Existing as much in fantasy and imagination as in its complex and contradictory realities, the "big city" draws millions of visitors every year who revel in its Oz-like qualities. Providing a stimulating and cosmopolitan backdrop for vacationers from across the globe, dreams of urban living are offered to those with ambitions to live out one of the many television and movie narratives in today’s multi-format media world. As the city’s "real life" neighborhoods and buildings are featured in many films, sitcoms, and advertisements, an aura of familiarity exists for those who can identify their significance as fictional landmarks.
Producing myths alongside its myriad goods and services, the city’s economy becomes indistinguishable from its imagery. Devoted fans of urban fictions anoint their favorite places, ushering in boutiques, bakeries, and cafes that satisfy an urge to displace the complexities of urban space into palatable fantasies of the lives lived by their idols. While the city’s conflicting social and political agendas perpetually vie for attention, its mythologies evolve over decades. Endless fictional narratives contribute to how the city is perceived and consequently, how it adapts and reshapes itself. Reality promotes fiction, and fiction in turn, recreates reality.
When re-presented as mass entertainment, idiosyncrasies and anomalies of urban life are often erased or reconstituted as quaint caricatures, exhibiting a generic quality; the image equivalent of the "franchising" of its neighborhoods. Once largely under the control of the major media, the promotion of urban lifestyle culture ("the best" or "most appealing" experience or product) has recently been subcontracted to consumers via social media. Replicating lived experience across millions of cell phone screens, endless images of cosmopolitan life are produced/consumed by the participant/ audience.
Given the appeal of a community with no obligation to time or place, the distinction between what one might call an actual urban experience and mediated impressions begins to blur, as the consequences of one’s "presence" within the city becomes more and more elusive. While its streets and buildings are replicated, fictionalized, and "shared", its socio-economic make-up undergoes significant change. Examining the fine line between reality and fiction, Picture City III offers visual evidence of the power of images to re-contextualize and reshape the physical dimensions of the urban landscape, exploring the significant role that perceptual phenomena play in our everyday experience of city life.
image: Robert Smithson, It’s King Kong the Monster, 1961-1963
ink, gouache and gelatin silver prints on paper, 35 1/2 x 20 1/2 in (90.2 x 52.1 cm)