Student Project at ArtCenter College of Design
Artist, Prototyper, Researcher
12 weeks (full-time)
This project began as an assignment in a graduate studio research class responding to the prompt of understanding Mexico City's frenetic cityscape at multiple scales. I continued the project on my own when I returned a year later, mapping new routes.
I was fascinated by the way that spaces are so dynamically being constructed and disassembled in Mexico City. Markets are the most obvious example. As they pop up and disappear on daily or weekly schedules, one has to adjust their strategy for getting from point A to point B. Mapping this ever-changing environment challenges cartographic methods more suited to fixed urban structures.
Working through a process of practice-based research, I drew on my skills with imaging technology to find a visual language for representing a city especially in flux. I and others experienced this environment most often by navigating through it, so I turned to making video recordings while walking and digitally assembling the sequences of frames to represent the city.
What might be thought of as artifacting and distortion in the output retained bits and pieces of a changing landscape and point of view, avoiding the sense of stasis that a more traditional, clean panoramic treatment would provide.
I wrote python scripts that used OpenCV and NumPy to stitch the frames of these videos into long strips, providing viewers an opportunity to compare moments in the journey over time as with a storyboard.
The above assemblies visualize different commutes into the same space. The views come from my and another designer’s daily trips into a shared art studio space in a central market. Maiqo biked in from a more southern neighborhood while I took the train and walked through a large section of the market on foot.
The visual differences in the output communicate several details about the different routes we took, and how we related to those environments. The distance from viewer to environment and speed of travel produce a more stretched but also removed view of space from the bike. Walking through the market renders a more varied tempo of expansion and contraction as I passed close to market stalls or exited the market and went from building to building.
Aspects of this relationship of navigator to environment are relatively quantifiable, but its significance and our experience of it exceed a simple metric like distance from other objects. The impression left by these recordings seeks to recapture some of the emotion and complexity that define these everyday experiences.
The above image enlarges a view from Maiqo's biking view. In this assembly, I was able to use some of OpenCV's auto-image stitching tools, which attempted to calculate rotations and skew as well as translation to match up frames. Because the algorithm is written with the expectation of success being a perfect panorama, it was difficult to get it to generate these more jagged composites without failing.
The above image enlarges a view from my own walk from the subway into the art space (ATEA). The route is a sidewalk that doubles as a shopping aisle, offering a dizzying array of apparel and other goods.
These next two assemblages are from Colonia Santa Fe, a wealthy suburb 10 miles South-East of the city center. The area hosts the Mexican headquarters of many multi-national corporations, boasting some of the highest rents in the city. Its spatial logic privileges automotive transit: barely walkable streets connect massive commercial/residential towers with guarded parking garages underneath. Many people commute in for work. One of my friends taught at a university in the area and did so frequently. We walked the route from his school to the neighborhood park: Parque La Mexicana.
Colonia Santa Fe holds a gorgeous park, Parque La Mexicana, which offers a beautiful if somewhat isolated experience of public space. In contrast to the somewhat claustrophobic experience of trying to navigate the neighborhood on foot, the park assemblage reveals deep vistas, greenery, and a recurrent skyline. The rhythms of repeating forms are more regular, an interesting echo of its highly controlled and serene landscape.