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Aesthetic Decay / Aesthetic Capital

Authors: Erin Siodmak*, Hunter College / Tulane University
Topics: Urban Geography, Social Theory, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: New Orleans, affect, spatial aesthetics, art
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The built environments of cities represent a spatio-temporal and affective confluence of regimes seeking to foster creativity, order, or conviviality as and through environmental sociality. Deployment of affect in cities can be traced in “the careful design of urban space to produce political response” (Thrift 2008:187), echoing Ranciere’s (2004) assertion that all aesthetics have a politics, and all politics are aesthetic in the ways they produce visions of a world. The engineering of affect, or attempt to act on the pre-cognitive “half-second” through data capture and medias of distribution (Hansen 2013), is symptomatic of capital’s constant drive toward creation of dynamic atmospheres most amenable to the consolidation of value and power, on the one hand, and state-sponsored insecurity - or, population racism (Clough and Willse 2010) - on the other. Affective-aesthetic capitalism (cf Harold 2009) and its place-based yet untethered environments relies on a “sense” that emerges from and circulate through liberal cultural imaginaries, anti-blackness and media/data discourses.

This project maps the political-aesthetic—and economic—interventions made by artists, developers, and city officials in New Orleans since late 2007, when artist Paul Chan staged Waiting for Godot on the city’s streets. New Orleans rests in the American spatial imaginary as nostalgia, tragedy, precarity, as well as potential and opportunity. I use demographic, real estate, and wealth data; city campaigns and development plans; gallery, museum, and installation exhibition catalogs and media; and photographs, video, and sound recordings, to produce a deep map of a city is relation to layers of environmental crisis.

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