Projecting the new world city : The city as spectacle in an urban light festival

Estrada Grajales, Carlos, Mitchell, Peta, Caldwell, Glenda Amayo, Yang, Richard, & Johnstone, Sarah (2015) Projecting the new world city : The city as spectacle in an urban light festival. In Willis, Katharine S., Aurigi, Alessandro, Phillips, Mike, & Corino, Gianni (Eds.) Proceedings: MEDIACITY 5 International Conference, Workshops and Urban Interventions, School of Architecture, Design & Environment and i-DAT (Institute of Digital Art and Technology), Plymouth University., Plymouth, United Kingdom, pp. 244-261.

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As a precursor to the 2014 G20 Leaders’ Summit held in Brisbane, Australia, the Queensland Government sponsored a program of G20 Cultural Celebrations, designed to showcase the Summit’s host city. The cultural program’s signature event was the Colour Me Brisbane festival, a two-week ‘citywide interactive light and projection installations’ festival that was originally slated to run from 24 October to 9 November, but which was extended due to popular demand to conclude with the G20 Summit itself on 16 November. The Colour Me Brisbane festival comprised a series projection displays that promoted visions of the city’s past, present, and future at landmark sites and iconic buildings throughout the city’s central business district and thus transformed key buildings into forms of media architecture. In some instances the media architecture installations were interactive, allowing the public to control aspects of the projections through a computer interface situated in front of the building; however, the majority of the installations were not interactive in this sense. The festival was supported by a website that included information regarding the different visual and interactive displays and links to social media to support public discussion regarding the festival (Queensland Government 2014). Festival-goers were also encouraged to follow a walking-tour map of the projection sites that would take them on a 2.5 kilometre walk from Brisbane’s cultural precinct, through the city centre, concluding at parliament house.

In this paper, we investigate the Colour Me Brisbane festival and the broader G20 Cultural Celebrations as a form of strategic placemaking—designed, on the one hand, to promote Brisbane as a safe, open, and accessible city in line with the City Council’s plan to position Brisbane as a ‘New World City’ (Brisbane City Council 2014). On the other hand, it was deployed to counteract growing local concerns and tensions over the disruptive and politicised nature of the G20 Summit by engaging the public with the city prior to the heightened security and mobility restrictions of the Summit weekend. Harnessing perspectives from media architecture (Brynskov et al. 2013), urban imaginaries (Cinar & Bender 2007), and social media analysis, we take a critical approach to analysing the government-sponsored projections, which literally projected the city onto itself, and public responses to them via the official, and heavily promoted, social media hashtags (#colourmebrisbane and #g20cultural). Our critical framework extends the concepts of urban phantasmagoria and urban imaginaries into the emerging field of media architecture to scrutinise its potential for increased political and civic engagement. Walter Benjamin’s concept of phantasmagoria (Cohen 1989; Duarte, Firmino, & Crestani 2014) provides an understanding of urban space as spectacular projection, implicated in commodity and techno-culture. The concept of urban imaginaries (Cinar & Bender 2007; Kelley 2013)—that is, the ways in which citizens’ experiences of urban environments are transformed into symbolic representations through the use of imagination—similarly provides a useful framing device in thinking about the Colour Me Brisbane projections and their relation to the construction of place.

Employing these critical frames enables us to examine the ways in which the installations open up the potential for multiple urban imaginaries—in the sense that they encourage civic engagement via a tangible and imaginative experience of urban space—while, at the same time, supporting a particular vision and way of experiencing the city, promoting a commodified, sanctioned form of urban imaginary. This paper aims to dissect the urban imaginaries intrinsic to the Colour Me Brisbane projections and to examine how those imaginaries were strategically deployed as place-making schemes that choreograph reflections about and engagement with the city.

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ID Code: 84572
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional Information: Changes introduced as a result of publishing processes such as copy-editing and formatting may not be reflected in this document. For a definitive version of this work, please refer to the published source.
Keywords: Media Architecture, Urban Imaginaries, Civic Engagement, Light Festival, Urban Space
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > DESIGN PRACTICE AND MANAGEMENT (120300) > Digital and Interaction Design (120304)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > ANTHROPOLOGY (160100) > Social and Cultural Anthropology (160104)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > HUMAN GEOGRAPHY (160400) > Urban and Regional Studies (excl. Planning) (160404)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES (200100) > Communication Technology and Digital Media Studies (200102)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > CULTURAL STUDIES (200200) > Screen and Media Culture (200212)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Design
Current > Research Centres > Digital Media Research Centre
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Past > Schools > School of Media, Entertainment & Creative Arts
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 [please consult the author]
Copyright Statement: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.
Deposited On: 31 May 2015 22:26
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2016 05:19

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