Ideal spaces: digital-cultural ecology and the medium-sized city

Ideal spaces: digital-cultural ecology and the medium-sized city

In: Digital-cultural ecology and the medium-sized city / [ed] S. Sparke & G. Cairns, 2016, p. 5-Conference paper (Refereed)

Michael Johansson & Ulrich Gehmann



In our working group Ideal Spaces working Group ISWG, we are concerned with mediated worlds: especially one of ideal worlds reconstructed, mainly concentrating on a classical topic of a “mediated” city through history, namely that of a utopian ideal city. How these utopian places have to be conceived as being ‘ideal’ ones. How this has been mediated, in terms of their modes of presentation, but also in those of the ideas underlying them as regards the different audiences that were thought to be addressed by them?

These historical conceptions of what an ‘ideal world’ should, or could be is a classical topic of our cultural sphere and focuses upon one perspective of relevance, that of an ideal city. The latest since the onset of what has been called ‘modernity’, now providing the actual background of the actually built cities we all live in, as our environment of relevance.

Such conceptions of ‘ideal’ relevant worlds can be compared, as a background folio, with the approaches towards an ‘ideal’ environment as they become evident in the concept of The City of Abadyl. That in itself is a proposed city, a fantasy, a set of codes and models, a library of artefacts and prototypes, and foremost, it is its co-creators. Since its inception in 1999 it has grown into a large database of materials interlinked through the shape of a city, regardless of their respective incompatibilities. Support and create a gestalt for inquiry

Our approach is to create an environment that facilitates artistic work practice in complex production environments such as those of digital media, supporting invited artists, researchers, companies, and students. We establish a ready-made, fictitious gravity that others can easily transfer their knowledge into. So How do we go about exploring this complex digital space? We could let people walk the streets of Abadyl in for example a game engine, but we have so far chosen to go in another direction. We have used the framework of Abadyl to stage different events in the form of written scenarios that provide detailed and specific background material. Our scenarios try to bring aspects of field study and fantasy together, to slowly create a discrete dynamic tension or displacement between persons, objects, time, places, and events that are not usually, if ever, associated into new and surprising conjunctions. Through this work we have developed several methods of worldmaking. The aspect of imagery is of particular importance here since comparisons can be made between traditional conceptions of pre-planned ideal worlds – e.g., the ideal of a functionalist city, of a typically ‘modern’ one, etc. – and imageries that evolve de novo and unplanned, as it is tried in the case of Abadyl.

Moreover, such comparisons inform about a further aspect of imagery and hence, of being mediated. We have to take the notion of the ideal in both its connotations as a mental or inner image on the one hand (from the Greek eidos, or idea); and on the other, as a perfect state to be achieved and longed for (the ideal in its common terms of understanding). If we do so, then it becomes evident that even seemingly ‘new’ and ‘spontaneous’ outcomes like those in Abadyl are informed by mental or ‘inner’ images deeply rooted in what is called a cultural memory, that is, rest on a culture-specific substratum. And it is very interesting to see how these both layers of imagery, the “new” and the “old” one, are influencing each other in mutual terms. This is a very important topic of mediated cities today since the assumption is that what is happening in Abadyl is also happening here.

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