Earthly beings indeed!


All this talk of extraterrestrials, icons and tagging reminds me of the time that space invader came to town.

It was way back in round 2003, over 20 years after the original arcade machines had arrived on these fair shores, transforming stray corners of pubs and fish-&-chip shops and creating a new urban play space – the videogame arcade. Ah such wonderful arcane spaces filled with curious sounds and elaborate social rituals…

But I digress Space Invader is a French artist who tags the city streets with that all to familiar configuration of pixels. His work can be found all over the world including this fair city. He was drawn to Melbourne to create work as are so many street artists. What is it about the city that draws them here? And what does this mean for the city?

Cultural reformer, dreamer and visionary Marcus Westbury has claimed for the city’s street art that “At its best, Melbourne’s streets are full of smart, witty, funny, pretty, provocative, illuminating and delightful interventions. Artists pose interesting questions and talk with the city.” But what, he asks, does the city and its fathers make of its gallery status, of its outlaw art?

There are 26 Space invaders in Melbourne. My favorite is in Centre Place. When you are out hunting for other icons tagged in Melbourne there will be many other serendipitous findings to delight. Take the camera. Post your discoveries. Begin a dialogue with the city and its guilds.

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slow city at play

The city is the CE’s laboratory. Here she studies the actions of Homoludus
Learning through play
Social negotiation through play
Courtship through play
Mapping through play
Design through play…
It is apparent that the threat to all she is working on is real.
If the ban on play happens Melbourne would not be the first city to partake in such madness.
Last week she complained of the dreadful 2002 decision in the USA Washington city of Fairfax whose ban on street play is enforced by a the city codes that now say, without exception, “no person shall play” on public streets. Also in North America Woodland Park, New Jersey has banned street play. Toronto City Canada has banned kite flying and the town of Walsall UK has banned ball games.
What does it mean that children’s street games are a dying art form? Games played by children for over a hundred years are being lost to memory and museums. The skills children once learned on the city streets, lanes and parks such as leadership and cooperation, rules (and rule evasion), physical skills, and social roles now move into the virtual realm. Videogames are the new playgrounds, argues Professor Henry Jenkins. It is within the virtual places of videogames that children now get to claim their independence to explore, build, experiment, problem solve and truly learn how to sort things out for themselves.
There is much at stake. The CE believes play is the cities immune system. Has this activity been forced to move territories? Will she need to go cap in hand to the Locative Urbanist to look now within the data streams?

It was a very hot summer’s day, one of those days, when the streets are perfumed by the rank smell of the baking tarmac and I found myself drifting through the city. In the embrace of the heat I surrendered to the paths that opened before me, it was thus that I found myself rewriting the city. The surrealists first advocated a losing oneself to a walkabout guided by aimless drifting governed by subconscious actions as a way to ‘transform the urban centre into an adventurous forest’. The situationist’s drifting refined the art from simply getting lost to an act of recontextualisation. Once cast adrift through the act of drifting the situationists felt that you could break the topological chains that regulate the use of urban space. Well known places traversed everyday in the course of repetitive itineraries became unexplored forests rich with sensations, scents and sounds previously undetected. New paths were created new connections made and the working city revealed as a playground.

On wordplay or, you’re so vain you think Borges’s song was about you

I am getting tired of these bouts of wordfighting showiness and general logomachy.

When I was a young girl I once was visited by Borges. Well, not really. Borges visited the city of Madrid, where I lived, to receive a literary price and to sit for a TV interview, and a bookseller friend of my parents knew an editor who knew a publisher who snuck me into the TV studio. So it was I that visited him, kind of. We met in the middle, Borges and I. And there we were.

You can’t see me, because I was standing in the next room, watching on a monitor and rehearsing my lines.

Borges was frail, almost transparent, and extremely patient with the embarrassing garrulousness of the interviewer. I swear 80% of the airtime was taken by the archly encomiastic and baroque questions of the Spaniard, and only 20% by the plain answers of the Argentinian. Today, on tape or on DVD or on your browser (I have repeatedly cringed at all three versions), this looks ridiculous. Live, standing there in the dark behind the cameras, it was fucking mortifying. It was like the scene in Annie Hall just before the point Woody Allen schools a fool by producing Marshal McLuhan from out of the frame, but without the ability to produce Borges, because he was there, under the floodlights, too polite to get up and bitchslap the pretentious git that the interviewer was. That would have been both awesome and only fair.

Ah, but that was not all the mortification to be had that night. You see, a fourteen-year-old’s life is a constant aleph of angst. From that endless source of eye-rolling at the locus of your clueless parents (especially when they make vain stabs at hipness) to, well, everything else. Especially yourself.

After the interview, in the green room (which was actually painted a light beige), I approached the Master with my copy of Ficciones in its Alianza Editorial edition. Borges praised the cover (He made a joke! At me!), scribbled a signature on the front page, and took in stride my attempts at wowing him with my twenty-dollar puns (calambures de dos mil pesetas, in the coin of the time). I held his hand, and promptly had to run to use the loo. It was *that* exciting.

When I came back, however, mortification sat on me. Borges was telling our bookseller friend how much he disliked puns and wordplay. I didn’t know what was worse: that he could have forgotten mine, just five minutes earlier, or that he could have disliked them and was now slagging me off. I felt it was all about me, me, me! … when of course it wasn’t. He was, however, talking about the newest generation of Spanish and South American authors that tried to imitate his style without delving into substance. To this day I am proud that I managed to say goodbye without making a scene, kissing his hand like I kissed my grandfather’s, and receiving in exchange a soft caress on my cheek.

I can’t help but think that people who quote and reference Borges using clever wordplay are just waiting to be schooled, Annie-Hall style, by Zombie Borges. I have written for a kit from Haiti, and the loas have written back. They are on Ebay now. Armed with a digital ouija connected to my laptop for feedback, I am working hard at raising Borges.

He will come at you, all luminous as if made of vellum and fed by a spotlight, and be polite and gentle at you until you die of guilt and shame.

Better City Safety through Play

It is not all bitchen and manifestos over at the crossmedia labs.  We are dedicated to exploring the potential of play to actively  transform the city.  Here is an example of how Vancouver are exploring playful solutions to road safety.

“Marking the back to school term, Preventable together with BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation and the District of West Vancouver have launched an optical illusion geared to making drivers slow down at high-risk intersections.

The optical illusion of an illustrated girl chasing a ball has been placed on the road northbound at 22nd street in West Vancouver. There are signs leading up to it saying “you’re probably not expecting kids to run out on the road” to prepare drivers. The installation is meant to draw attention to the risk of children running into the street and was carefully tested before being put in place. It is in place for a few days only and is being monitored as a pilot to ensure pedestrian and driver safety are not risked. The illusion rises up gradually from about 100 feet away as not to surprise drivers, and it fades away by the time a driver approaches

For more details on how we’re shifting attitudes and raising awareness about preventable injuries, visit http://www.preventable.ca

From Wooster Collective http://www.woostercollective.com/2010/09/3d_optical_illusion_painted_on_street_to.html

Never trust a situationist

Marcel Duchamp 'The Fountain' 1917

That grid mr master codemaker is the playground. Pac-Melbourne has us running through the laneways.
The ghosts of the laneways however have their own complex gameplay from the current social negotiations to a rich history of play. Be it two-up parlours with their rules and reason or the role-play of those who sought adventure in the city’s hidden zones -those Victorians who in the 19th century lifted the skirts of Marvellous Melbourne to hide under Madame Brussels skirts.
The most simple way to make a playground is to name it so. The way a urinal can become a fountain.
But what really makes a playground is the community. We are homo ludens.
The systemic nature of play, the defining spaces and rules -we made all those and we can make new ones my dear codemaster and urbanist chums. Do you not fear that you will become irrelevant as the players change the rules and leave you two crusty umpires behind arguing amongst yourselves?

On games as emergent governance for drudgework and dispute resolution

In the summer between finishing secondary studies and university I spent a couple of months picking fruit in the Eastern Spanish province of Murcia. Temperatures would rutinely reach the mid-forties in the craggy plots where the best peaches grew, guarded from the wind by the low, crumbling hills. We pickers had to start early and work fast. We were paid by the day, and each day we were in the orchards before sunrise, and at the signal of the first rays raced to fill a set number of crates. The sooner we loaded the truck, the earlier we would be able to ride it back home, shower and sleep our siesta during the sweltering hours.

Some days, sudden inversions would bring down sheets of rain, and turn the plots into mudtraps that would suck our shoes clean off our feet. That meant we would have to work fast in hot, humid weather, barefoot and ankle-deep in silt. We would then make games to pass the time, games to get work done faster. Fruit picking in these regions is a collaborative pursuit: we would all get paid for a day’s work, not for each one’s contribution to the daily load. However, on days where access to the trees was fraught, we would improvise a tournament between two teams, and race even faster against the rising sun.

Cities are also held together by play and games. Rock climbers clean our windows, and cyclists carry our paperwork through the streets. Pedestrian commuters are specially careful not to step on the cracks (or to step on all the cracks), lest they don’t receive their well deserved raises and promotions. The assignment of parking spaces for financial workers in the CBD is decided by the rankings in a secret night-time laneway hopscotch league. John So himself won the Mayorship of the city of Melbourne playing World of Warcraft: there are conversations about fixing the rules of order so only board-games are allowed.

Some of this is true. Some of it is fantasy. But tell me. If whiteboards have replaced blackboards in universities and offices, how come so many brokers and financiers have chalk stains on their sleeves?