In cities around the world, the distinction between public and private urban space is blurring. Large swaths of public space are actually managed by private corporations, which undermines the idea that the city is for everyone. Lately, this privatisation of public space has been closely covered in The Guardian, specifically looking at London, where more and more publicly accessible spaces are being handed over to private management. The same goes for the development of urban space. At the same time, citizens are longing for that authentic and exciting urban life, so project developers slyly (and stupidly) promote their newest projects as ideal worlds. Homes become acquirable lifestyles for urban consumers that are sold as the most creative, genuine and safe that one can get.
Photographic artist Max Colson focuses on such environments, that are ‘nominally public, but owned and managed by commercial entities.’ An exhibition of his work, titled Virtual Control – Security and the Urban Imagination, is now on show at RIBA in London. The exhibition ‘playfully considers how the control of urban space influences the urban imagination.’ It is a reaction to the way London has been developing over the last decade, but also a mirror to cities elsewhere that are about to undergo similar changes.
Colson plays with the existence of regulated spaces. On the one hand, his work seems to be a response to overly controlled urban environments featuring CCTV, prohibition signs and other defensive elements that prevent people from behaving in an unscripted way. On the other, they portray the scripted environment, the city as a rendering in which people are promised a authentic experiences while they are in fact offered the orchestrated events, backdrops and encounters of the society of the spectacle.
The work consists of abstracted renderings in which people are no more than stock props in commodified spaces, ‘subtly’ camouflaged surveillance technology and the random marketing slogans recycled by property developers in the promotion of every project they realise.
Virtual Control is both humorous in its exaggeration and daunting because of its underlying critique.
Max Colson’s work is on display at RIBA until September 27.
All images are courtesy of the artist.