Philipp Oswalt (Translation Tas Skorupa) | 2000
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Urban Rumors

Our existence today oscillates between two worlds: the media space of telematics on the one hand and the physical world on the other. But what is the relationship between these spheres? There is the idea of cyberspace as an autonomous reality, a rather unattractive idea of the eighties - just think of those awkward cyberglasses and datagloves. Yet the manifold penetration of both worlds cannot be described as a one-sided dependence in which the media space is allotted the function of illustrating or serving the physical world.
Take, for example, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: It was not the result of a conscious decision made by politicians. Western media exaggerated the vague remarks of the East German government spokesman on relaxing travel restrictions and interpreted them as 'opening the borders.' Curious about this rumor in the media, the first East Berliners hurried to the border crossing points to 'check out' what was happening, and more and more curious citizens followed suit. In the end, the accumulating crowd's expectations, spread by the rumor, made the unplanned inevitable: the opening of the East German border and with it the peaceful end of the Cold War.
This episode is an extreme example of a general tendency: With the atomization of society in mass individualism and its simultaneous interlinking by electronic means, public space has shifted to a great extent to the communication networks of television, radio, computer, and telephone. From here it sometimes enters the real space of the city. With the help of electronic amplification small events can be blown up into gigantic events by the mass media.. The dematerialized urbanity of the information age resists manifestation in buildings. Be it the Polish markets of the late eighties, Blade Night, Christo's Wrapped Reichstag, or the Love Parade, the mass events of the last decade in Berlin are prime examples of how media space influences what happens in the real space of the city, oscillating between self-organization and manipulation.
The interaction between media space and urban space can also take on a repressive character, as is shown by the increasing predominance of safety criteria in the urban planning of recent years. In the illusory world of television the share of news on violence has doubled since the rise of private stations in Germany of the eighties, while at the same time the number of serious crimes has decreased. Nevertheless, due to the presence of violence in the media, the fear of crime has risen and has not least of all led to the construction of gated communities, to the video surveillance of public squares, and to the omnipresence of guard services.
In the information age the value of information is not proven by its factuality, but by its projective quality: which stimulus it can trigger, which decisions and actions it can influence. To this end the vagueness, the dubiousness, and the difference from the real can prove to be advantageous. And the intensive interplay of the real and the media leads to new urban phenomena beyond the classic categories of urban planning and architecture.

For the Exhibition 'Mutations' | Bordeaux | France | 2000-2001

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Philipp Oswalt

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