it acts as a route for commuters travelling to offices from the suburbs.
"As we have grown accustomed to navigating the city with our smartphones and our printouts from Google maps, we have come to know it from above, as a two-dimensional, planimetric experience. Instead of seeing ourselves as part of the city fabric, inhabiting a three-dimensional urban condition, we dwell in a permanent out-of-body experience, displaced from our own locations, seeing ourselves as moving dots or pins on a map." - The Invisible City
Today, there are two spheres of public space. Firstly, the everyday ballet of physical activity. Roast Chestnut sellers, tourists, dancers, commuters, et cetera. The second is the invisible layer of digital activity that in recent years has come to create more of an impact on how people use cities than the buildings themselves.
Whilst the actual population of central Lisbon decreases, the virtual amount of citizens remains the same, able to connect to each other through invisible networks from remote areas. Technology seems to pervade every aspect of daily life, be it historical in the form of tramlines and overhead cables, or through the use of tools such as RFID chips, like the one in your transport card. These are used to interact with different parts of the city, like the tram and metro system, highways and buildings. Between the existing physical infrastructure, one can begin to define his or her own districts, existing virtually.
To demonstrate this, I created a district within the Baixa Pombalina based on common Flickr photo tags and geolocations during the austerity protests in 2012. Using popular tags I was able to define a district of most use, plotting photos on a map. The act of taking a photograph is a personal event. When submitted to a public platform, the photographer becomes a mediator between people and place, as people are encouraged to comment and discuss. The emotional connection broadens.
When visiting a place, we naturally associate the visit with emotions, creating a connection that remains in our imagination. The recollection of a place is often associated with artefacts and shared memory. The sharing of artefacts is a powerful and emotionally rich form of social interaction, which often manifests in photographs or souvenirs, imbued with reminders of special moments.
I chose to highlight the austerity protests for a number of reasons. Although significant in their own right, this model says more about the act of protest in modern Lisbon than of austerity. Whereas historically, public dispute would be settled in either Rossio or Figuera square - the common and royal – as the city becomes sparser, civil disputes mobilise in order to create impact. This model is significant in expressing my own ability to find, collate, reinterpret and make physical these emotionally rich moments.
I am interested in the experience of Lisbon city center as an outsider - as a tourist - and the elements that inhibit or encourage a conscious and immersive exposure to the city. I am interested in what ways assistance blinds people as they traverse the city and how it stops them from forming connections with places and people.
For this film, I took one layer of information. What would it look like if it was displayed all of the time? It becomes an inquiry into the role of ubiquitous technology within cities, making visible the conversations between devices and networks that occur around us.
A series of accompanying models physically represent the digital, transient and autonomous mapping of austerity protests by the participants, documented and uploaded in real-time to social networking sites throughout Lisbon during 2012.