Belgrade. Capturing the breath of the white city.

An experience of collaborative urban survey.

The workshop will allow the students to develop a specific personal exercise, but it is aimed at the coordinated production of a common outcome, adopting an independent  / social media attitude to report our exploration of Belgrade. No object better than a city is suitable for such a practice of collaborative description. The city in itself is the result of a plural perspective, is the material embodiment of social practice and conflictive processes, its identity is forged through a continuous stratification of discourses and mediated discursive practices. As students of media, our attention will be particularly focussed on those discourses and practices setting the image of the city, on its perceived space. The workshop will concentrate on capturing the identity of a locality (city, hood, place) with a specific interest in its representational space. We deal with imagined and built landscapes, investigating over the relationship among those two faces: on one side the image of the city, unceasingly produced and reproduced by linguistic acts, narratives, or processes of signification; on the other, the production of spaces as resulting from physical construction and technical integration.

We will focus on two poles of the city of Belgrade. Two centres, which in very different moments generated a process of  growth of the city: the Old Fortress and the New City. The ancient militarized core of the city, today a void, an empty space but almost saturated with historical and political meanings, and the new centre built by the modern aspiration towards technically determined and effective organization of the territory (and population). The first object of our attention will be the relationship between those two elements of the urban landscape, drafting an ideal line that connects them in historical, geographical and social terms. Our survey will be developed along this line, tracing a cross section of the city determined by our curiosity and our will to give light to the aspects which better capture our instinctive attention. Participants will have freedom to use any techniques in order to note and capture elements of the physical or social landscape, including the use of photo cameras, sketchbooks, audio recorders, video cameras or collecting objects.

The workshop will be held in the frame of the international student exchange taking place among the universities of Belgrade, Florence, Tokyo and Singapore, to which we will participate with a certain grade of autonomy. Our time schedule is different and will allow us only a partial cooperation. Nevertheless, objectives and modality of work of the whole event are consistent with our project, and we are expected to present some elaboration which will be integrated in its outcomes, including a catalogue and a website. The main focus of the international exchange program will be the Old Fortress, which provide us a solid starting point and a good introduction to the city and its issues. From that point on, our group will progressively turn into its specific path of research towards Novi Beograd, to get finally back to the confrontation with the rest of the group.

Apart from a daily moment of  briefing and coordination, and the fixed meetings with the other groups, every participant will be allowed to choose its own modality and timing to tackle the exploration. On the contrary, the selection of the route of exploration, to say, the line which the “cross section” will follow, and the thematic focus or perspective assigned to every student will be decided from the beginning on the basis of a common discussion.

The following piece about Novi Beograd is taken from Wikipedia. It is a brief and incomplete description, but nevertheless contains some interesting information:

The main physical characteristic of Novi Beograd is its flatness, which poses a high contrast to the old Belgrade which is altogether built on 32 hills. Except for its western section, Bežanija, Novi Beograd is built on terrain that was essentially a swamp when construction of the new city began in 1948. For years, kilometers long conveyer belts were transporting sand from the Danube’s island of Malo Ratno Ostrvo, almost completely destroying the island in the process, from which only a small, narrow strip of wooded land remains today. Thus, it is romantically said that Novi Beograd is actually built on an island.

This small narrative provides us a series of significant inputs, which can trigger our curiosity and prepare us for the search.

It tells us about the connection with the water and the river. It connects the site with a geography of flows, which starts from water and sand to end up with commuters, traffic, data, money. It speaks about the memory of the places, and the social construction of identities which arises from it. It reports the industrialization of the construction process which is characteristics of modernity. It suggest us destruction as a complementary part to construction, in the urban field as in any other domain. It provides us a romantic image or common lieux to decipher.

This will be our first outline for an exploration plan, providing some keywords to focus on, with relative antinomies and corollaries:

water (city of) Flows / static city

memory / erasure

Industrialization / post-industrial turn

(ancient times) modernity / postmodernity

construction / distruction (substitution)

image / space (production)