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[Impakt Festival 2010: Matrix City]

On invitation of Impakt Foundation (active in the fields of culture-media-society), STEALTH, together with Kristian Lukić, curated Matrix City, the 2010 edition of Impakt Festival in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Matrix City has installed a temporary platform to meet future perspectives of cities. It depicted the growing dependency on the networked artificial superstructure, the tension between bold and on-the-edge-of-realizable desires about our future, modest responses to pressing realities, dilemmas about the urban 'revolution' or alternative virtual environments as 'better worlds'. Matrix City departs from celebrating the technological or informational advancements of cities and instead focuses through the exhibition Opportunities of Entanglement, seven screening programs, a conference and a number of special events on the growing urban entanglement.

[dilemma of urbanization]

Urbanization increasingly seems to act like a self-propelling machine. A staggering urgency to consider the current development is surely found in the massive and centripetal, gravitational power of urban growth. For one, in the mega-cities that have sprung up in recent decades (which differ so much from the 'classic' metropolis that our understanding and tools are at odds with them) but equally in the massive urbanization that takes place outside of these megacities.

In the radical new worlds envisioned in the 1960s and 1970s, for the first time a 'modern' engulfing urban matrix was projected (like in the works of Constant Nieuwenhuys, Archigram – or in a more dystopian version by Superstudio, for example) - at a point when industrialization, space age, computing and the emergence of digital media converged with the perceived possibility of a fundamental and liberating 'makeover' of our environment.

Nowadays, while newly arriving citizens cut their ties with the rural background and become reliant on resources provided third hand, those that are already part of the urban system have little option to step out. However, this expanding machine of urbanization may currently be the only opportunity at hand. For one, because de-urbanization (at the existing levels of worldwide population growth) may be the most inefficient, resource consuming and therefore unsustainable future ahead.

Game Broker by Derivart, 2009. Three retro games for the original Nintendo Game Boy reflecting upon the nature of financial crises

[exhibition - Opportunities of Entanglement]

The exhibition Opportunities of Entanglement touches upon the 'shelf life' or 'expiration date' of contemporary concepts of the city. It looks at the consequences of the recent credit crisis versus the boom and decline of Dubai; the flight into web2.0 communities and what that means for our understanding of reality; the alternative communities making their retreat from the real world trying to build a sustainable living; the large number of ´refuge' islands, bomb shelters and luxurious passenger ships ready to be inhabited by the super rich when 'things go wrong'; the consequences that mortgage debts from the 'big world' have for the small world of local communities; the totally alienating industrial landscapes which have arisen world-wide, and also have been deserted again in many cases...

exhibition views at Hoog Catharijne, with works by SMAQ, Francesco Jodice, Kayle Brandon in collaboration with Heath Bunting, Persuasive Games, Bureau d'Etudes, Derivart, The Wildlife Conservation Society, Victor Borisov, Vladimir Todorovic and Justin Tan, Molleindustria, Damon Rich, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, moddr_/WORM – and Upgrade Cities: samples, made in collaboration with Dubravka Sekulić (photo: Dirk Rose)

view on part of Upgrade Cities: samples

Upgrade Cities: samples / clockwise from left to right: the location for the Siberian eco-city Almaznaya Utopia, a Vivos shelter in the Mojave desert, a proposal for a Seasteading community, and an early image of the Venus project

view on The Most Unusual Metro In The World (left) by Victor Borisov and Disaffected! (middle) by Persuasive Games (photo: Dirk Rose)

For this occasion Matrix City appropriated part of Hoog Catharijne, Utrecht's 1970s avant-garde shopping center, a site of past expectations and current demise, which is today regarded outdated and finds itself on the verge of a major reconstruction. Reminding in an eerie way of parts of Constant Nieuwenhuys' New Babylon, a superstructure meant to liberate humans of physical work - just in Hoog Catharijne one was to find satisfaction in shopping, not in play.

view from the exhibition site at the ongoing reconstruction of the 1970s shopping center Hoog Catharijne

[7 screening programs]

The screenings at cinema 't Hoogt take us into seven thematic programs that brought forward 45 works of artists, filmmakers – but also TV-productions and promotional films. The works span from 1920's pioneer recordings of the Manhattan (Manhatta, by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand), to 1970's avant-garde works of groups like Italian Superstudio (Supersurface and Ceremonia), the Chinese 'gold farmers' who currently over the Internet advance US gamers for a modest amount of money to the next game level (Gold Farmers by Ge Jin, 2007), up to digital animations, contemporary community films, Youtube formats, art videos and beyond.

With Promise of the City, Landscapes of Production, Out of the Machine, Impossible Possibilities, Adaptive Survival and Labour of Play, a picture arises of the construction of the urban promise, but also of the sometimes grim, sometimes amazingly beautiful or stimulating reality of the city - the ambiguity that is so characteristic of the urbanity of Matrix City. The program concludes with somewhat apocalyptic portrays of the city in the program Rational Irrational, that might seem as overcharged fantasies, but at the same time may come disturbing close to reality.

In connection to the screening program, a special screening event of the ongoing Citytellers movie series by Francesco Jodice has been held, and a talk-show Matrix-Ville: What is Real/Virtual (see video) hosted by Peter T. Lang with a number of special guests, including contributions by some of the original 1970's radical architecture movement protagonists and invited critics.

Talkshow 'Matrix-Ville: What is Real/Virtual', with Gian Piero Frassinelli (Superstudio), Saskia van Stein (curator NAi), Tjebbe van Tijen (Imaginary Museum), Piet Vollaard (architect and publicist), hosted by Peter T. Lang (architect and publicist)


Finally, with the two-part conference Superstructural Dependencies at the Department of Media and Culture Studies of Utrecht University international practitioners and thinkers have been brought together to discuss the dependency of urban societies on their technological superstructures, and in the Virtual flight panel to investigate the recent developments of virtual urban environments with their unstable population and continuous reformulation of their own raison d'etre.

Konrad Becker in conversation with Matteo Pasquinelli during the conference; other speakers included Eric Kluitenberg, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Ilias Marmaras, Jaakko Stenros and Michiel de Lange


For the festival, the one-off edition of the Matrix City newspaper has been made with Piet Vollaard and Lotte Haagsma. The newspaper starts from the artworks and projects presented within the festival, and connects them with current global urban issues and dilemmas.

Matrix City newspaper cover, with cover photo by Francesco Jodice

Download the PDF (ENG) / (NL)