Urban Dialogues

A new, wide-ranging exhibition from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs attempts to tackle some of the biggest issues facing cities today. Condemned to be Modern incorporates the output of 20 contemporary artists alongside public talks, films and interactions with the fabric of the built environment. Examining architecture in the context of ongoing social and political discourse, it asks how spaces should be shaped to work with, rather than against, conditions of 21st century living – and who should be responsible for it.

LA is a fitting setting: with a population density of at least 6,999 people per square mile (though individual neighbourhoods vary considerably), it is one of North America’s most heavily urbanised areas. This comes with its fair share of problems. From race riots to high levels of crime and poverty (or “grittiness”), the city suffers from the very tangible after-effects of continued structural inequalities, and thus still faces questions about how it should best be managed. Incorporating diverse communities into the overall scope of the place rather than creating zones along lines of class and ethnicity is key; in this respect the questions asked by the DCA have much broader – and indeed global – ramifications. Any solutions or suggestions from their participants will surely have a ready audience of planners.

Within this, understanding how to forge cultural connections is clearly key. This is true both amongst urban dwellers from different backgrounds, and between different cities themselves. Here, a long shared history with Latin America allows for an important point of comparison and mutual understanding. Many of the practitioners featured are from Brazil, Cuba and Mexico, and they are tasked with responding to modernist buildings and planning in their own hometowns in order to better propose a model for LA. They ask how successful government interventions have been and what role local communities can play in building the kind of neighbourhoods they want. This form of fertile intellectual collaboration is a brilliant model for promoting sustainable, productive ways to think about the contemporary city. Insights provided by the DCA and its cohort of artists and speakers, both in the current exhibition and their forthcoming publication, will be of international importance.

Condemned to be Modern opens 10 September at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. For more information: www.lamag.org

1. Mauro Restiffe, Empossamento #9, 2003, Gelatin silver print. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel.