by Valentin Schipfer
The old parts of European cities are beautiful examples for what develops when coincidence acts as the main city-planner. While in most of these cities master-planning has replaced this uncoordinated interaction, coincidence is still active in cities in emerging and developing countries: resulting in whole informal settlements. But have you ever realized that, no matter in which European or other city you go, corners exist where this uncoordinated interaction is still alive? Surfaces where coincidence and chaos are still the main planners? Spots where traces of urban, instant history are left?
In our project Ragtag – Contemporary Witness, we document exactly these forgotten or contested corners. Every city has its own personality, its own approach and its own life story. In short, every city has its own habitus. In our project Ragtag – Contemporary Witness, we focus on public billboards in a city-specific way through photography. They serve as a first means to gain insight into habitus as well as into instant history of cities.
Bewyl, the collaboration between me and Moran Gadner, focuses in this project on surfaces which are actively re-pasted over and over again and on those which are slowly and silently decaying. Both are unified by numerous stakeholders which have been involved during their lifespan. It seems as if an invisible hand of the city enthusiastically seeks to not let any square centimeter equal each other – similar to the uncoordinated interaction between citizens of my above examples but on a different scale. With Ragtag – Contemporary Witness we portray these short-lived works of art created by the cities and its citizens themselves. As a Ragtag they become contemporary documents.
The title originates from the English word “ragtag”, defined as follows: “Untidy, disorganized, or incongruously varied in character.” Bewyl does not only use this term for the messages which apparently are randomly pasted together. We also use it for the various, single factors influencing these surfaces during their whole lifespan (e.g. designers, ad agencies, billboard-boys, waste collectors, passersby). The title Ragtag is also meant to refer to the different graphic and physical layers which are excavated like growth rings by the cities and the weather.
Behind this seemingly unsystematic, uncoordinated and versatile interaction hides the invisible hand of the city. In each city, from the promiscuous Berlin via the post-imperial Vienna with its own billboard regulation to the slumbering Tropea, it leaves completely different but specific traces and messages. As different and distinctive as the habitus of each city itself. This invisible hand of the city creates ephemeral, visual moments – moments which Bewyl pours into new forms and preserves in Ragtag – Contemporary Witness. Thanks to all the cities we have already documented and to those which will follow!