[-empyre-] Week 4 | Flow and Real Time in the Urban

Shama Nair shama at bicar-india.org
Fri May 28 17:03:43 AEST 2021

Thank you Johannes!

I do agree with you!

Dubai has 'opened up’ so to speak and in many cases it seems like business as usual – the ‘flow’ of traffic and labor has returned and is moving through the city (in fact, it hardly left). Here in this city, even if we aren’t facing a stillness of time in terms of strict lockdown, it does feel like a strange time-warp because we are still missing a lot of ’time-markers’ - for those who work from home: when does the weekend begin? When does the work day begin? What is rush hour anymore? When do I ask my employer for vacation days when the very concept seems laughable at this point? With Dubai being an expat-heavy city, there’s the endless wait to visit ‘home’; for borders to reopen in many parts of the world. Not to mention an internal slowness we experience as a result of fatigue and sorrow in this catastrophic time in history. Almost all the news we consume here as expats is about the situation ‘back home’ where devastation and lockdowns continue. This is also disorienting because all the information we’re constantly consuming is about a certain suspension of time, while our physical reality here is quite different and ’sped-up'.

I think that this stillness and slowing down that we feel internally on a personal, individual level is in conflict with the way the city is spoken about in the commercial context or even in the way technology is advancing to compress time: apps to ’speed’ things up, ‘hyper-loops’ in the near future, ‘express delivery’ etc. And because we are incessantly receiving this in mainstream media both consciously and unconsciously, I wonder how it impacts us. Could it induce a feeling of guilt for 'slowing down'? Does it lead us to believe that ‘fast’ is the ideal state and any ’slowing down’ is a failure on our part? Or on the contrary, is ’slowing down’ in the face of the accelerated ’smart-city’ almost liberating?

I’ve used Dubai as a starting point only because that’s where my immediate observations begin, but I aim to look at this conflict of time in a universal context say between the personal vs. the commercial experience of the city, the online vs. offline.

I’ll hold on to this thought without deviating too much and will think about impulse a little further :)


Shama Nair
Bombay Institute for Critical Analysis and Research

7 Sandhurst House
Mereweather Road, Colaba
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From: Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>
Date: Friday, 28 May 2021 at 4:06 AM
To: Shama Nair <shama at bicar-india.org>, empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au>
Subject: Re: Week 4 | Flow and Real Time in the Urban
dear Shama, dear all

sorry, having joined late, I missed some of the earlier posts but did like some of the images that were conjured on flow, and impulsiveness....

I now think just today, that Shama is perhaps idealizing or singling out something i do not feel is quite real-time, at this moment.
i don't at all see briskness and moving to and fro. nothing of the sort.

i see static-ness, stillness, precarious isolation, sadness, and depression, death, languishing inaction, brutalist dystopia (amidst afro-pessimism, probably rightly declaring social death (in Frank Wilderson's dire book), and non availability of redemption or any upbeat storyllne, for many people).

i walked passed two young black dancers in a vacant lot today, they danced slowly, in front of Brunel University's 1960s  brutalist architecture of four science towers, looming overheard, one more ugly than the next, more deadening, more desperately inhuman.

Johannes Birringer
DAP-Lab. London

From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Shama Nair <shama at bicar-india.org>
Sent: 27 May 2021 15:32
To: empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] Week 4 | Flow and Real Time in the Urban

----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
Hello everyone,

I’d like to thank Renate and Patrick for sharing this space with me. I’ve been following the exchanges here with great fascination and I’m happy to share my response to this month’s theme of Flow, Impulse, and Affect in Real Time.

I’ve always been deeply fascinated with our relationship with cities and architecture, and now, under Rohit's mentorship at BICAR, I’m forming my research interests in urbanism and critical theory more concretely. Keeping in mind the theme of our discussion, I’d like to think through and hopefully hear some of your reflections about the temporal experience of the neoliberal metropolis or ’smart-city’. I’m thinking about Flow in terms of movement (eg. ‘flow' of traffic).

Often, we find ourselves describing a city with reference to its ‘pace’ - eg. a city I’ve known for a long time, Dubai, as ‘dynamic, fast- paced, accelerated’. These words, through rampant advertising, quickly form the meta-narrative of the city on an international platform and we tend to internalise a lot of this too, even if it’s at odds with the way we experience our day-to-day, on ground. Does this conditioning impede our ‘impulses’ as city-dwellers?

As for individual experience of ‘real-time’: How might two strangers experience time while moving from the same point A to B - where on the vertical axis of the city’s architecture do they live? Street level or in an apartment complex? How fast are each of their elevators? Do they have to take the stairs? Do they have to wait for a cab or bus or walk to the metro station? Do they drive? Do they carpool? Do they try to avoid tolls? How does the constantly shuttling between online and offline shape our perception of time? How do these different time-maps coexist and how do they create conditions for alienation? Whose experience is privileged and why?

This may be slightly unrelated but perhaps someone else may be able to make a more cohesive link to our theme – but, I also find interesting the lexicon of time and what cognitive linguists might have to say about the way ‘fast’ words (quick, brisk, speed, accelerate, and such) shape our individual behaviours and experiences in late capitalism. Along similar lines, Researcher & UCL Professor Mathew Beaumont in his book The Walker: On Losing and Finding Oneself in the Modern City (Verso, 2020) talks about how our pace influences the way we experience the city on foot. To quote:

“Brisk’, a word which first crops up at the end of the fourteenth century in the Old Welsh form brysg, ‘used of briskness of foot’, as the OED states, implies industriousness, purposefulness, busy-ness. In short, it means business.”

“People’s most ordinary mode of perambulation was reshaped by the discipline of capitalism. Business required busy-ness, briskness.”

“Hurried or brisk walking, to polarize rather crudely, marked one’s subordination to the industrial system; sauntering or wandering represented an attempt, conscious or unconscious, to escape its labour habits and its time-discipline”

Here are just some of my opening thoughts but I aim to return with some refined reflections on ‘flow and impulse’ soon.


p.s -

Dear Rebecca, thank you for sharing your thoughts on Flow and Real-time in Pandemic-time, I really enjoyed reading your post. I also came across the ‘Augmenting the City Together’ Keynote for ‘Game of Cities: Culture, Participation, Democracy’ on your website but unfortunately, the Youtube video is unavailable. I’d love to learn more and perhaps think about your work in urban studies in relation to our theme.



empyre forum
empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
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