Friday, 16 September 2011
South Korean Landscapes of Capital
I've never forgotten that essay published in Logics of Television (edited by Patricia Mellencamp) all those years ago about how electronic freeway billboards offer a glimpse of what it might be like for all of us to live inside "one gigantic machine". This analogy points to how cityscapes can evoke circuitboards of desire, with the mobile privatization of the car, which is used to navigate public space, in effect reducing this space to a means to an end: individual consumption. One could refer to the Situationists in this context (we are becoming more beholden to "the spectacle" etc) as well. But rather than link to Ken Wark's animated history of the Situationists, which has gone viral, I thought I'd draw attention to another piece that impresses in terms of its ambitious scale and accompanying bibliography: please check out Landscapes of Capital to help contextualize this South Korean example; it has relevance, of course, to other "global" cities as well. The critical point then is that the construction of these "dreamworlds" is dependent on a process of abstraction:
Abstracted, aestheticized, and decontextualized, the signifiers of landscape in corporate advertising have been cleansed of the ravages of Capital -- the shantytowns and barrios, unemployment lines, soup kitchens, polluted air and water, or IMF austerity measures and ensuing riots. What remains is less a contested terrain than a reflection of the wonderment brought on by Capital.
Another central element of this process must be referred to here: the elimination of any reference to the workers who ensure these products are manufactured, stocked, and then delivered to meet customers' expectations of "convenience". As an antidote I recommend the excellent documentary called Manufactured Landscapes, which shows the changes to landscapes due to industrial work and manufacturing. Such manufactured landscapes can be contrasted with the "second-order" landscapes removed from materiality (by the process of representation) utilized by the advertising industry, that we find in this South Korean example.