Friday, November 27, 2009

Chapter 1 begins...

‘The urban festival provides  a bridge between the ordinary city of everyday experience and the extraordinary city- projected in part by the festival – of idealistic and technological urbanism; of utopian hopes, projects and illusions.’
Alan J. Plattus (1987)

‘The urban environment is constantly changing. Permanent alterations are the result of new buildings going up and others being demolished, streets being widened or straightened, new neighbourhoods being developed. No less significant, however, is the way in which the shared public space of the city is altered on particular occasions, such as for festivals of ceremonies, when temporary effects transform the familiar to underline the significance of given events. This process of temporary and permanent change is true to all cities.’
Siena, Constructing the Renaissance City, Introduction, pg 1.

‘Parades let people reclaim urban spaces not just as a place of work but to renew their relationship with the environment. By animating all senses, parades change people’s relation to the city, letting them look at the city in a new way. Parades allow all different groups of people to get together in public in an important way, crossing all political, economic, religious and ethnic barriers. There are very few events in the city that do that.’
Wishes Come True, J. Kugelmass

As human beings, we have created a physical world that is nuanced by the collective legacies to which each of our cultures cling. Our cities, though physically little more than cells of combined activity and habitation under a set of accepted codes, also hold a higher ideological significance to each inhabitant. The city in a more enriched sense is the modern plain upon which man exerts his desires and actions. The city contextualises the life of the inhabitant, pulling on the basic propensities within each individual and making their life somewhat different than it would be anywhere else in the world. This is the power of the overlaying of city histories. In older cities centuries of collective experience shape the city as well as the behaviour of the individual within it. This isn’t an altogether mystical idea of invisible magic that lives beneath the cobble stones although that metaphor comes close to it. Rather, as Rossi discuses in Architecture of the city, urban artefacts can contribute to the locus of the city, and eventually affect the overall identity of the place.

‘One can say that the city itself is the collective memory of its people, and like memory it is associated with objects and places. The city is the locus of the collective memory. This relationship between locus and the citizenry then becomes the city’s predominant image, both of architecture and of landscape, and as certain artefacts become part of its memory, new ones emerge. In thi entirely positive sense great ideas flow through the history if the city and give shape to it.’ Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City

This is also true of urban celebrations. In certain situations, where the festival and the city have grown together, infused with one another as in Port-of-Spain’s Carnival, the festival is a breathing and moving action that yearly reanimates the place. ‘Signature ephemera’ as discussed by J. Mark Schuster, are urban events which come to directly inform the identity of a city. These types of celebrations are often deeply linked to the myths underlying each place, taking on the weight of a kind of civic religion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I found a 3rd case study. It's on Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain. It's a fire festival to St Joseph, the patron saint of carpentry. It culminate for one week in March of partying, fireworks and exhibition of Fallas (large, grotesque monuments), which at midnight of the last day of the festival are simultaneously set on fire in public squares all around the city. These Fallas are up to 30 meters in height! So you see it's no small flame. 

It's interesting to see the recurring themes in each festival. I am getting a clearer understanding of the Extraordinary city. I'm also gaining confidence that my claim of two simultaneous cities is not that strange. 

I'm particularly taken with Las Fallas at the moment. I really want to go there for it. It's such an offense to a Western perspective - burn the damned things down! There is also an intricate social infrastructure that surrounds the celebration. That's one of the recurrent themes in these case studies - this dense informal networks that organize the events. In all of the cases it is apparent that this system, though invisible for most of the year, is actually extremely active in the social structure of the city year round. 

Good things these case studies. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

City and Space

This week I am working on 2 case studies of festivals as well as my Lit Review and Introduction. The 2 case studies are of festivals that in some way define the cities in which they take place. The first is the Palio in Sienna where the race has significantly shaped the social relationships of the neighborhoods or contradas while also shaping the international persona of Sienna.The second festival I will be looking at is the Gion Matsuri Festival in Kyoto. This festival dates back to 896AD and occurs at the beginning of the summer. Huge boat like wooden floats are pulled through the city, their enormous parts sometimes coming off of buildings themselves. Certain parts of Kyoto have become identified by their participation in the festival. Both of these festivals are examples of cities that have become completely identified by a second face of the city that lies separate from the Ordinary or Rational one. I hope that through these case studies I will be able to illustrate an underlying human behavior to do with celebration and space. I'm looking around for a 3rd case study. The Aboriginal 'Walkabout' is interesting as a means of ritualistically re-imagining the world. But I wonder since it isn't exactly a festival if it is still applicable. We will see where this goes. 

Friday, November 6, 2009


This thesis began about 8 years in San Fernando, Trinidad. It was the year after I finished high school and the first time i played J'ouvert. I didn't really know what to expect. Filled with curiosity and the flush of first times, I joined 3 friends in San Fernando at around 4 in the morning. I had never seen the town that way. I grew up and went to primary and secondary school in that small town but I had never walked its streets in the twilight hours. That one morning of ecstasy on those streets transformed the way that I interacted with the place. It hit me, dancing in the early morning light on the Promenade, past the entrance to my high school, past the public library, past the Catholic Church and the police station, that I realised what I was doing. I was declaring myself to these places and people - I was dancing out of my skin and into the mud that coated my body in a kind of public exaltation of freedom.
So this thesis starts on that day - in that moment: half clothed and covered in mud.
But was there something before that that made that revelation possible? Yes. I cannot say for every little girl, but for my 5 year old self, my mornings and afternoons were inspired by walks with my father. My dad would take me into downtown San Fernando on Carnival Tuesdays every year, since I was about 5 or 6 until I was a teenager. When I was small enough to get lost in a crowd, I would be safely seated on his shoulders. Best seat in the house! From that young age I chased colourful feathers on the street and was completely captured by Wild Indian Mas even then. My dad showed me Mas Camps and explained what they were when we saw people emerging from them. He showed me while we walked through San Fernando where the different camps were and would even tell me about how some things were made. So you see, although he may regret inciting this passion in me, he showed me the way into this Carnival world.
During my Undergrad, I kept my fascination limited to my infrequent canvases. Those 5 years are a painful blur. In my year off before starting Masters, I worked in Port-of-Spain. Port-of-Spain is a 2 hour drive away from my hometown of San Fernando. It was such a painful trek every morning in rush hour traffic that I moved to Port-of-Spain for the first time. I didn’t really know the place that well. There were a few places that I went to and those were the only little bits I knew about. Carnival time started to dawn on the city in the beginning of January after Christmas was over. I would be playing J’ouvert in Port-of-Spain for the first time. I had organised with my boyfriend and his family to go into town with a band that the family knows.
We played Blue. We all convened at a friend of the family’s house in Belmont and we walked into town. We danced through Port-of-Spain all morning long and it was again magical. I was more hesitant than I was in San Fernando, but from that day forward, I knew Port-of-Spain in a new way. From that day on I owned a little piece of town and those streets I danced on, I felt I had a right to.
So there it is: the personal legacy behind the thesis. To answer my own ‘Why bother?’ question, I am doing this thesis because as a growing artist and designer, I have for many years seen the unique power of masquerade to unite the person with the place in an exalted form. It’s not about taking you somewhere else or making you something you aren’t. Masquerade brings you closer to your ‘other self’. This thesis is therefore a peep into the other city that lies behind the one we think we know.