Thursday, September 29, 2011

Flightpath: A Nuit Blanche Q&A with Usman Haque & Natalie Jeremijenko

Given the budgetary struggles at Toronto's City Hall this week, voters across the political spectrum are likely wishing some councillors would take a flying leap.

Well, a Nuit Blanche artwork being built just outside council chambers is inviting all Hogtown residents - elected or otherwise - to do just that. In Flightpath, residents will be able to soar across Nathan Phillips Square on cables some four storeys tall. On Tuesday, London architect/artist Usman Haque and New York engineer/artist Natalie Jeremijenko talked to me about this eccentric solution to deadlocked urban politics as they were setting up on the Square. The resulting condensed Q&A is out in today's National Post. An excerpt:

Q Flightpath promises to help Torontonians "reimagine the city." But to a lot of folks, it might just look like a bunch of zip lines and scaffolding. Which is it?

Usman: The point of this project is to explore ideas of mobility around the city.

Natalie: Yes, there's a big idea here about how we design our cities. Are they for efficiency? Are they for pleasure and wonder and play? There's a claim here that there is a place for playful reimagining - for pleasure-driven, wonderdriven engagement with possibilities for the future.

Usman: And the birds of Nathan Phillips Square were a very direct inspiration. As human beings, we experience the city in straight lines, you know? You walk down the street and go up an elevator, then you go across a floor and down another staircase. In Flightpath the city can be experienced in a completely different way.

Q Why debut Flightpath in Toronto? Did this "reimagining of mobility" result from a bad experience on the TTC or the Don Valley Parkway, perhaps?

Usman: Well, I think Toronto has a history of being creative or open toward reimagining the city from the perspective of the environment - often in a way that other metropolises are a little more reluctant to. And this project looks partly at emission-less transportation.

Natalie: It's absolutely the case that Toronto is an intellectual leader in green technology. There's the Carbon Zero initiative here, there's the sustainable buildings festival. When there were 20 food coops in New York City, there were 2,000 in Toronto. There's an urgency and openness here to meeting environmental challenges.

For more, I urge you to take a look at the Arts & Life section of today's National Post, which has some fun pictures of Haque and Jeremijenko setting up. There's a more disjointed version online as well, but given the layout it may be a bit harder to understand. You can find that here.

Also, I was really pleased to learn there will be a group sound-and-light piece happening as part of Flightpath. (It's discussed later in the interview.) Haque has done some pretty cool projects in that vein before, where a light projection is controlled by the public's voices. I'm embedding a couple of examples below. The first is from Yorkminster Cathedral in 2007 and the second from Santa Monica beach in 2008.

Primal Source (video documentation) from haque d+r on Vimeo.

Cool, eh? I'm looking forward to seeing this work on Saturday night.

(Image of Usman Haque testing out one of the Flightpath harnesses and wings by Aaron Lynett for the National Post)

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