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Julia Mandle

September 17, 2010

“I believe in the necessity of public interventions to create small shifts in perception, causing people to turn from one realm of meaning to another.  The intervention serves as a type of catalyst, underscoring my belief in the role of curiosity as the lifeblood of our cities.” – Julia Mandle

Julia Mandle is an artist who focuses on urban interventions using various media.  She is a primarily performance-based artist due to its social and public nature.

The word, pause, provides the conceptual frame for my art. I want my viewers to suspend their daily lives, to take a momentary vacation from the cacophonous world, in order to become more aware of life’s significant parts and to reconsider their role as individuals in a rapidly changing world.

For the past thirteen years, my multimedia projects, combining performance, drawing, sculpture, architecture, installation, craft, fashion and urban design, have provided these suspended moments in diverse locations such as city streets, public buildings and parks, abandoned commercial spaces, community and commercial galleries, regional art centers, and contemporary museums.

Why do I create art that crosses media boundaries?  It fits. It’s also the way I experienced the world growing up. As the child of a museum professional, I literally grew up in the museum where my father worked. There I learned about philosophy, world history, and the triumph and tragedy of civilizations through the blending of art forms that were exhibited in the museum.

My most recent projects, emerging from my despair at the state of contemporary society, investigate themes of urban revitalization and civil liberties. I have come to believe that it might only be when we feel the painful reality of our responsibility in environmental and human rights disasters—not turn a blind eye—that we will be inspired to act and change course. I believe that art can play an instigating role.  The mission of the organization is to create performances, which cause audiences to pause and heighten their perception of everyday environments. -J. Mandle

Variable City performer

The exciting characteristic of Mandle’s work is that they not only engage a social or political theme, but they become spatial experiences.  She uses a multidisciplinary approach with the city as her canvas to engage the citizenry.  She is also aware of the condition I am trying to address through the Crisis City collaborative.  Our overly private culture has even decreased awareness of events around us in cities.  The city should be the incubator for informal/formal shared social experience.  Architecture has increasingly failed to encourage this interaction.

Mandle’s Variable City is a performance based “tool in urban planning”.  There are inherent choreographed movements in the city.  Other physical activity, such as sound and image, also aggressively confronts the urbanite.  She explains a new design strategy or process for urban planning that includes input from “variable” factors:

Through the intersection of two seemingly distinct disciplines, there is a unique capacity for performance art to interpret urban dynamics and engage the public in the early stages of design development. Using Research, Public Intervention and Gallery Installation, Variable City examines the impact of small-scale human activities—observation, walking, shopping, talking, and working—on large-scale, permanent changes in public space. In a first-time collaboration with urban designer, Ariel Krasnow, the project was initiated with a question: can performance art be employed as an analytical tool in an inquiry into public space? To explore the answer to this question, Fox Square, a critical, but overlooked intersection in the heart of downtown Brooklyn was selected as the site for this project.

For two years, Mandle, Krasnow, and their Urban Design Team explored a range of questions by conducting research on Fox Square: its history, current use, and prospects for future development. The Urban Design Team then interviewed pedestrians about their perceptions of the area. They discovered that the main issue undermining the area is that it had no identity—thousands passed through the busy intersection each day with little awareness of its historical significance and future potential.

Following the Research phase, a series of Public Interventions took place in Fox Square. Designed to inspire people to reconsider the site’s identity, envision potential change, and express ideas, twelve performers, dressed in vibrant orange, engaged the public through a series of actions. An informative “newspaper” was also distributed alerting people to the aims of the project as well as offering a way to respond to the issues raised. Hundreds of people paused in their daily routine to offer their enthusiastic opinions. This engagement stood in stark contrast to the Research phase when the Urban Design Team had great difficulty getting anyone in the area to stop for an interview. Of this finding Krasnow wrote, “We determined that the variable of “performance” as an acutely responsive medium can affect people’s attitudes and physical trajectories, while at the same time can cause reactions to site occurrences.”

In 2004, the Van Alen Institute: Projects in Public Architecture presented Variable City in Gallery Installations at three sites, a panel discussion, and a catalogue illustrating the project, its precedents, and overall contribution to interdisciplinary approaches in urban design and planning.

Chalk shoes, make your mark on the city

In a similar vein, the High Line Chalk Shoes Art Project physically marks the circulations of students comparable to a choreographer drafting movements for dancers.  The many paths to the High Line mutated into a hybrid stage and site for public behavior.  It drew attention to our collective experiences as city occupiers.  People didn’t just go about their uninterrupted daily life, they stopped to reflect upon the activity in front of them.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. nathanielwooten permalink
    September 17, 2010 11:55 pm

    I really Like the quote: “curiosity as the lifeblood of our cities”
    While curiosity alone may not capture the whole point I think human curiosity is certainly one of the most important urban generators. Additionally I naturally like her focus on the everyday. Architects/Artists being like comedians: reminding people of the obvious (and thus often funny) things we manage to lose site of.

    I agree with Mandel’s views about engagement and was reminded of this concept today at park(ing) day hosted by AIAS and the Front today at Syracuse. Throughout the day we were engaged by passer-bys and given the nature of our temporary park, we ultimately ended up discussing downtown Syracuse, cars culture, parks, and the role of public space. If we had just been down there with a sign saying we need more public space downtown I do not think we would have interacted with as many people.

    Daley, how did you learn of Julia’s work? Perhaps you already have, but if she is stationed in NYC I think she would be an excellent person to engage for our work at Crisis City

  2. September 18, 2010 10:40 pm

    That is a great connection to make- Mandle is like a Jon Stewart or Colbert. They use absurdity to draw attention to the obvious (i.e. The Rally to Restore Sanity). Perhaps that is where the concept of spectacle (or the absurd) plays into my thesis. Spectacle might become framing device through which we see the world in a new way. It doesn’t have to be a numbing/negative concept.

    I am really happy to hear about the engagement triggered from Parking Day, unfortunately I had to work that whole day. It also gives hope that Crisis City could involve people in Syracuse more that I might have expected. Parking Day proves what I have been blogging about- architecture as event (Tschumi ;)).

    Nina Rappaport told me about her during my NYC semester. I looked into her a little bit at that point, now I want to revisit her work & make a contact with her.

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