Vagueing The City, 2022  
Artistic research trajectory
@ University of the Arts Utrecht, 

programme Scenography,  NL 


 Philip Lüschen (NL)
Visual artist / Scenographer  

 vagueing human-constructed environments through multi-disciplinary work 


Derived from the adjective ‘vague’ (meaning ‘not clearly defined, grasped or understood’) the verb ‘to vague’, my coinage, seems to signal impeded visuality. However, in my research practice I suggest the opposite. I unpack existing modes of ‘vagueing’ and develop new artistic variations of the practice, thus cultivating more intense visual, sensorial and imaginative confrontations with the built environment. Methods of vagueing, I suggest, may serve to destabilize rationalised and habitualised engagements with the cityscape. They make the city’s petrified décors become more malleable and open up direct, embodied confrontations with public space, even as they allowed for new visions of the urban landscape and the self alike. 

The research project Vagueing the City charts, via a first-person narrative, my journeys to online and offline environments that express, or harbor, potentialities for the vagueing of public space. In addition, I rely on the images of my own archive of photographs and videos, accumulated over a long period from disparate places around the world, to converge, as it were, and form a new, imaginary city. This assembled reality reveals the urban landscape to be a carefully maintained set or stage, where ‘the vague’ is nevertheless always a looming threat behind the scenes. As a second element of my research trajectory, I mobilize digital 3D simulations and physical (scale) models to offer speculative possibilities of reconfiguring and sensitising the urban landscape. Through participatory performances I stage and push the spectator into (hyper-)disciplined situations so as to experience the regulatory force of public spaces; at the same time, possibilities for contemplation of and engagement with our society's building blocks emerge and are opened up.

In comparatively new cities, those lacking historical layers, such as Las Vegas the homogenizing terror seems even more present.3 When navigating through the backstreets of the city’s décor using Google Street View, we find ourselves in extremely polished environments. Those supposedly navigating the area by foot or in an airconditioned car, fighting the Mojave Desert heat, seem tightly directed, and controlled: a pedestrian crossing, road markers, stop signs, fences and red colored curbstones to prevent those who are “lost’’ from tripping over. A heavily armored car underlines the atmosphere of control and surveillance. The street planting is subjected to this rationalized scene; palm trees and small bushes are as neatly aligned in an artificial layout to match and decorate the concrete jungle. In traditional Zen gardens, gravel beds represent a flowing river or a serene pond. Here they function as a stone blanket, an obstruction, to prevent the natural from taking over the stage. The public space surrounding the recent built architecture depicts a scene that resembles the aesthetics of a first-person shooter video game. In such games, taking on a life of one’s own is a true challenge, in this reality one can only navigate within the comforts of regulation. Viewing the stage of Vegas through the manipulated lens of Google Street View - erasing humanity from the scene by blurring its presence- lays bare the true ‘nature’ of the cityscape décor even more. I believe this reality presents the naked truth of the hyper functional esthetics of urban design. (Fig. 2a/b) The order, perfection, protection, clear way of navigation and the controllability are also what I admire in those spaces. For sure they answer upon my needs for comfort and safety in the urban landscape. In the role of a designer, architect, or urban planner, I would have designed it perhaps even more rigid.

Inspired by the world of gastronomy, with its attention for the senses, I wondered to what extend the built environment would allow for prioritizing the senses. In my project The Urban Crust is not Flaky, I propose alternative ways to rebuilt and sensitize the built environment. I consulted a resource guide for a baking and pastry professional The Pastry Chef’s Companion and a model (train) scenery catalogue: an archive full of public space typologies. This resulted in a slot-machine (Fig. 6) that creates imaginative and sensorial scenes by mixing the reality of cooking and urban typologies. In the exhibition A Tenderized Building, held in a former furniture factory, I used the machine in situation by giving the machine a third input: I deconstructed the exhibition space into an ingredient list. This archive, the building blocks of the exhibition space, was mixed with the world of gastronomy and the model scenery catalogue to create an endless number of imaginative and sensorial scenes such as ‘Candy coated sidewalk tiles with bride and illumination’ or ‘Concrete floor garnished with suger-coated profi ballast and wrapped storage items’.