1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

Editorial – City Imaginings and Urban Everyday Life

Johanna Ylipulli
johanna.ylipulli [a] oulu.fi
Postdoctoral Researcher
Center for Ubiquitous Computing
University of Oulu

Seija Ridell
seija.ridell [a] uta.fi
Media Studies, Faculty of Communication Sciences
University of Tampere

Jenni Partanen
jenni.partanen [a] tut.fi
Research Fellow
Tampere University of Technology

WiderScreen 1–2/2018 focuses on the spatially and temporally multidimensional axis that spans between imagining and inhabiting the city. The starting point of the double special issue is the observation that diverse forms of imagining entwine with practices of urban living and governance, and structure how the city appears in different media and genres. The five peer-reviewed articles and three overview articles direct variegated lenses at the issue’s core problematics forming together a fascinating kaleidoscope.

The editors of the special issue come from cultural anthropology and HCI (Human-Computer Interaction), media studies and architecture. Despite differing scholarly fields, we have all focused on urban space and media/technologies in our research (e.g. Partanen 2016; Partanen 2018; Ridell 2010; Ridell & Zeller 2013; Ylipulli 2015; Ylipulli et al. 2016). Partially due to the fruitful heterogeneity of the editorial team’s backgrounds, we wanted to compose an interdisciplinary collection of articles. The special issue authors represent fields such as communication studies, political and social history, contemporary art research, art history and design studies, their approaches in the articles providing a rich array of theoretical and methodological perspectives on the imaginaries that underlie and shape urban realities in different parts of the world.

The empirical cases the authors study paint a vivid picture of significant tendencies of and similarities between urban cultures globally. Yet the case studies also illuminate drastic, even shockingly deep, differences between urban forms of life and the ways they are represented. Geographically, the articles offer glimpses of mediated urbanity in different continents from Asia to Europe to Latin America and back to Europe. More precisely, with the articles we can travel discursively from Hong Kong and Macao to India, from Finland to Cuba to Ukraine and, again, to Finland, and from there to Germany.

While many of the phenomena analyzed by the authors are born from site-specific social, political and economic struggles and lived locally, they are far from parochial as the contemporary media efficiently give them global visibility and sometimes even turn them into global issues. One side of the coin is that our conceptions and opinions of cities elsewhere are largely based on fictional and factual media genres. We may never visit Hong Kong or Macao, yet we can have a strong mental image of them, one that draws from seeing these cities as scenes in films or as advertised on online tourist sites and ranked high or low on social media. Partly related to this – often strongly visual – mediation of cities, a theme that cuts through, directly or indirectly, the special issue contributions concerns how representations of present-day cities in the media take part not only in shaping urban futures but in constructing urban public memory as well. A key question is which stories and imaginaries structuring them remain as the legitimate or privileged version of urban history. Is it possible to make visible, politicize and contest the dominant urban histories in the making, through counter-narratives or by other means? On a slightly different note, depiction of future cities in fiction, such as cyberpunk movies, not only comments, often in a deeply dystopian manner, contemporary urban problems and power relations, but also contributes to how imagining future urbanity today will be remembered tomorrow.

There are several possibilities to juxtapose the special issue articles and address their relations; depending on which vantage point one chooses the intersections between the articles appear differently. One option would be to discuss the ways the articles are positioned on a conceptual continuum that spans between the far ends of symbolic representation and tangible materiality. In exploring city imaginings through their respective cases, the authors mobilize notions that can be placed at varied distances from the two poles, closer to either one of them; between these poles, as if on a gradient scale, one finds discourse, narrative, story, spectacle, simulation, presentation and performance that function as analytic lenses at or, to use a less visual metaphor, as probes into the problematic at hand. Many of the articles are strongly inclined towards the representational end of the conceptual continuum, but some of them address the aspect of urban materiality (or even the materiality of (re)presenting a city) by combining it with a focus on representation. Another way to look at the potential resonances and dissonances between the articles would be to direct attention to how they articulate time or temporality with regard to the special issue topic. In this respect, one finds (sometimes internally) varying emphases on the urban future, present and past.

In our view, there are two broad and multiply layered aspects that the discussions in the articles touch in particularly interesting ways, even though the authors themselves address these metalevel questions only indirectly. On the one hand, the articles discuss, with distinct emphases and takes, the city and, more particularly, urban space as (re)presented in the media (film genres, news and other printed materials, posters, online social media, scale models, graffiti and murals). On the other hand, the physical urban space appears as a medium in itself, that is, a public platform of cultural (re)presentation and contestation (graffiti, murals, loitering, performances). In the remainder of the editorial, we use these two aspects to loosely frame and introduce the special issue articles.

Cities imagined in the media

The refereed article by Brian Sze-hang Kwok & Anneke Coppoolse and the overview by Benjamin Hodges approach urbanity as imag(in)ed in the audiovisual media of fiction film; focusing more particularly on popular films that are distributed globally. Such filmic representations of cities have vast audiences all over the world and hence their role in constructing collective urban imageries cannot be overrated. The overview article by Somdatta Bhattacharya and the refereed article by Kai Ylinen, in turn, focus on news media and other mostly printed materials with a more locally oriented take. At the same time, the empirical cases explored by these two authors have wider relevance, as both of them shed light on how public understanding of urban phenomena is (re)produced by constructing stories and narratives. Below, we offer a more detailed introduction to this group of articles.

The article by Brian Sze-hang Kwok and Anneke Coppoolse titled “Hues on a Shell: Cyber-Dystopia and the Hong Kong Façade in the Cinematic City” examines the rearticulation of Hong Kong’s urban space in the American cyberpunk adaptation (Sanders 2017) of Mamoru Oshii’s anime Ghost in the shell (1995). The authors suggest more generally that Asian cities have provided an ample source for imagining future capitalist urbanity cinematically, in particular as concerns the density and verticality of using space in cities and the emphasis on the dark sides of city life. In their article, Kwok and Coppoolse analyze Hong Kong in the recent cyberpunk film both as “an actor and a shell”, framing the city as a mediating and mediated space. The article provides a reading of the cyberpunk city not as a copy of an actual city but as a spectacular simulation of urban future that is both familiar and alienating.

The overview “Kick the Dead Rabbit: Tuxedos, Movies, and Cosmopolitan Urban Imaginaries in Macao” by Benjamin Hodges discusses how urbanity appears in movies and videos that use Macao as their scene, either as a stand-in/replica for some other city or as representing itself. The way Hodges describes Macao in these audiovisual representations resembles the idea of a heterotopia of illusion (Shane 2005) – an island or microcosm that offers escape from the weariness of everyday life to consumerist experiences. The article directs particular attention to the cosmopolitan urbane subject that is constructed in the cinematic images of the city and how this construction resonates with and is reinforced by the luxurious and escapist promises made by the gaming industry.

Compared to Kwok & Coppoolse and Hodges, Somdatta Bhattacharya turns a drastically different lens at the representations of city life in her overview “Constructing the Moral Landscape of a City: The Narrative Exclusion of Delhi’s ‘Floating Populations’”. Using the globally known brutal gang-rape case in New Delhi as her point of reference, Bhattacharya discusses how fear and insecurity structure from within the ethical-politico-legal-cultural discourses that build on capitalistic, middle-class values in India. Through examples picked from a variety of newspaper articles, opinion pieces and interviews, court verdicts and government reports on the Nirbhaya Case, the author explores how ideologically loaded narratives and spatial metaphors are used to construct Delhi as a pristine landscape threatened by floating population as invaders.

Analyzing a similar pool of research materials as Bhattacharya and with a take that resembles hers, Kai Ylinen discusses two different urban planning cases in the Finnish context in his refereed article “The Graffiti Storyline and Urban Planning: Key Narratives in the Planning, Marketing, and News Texts of Santalahti and Hiedanranta”. Ylinen’s focus is on the narratives that structure the planning, marketing and news discourses on the Santalahti and Hiedanranta reconstruction areas in the city of Tampere. The article explores the tones and angles of discussion in presenting the plans and strategies of these areas to the local audience. The author discovers an emerging shift in attitudes towards graffiti art in urban space, one from traditional hierarchical control in urban planning towards a more tolerating approach that embraces actor-based dynamics.

Urban space as a medium

The three refereed articles by Benita Heiskanen, Tetyana Lokot and Simo Laakkonen & Susanna Siro and the overview by Julia Weber, shift the focus from media representations to urban space as a medium in itself. At the same time, media understood in terms of representation remains an important component in these analyses as well.

In her refereed article “Imagi(ni)ng Urban Transformation in Post-Détente Havana” Benita Heiskanen investigates how urban transformations are visually expressed in the context of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States at the end of 2014. Heiskanen depicts differing ways in which various stakeholders, such as local officials, citizens, and street artists utilized “visual statements as tools with which to take a stand on societal developments”. The article evokes questions concerning the importance of studying (urban) visual imageries not only in Cuba but also elsewhere: their analysis can provide radically new understandings of the effects of cultural and political discourses by revealing the multiple tensions and interpretations on the street-level.

In the refereed article by Tetyana Lokot titled “Urban Murals and the Post-Protest Imagery of Networked Publics: The Remediated Aftermath of Ukraine’s Euromaidan on Instagram” the dynamics created by bottom-up actors are likewise seen as pertinent, the discussion resonating strongly with Ylinen’s and Heiskanen’s articles. Lokot examines urban murals that appeared in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital in the post-Euromaidan period (spring 2014 – present day). According to her, this form of street art transformed into a collective effort mirroring the political, social and cultural changes taking place in the country. Moreover, Lokot studies how the murals were remediated on Instagram. She classifies the types of images through which the material street art was represented on this social media platform; the array of visual topics ranging from national identity and war to love and coexistence. Lokot’s article in particular combines in an interesting way the analysis of visual-virtual representations and art as physically present in urban space, bridging in this way the material and immaterial cities.

In their refereed article “Pienoismalli menetetyn kaupunkimaiseman kuvitelmana. Kulttuurinen elinkaarianalyysi Viipurin pienoismallista” (Imagining a lost urban landscape: Cultural lifecycle analysis of the historical Vyborg’s physical scale model), Simo Laakkonen and Susanna Siro discuss a strikingly similar phenomenon to Lokot – the confrontation of two nations – but with a drastically different take. The authors address the relationship between micro and macro levels of urbanity from a historical perspective by analyzing the physical 3-dimensional miniature model that depicts the old city of Vyborg shortly before it was destroyed in 1939. Soviet Union conquered the city of Vyborg from Finland during the Word War II; the miniature built after the war freezes an image of a lost and nostalgically cherished city. At the same time, the model is a material reminder of historical, geo-political and cultural struggles, continuing to generate new meanings for new generations. Introducing what they call “cultural lifecycle analysis” the authors explore the characteristics of a specific type of imaginary city, a “could-have been -world”. They consider the physical miniature as a particular medium that can be examined by combining a diversity of methods from reconstruction to ideological to material-cultural and experimental analysis.

The special issue closes with Julia Weber’s overview “‘Loitering’ in Urban Public Space – Wandering with a Street Poet in Berlin”, which addresses human experience and appearance to others in the physical urban space. With an ethnographic take, Weber explores a ‘poet loiterer’s’ daily walks around the city of Berlin as both public performances and a particular way of urban living. The partly theoretical, partly poetic discourse of the author has resonances with the article of Ylinen in considering the importance of bottom-up tactics in urban everyday life in contrast to cities as strategically planned and governed top-down objects.

As guest editors of this double special issue, we would like to warmly thank all the authors and referees for their hard work! We hope readers will enjoy this versatile compilation of excellent articles and overviews. We also wish to express our congratulations to the WiderScreen journal: Issue 1–2/2018 is at the same time the journal’s 20th anniversary issue. WiderScreen has been online since 1998, which makes it one of the oldest continuously published scientific online journals in Finland. In our rapidly changing times, this is no small achievement.


Partanen, Jenni. 2016. Liquid planning, wiki-design—Learning from the Case Pispala. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 43(6): 997–1018.

Partanen, Jenni. 2018. ‘Don’t Fix It if It Ain’t Broke’: Encounters with Planning for Complex Self-Organizing Cities. Tampere University of Technology, Publication 1514.

Ridell, Seija. 2010. The cybercity as a medium: Public living and agency in the digitally shaped urban space. IRIE: International Review of Information Ethics 12(3): 14–20.

Ridell, Seija, and Frauke Zeller. 2013. Mediated Urbanism: Navigating an Interdisciplinary Terrain. The International Communication Gazette 75(5–6): 437–451.

Shane, David Grahame 2005: Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design, and City Theory. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Ylipulli, Johanna. 2015. A smart and ubiquitous urban future? Contrasting large-scale agendas and street-level dreams. Observatorio (OBS*) Journal, Media City – Spectacular, Ordinary and Contested Spaces: 85–110.

Ylipulli, Johanna, Jenny Kangasvuo, Toni Alatalo, and Timo Ojala. 2016. Chasing Digital Shadows: Exploring future hybrid cities through anthropological design fiction. Proceedings of NordiCHI ’16: Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction. Gothenburg, Sweden 23-27 Oct 2016. ACM Press: Article No. 78.

Cover image edited from Geo Leros’ photo. Original photograph: http://kyivmural.com/en/mural/113.

1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

Imagi(ni)ng Urban Transformation in Post-Détente Havana

aesthetic practice, Havana, power relations, societal change, space, U.S.-Cuba détente, urban transformation, visual images

Benita Heiskanen
benita.heiskanen [a] utu.fi
John Morton Center for North American Studies

Viittaaminen / How to cite: Heiskanen, Benita. 2018. ”Imagi(ni)ng Urban Transformation in Post-Détente Havana”. WiderScreen 21 (1-2). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2018-1-2/imagining-urban-transformation-post-detente-havana/

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This article probes the visual implications of urban transformation in Havana in the aftermath of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States on December 17, 2014 (D17). The rapprochement provides a new geopolitical context to study the ways in which binational policy-making and multinational financial investments are reflected visually in Cuba’s capital city. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Havana in June–July 2015, as well as online sources, the article focuses on parts of urban Havana, where transformations are underway. By situating the research in different urban locations, the discussion emphasizes both the significance of visual-spatial power relations and Cubans as a heterogeneous community, whose members have multiple ways to negotiate, interact with, and represent ongoing societal changes impacting their lives. The article poses the following questions: How do various actors in Havana imagine urban transformation in the détente context? How do their differing viewpoints assume visual expression in various parts of the city? What kinds of tensions can be evidenced from official and unofficial visual statements? Urban transformation does not solely entail policy-making, but necessarily comprises a complex web of issues combining financial investments, visual statements, and personal experiences. This article’s visual-spatial framework delineates societal change in Cuba as a complex nexus that intertwines everyday experiences, visual expressions, and formal and informal modes of communication. In so doing, it captures the social realities of residents of Havana in their everyday surroundings, exposing multiple linkages between policy-making and online and grassroots visual culture.  


Throughout Cuba, visual images—billboards, roadside signs, and posters—are used to influence the opinions of the citizenry. Similarly, individuals express their private opinions about collective issues visually on buildings and in shared space. This article probes into the visual implications of urban transformation in Havana in the aftermath of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States on December 17, 2014 (D17) for the first time since the United States’ trade embargo was imposed on Cuba in 1962 (Leogrande and Kornbluh 2015). The rapprochement provides a new geopolitical context to study the ways in which binational policy-making and multinational financial investments are reflected visually in Cuba’s capital city. The discussion is premised on a Transnational American Studies analytical paradigm (Gronbeck-Tedesco 2015; Fluck et al. 2011; Heiskanen 2009; Briggs et al. 2008) that decenters the United States as the geographic core of U.S.-Cuba relations.

The United States’ policy towards Cuba for the past half century attempted to bring down the Socialist regime by isolating the island through an economic embargo and restrictions on travel and commerce (Krull 2014; Mariño and Pruessen 2012; Lievesley 2004). Cuba’s single-party government, in turn, long restricted citizens’ interactions with non-Cubans and their spatial mobility outside national borders (Domínguez et al. 2004). A major socio-economic shift was prompted as a result of the détente, which stimulated unprecedented flows of people, goods, and capital, with significant consequences for Cubans on the island and in diasporic contexts. According to President Obama’s statement on the rapprochement (White House 2014), the détente would create “more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of Americas.”

Since the D17 and the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C. in 2015, there has been much political, economic, and cultural speculation worldwide about how the détente will affect urban transformation in Havana. In response to this speculation, this article poses the following questions: How do various actors in Havana imagine urban transformation in the détente context? How do their differing viewpoints assume visual expression in various parts of the city? What kinds of tensions can be evidenced from official and unofficial visual statements? The article makes the case that urban transformation does not solely entail policy-making, but necessarily comprises a web of issues combining financial investment, visual statements, and personal experiences.

Based on fieldwork conducted in Havana in June–July 2015, as well as online sources, the article focuses on parts of urban Havana where transformations are underway.[1] It first lays out some viewpoints regarding the fraught history of U.S.-Cuba relations, produced by official and online representations. The images discussed reflect the ways in which visual statements serve as powerful means to convey information and to reinforce political unity, but they also bring up some of the tensions evident in societal developments. The article then examines some of the specific urban imagi(ni)ngs of Havana from the perspective of official and grassroots actors in Havana.

To do so, it juxtaposes two adjacent parts of the city, Old Havana (Habana Vieja), the historical center and main tourist attraction, renovated with the assistance of foreign funding, and the Colón neighborhood of Central Havana (Centro Habana), an inner city area historically known for various illicit activities, with little outside investment. By situating the research in these urban locations, the discussion emphasizes both the significance of visual-spatial power relations and Cubans as a heterogeneous community, whose members have multiple ways to negotiate, interact with, and represent ongoing societal changes impacting their lives.

The discussion’s visual-spatial framework delineates societal change in Cuba as a complex nexus that intertwines aesthetic practice, the appropriation of space, and formal and informal modes of communication. Drawing on Jacques Rancière’s (2013, 2004) work on the political dimension of aesthetics, the article captures the social realities of residents of Havana in their everyday surroundings, exposing multiple linkages between policy-making and online and grassroots visual culture. The logic here is twofold: on the one hand, the visual-spatial approach explicates “aesthetic acts as configurations of experience that…induce novel forms of political subjectivity” (Rancière 2004, 9). On the other hand, the visual-spatial framework gives access to “insight that is not accessible by any other means” (Banks 2011, 4), while enabling “investigative serendipity, the following of a line of inquiry that could not have been predicted in the original research design” (ibid., 9).

The focus on visuality and spatiality is meaningful, moreover, in that it demonstrates, as Sarah Pink (2012, 3) puts it, “how we know as well as the environments in which this knowledge is produced.” Indeed, the visual-spatial intersection—the “where” and “how”—calls attention to the significance of where societal discussions and image productions take place as well as people’s claim to and maneuvering within urban space (Heiskanen 2016; Glass and Rose-Redwood 2014; Lefebvre 1996; Burgin 1996). Ultimately, the visual-spatial analytical approach is important in that it does not reduce societal change to political abstraction alone, but calls attention to individuals’ agency in dealing with their experiences of change.

Visualizing U.S.-Cuba Policy-making

Cuba has a strong tradition of visual communiqués providing a means to influence public opinion (De Ferrari 2014; Hernandez-Reguant 2009; Fernandes 2006; Kunzle 1975). Various groups of people—governmental agencies, artists, and individual citizens—appropriate public space for their visual agendas. Roadside signs, billboards, graffiti, and public art with powerful rhetoric express sentiments about the ramifications of societal development. Given the troubled history between the two nations, Cuba’s identity and sovereignty are often mirrored against the United States (Belnap and Fernández 1998). Indeed, U.S.-Cuba relations draw heavy-handed criticism across the island. Below, in Image 1, entitled Bloqueo (‘blockage’, meaning the embargo), the impact of the half-century long economic isolation is depicted as genocide, symbolized by the noose on the billboard. Whereas the official rhetoric of the United States has been to support the Cuban people but not the government, the roadside imagery poignantly challenges such an interpretation by depicting the U.S. government as knowingly hurting the people.

Image 1. Bloqueo: El genocidio más largo de la historia (‘The Blockage: The longest genocide of mankind.’) Photo: Nadia Nava Contreras. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

In the United States, media discussions in favor of the rapprochement at the time of its announcement focused on improving bilateral liaisons through financial measures. Vox’s Matthew Yglesias (Zurcher 2014) described the Cuban embargo as “the longest-running joke in American foreign policy, and something that can’t come to an end a moment too soon.” Many who advocated for the lifting of the embargo reiterated Obama’s rationale for the change of course: that in 55 years the existing policy had failed to accomplish what it intended—to overthrow the Communist regime. Rather, it had devastated the lives of ordinary Cubans. Some pro-détente advocates in the United States argued that the rapprochement was to benefit the Cuban people: “The people want it, clearly. They’re sick to death of being cut off from the greater North American region they had always belonged to before Castro” (Totten 2014).

Cuba’s allies, such as the late President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela in Image 2, receive popular endorsements visually on buildings, driveways, and courtyards in Havana. After the collapse of the economic ties with the Soviet Union—known as the “Special Period in Time of Peace”—in the 1990s, Venezuela provided a counterbalance to the U.S. embargo with subsidized goods, such as oil, in exchange for doctors, teachers, and military advisors (Mesa-Lago 2012; 1998). Notwithstanding the drastic recent economic struggles brought by Nicolás Maduro’s government, the interdependence of Cuba and Venezuela continues to be strong. Some economic analysts (Economist 2015) have made the case that the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013 may have given Raúl Castro the impetus to look north for a new trading partner, eyeing toward U.S. tourists as a lucrative source of revenue for the island.

Image 2. El mejor amigo de Cuba (‘Cuba’s Best Friend’). Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

The U.S. economic argument for removing trade barriers is based on the notion that it is missing out on significant opportunities; according to an estimate by the International Trade Commission, the embargo cost U.S. exporters up to 1.2 billion dollars annually in lost sales. As one U.S. trade enthusiast put it, “Our allies are taking a disproportionate share of the market of an island that is only 90 miles from our shores and is a natural market for U.S. goods and services” (Rothkopf 2013). Some called for the strengthening of the United States’ hemispheric position through a whole host of financial and geopolitical maneuvering:

U.S. hemispheric priorities including economic and energy integration, a multilateral hemispheric dialogue with emerging powers, the accommodation of Bolivarian elites, immigration, public security, and drug policy have all been undermined by the lack of a stable U.S.-Cuba relationship. Obama’s initiatives toward Cuba are thus best understood as an attempt to better the possibilities of U.S. leadership in the Western Hemisphere (López-Levy 2015).

Such arguments raised the alarm bells of those dismayed by the prospects of having U.S. companies take over the island’s economy, to turn it into a “test case for reasserting U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere” (López-Levy 2015).

Another hugely popular political portrayal in Havana is that of the “the Miami Five,” depicted in Image 3. The Miami Five—Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero, and René González—were Cuban intelligence agents who were arrested in Miami 1998 and convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and various other charges and sentenced between 15 years and life in prison. Their purpose was to infiltrate various Cuban exile groups in the United States. The Miami Five claimed (Guardian 2013) to be trying to prevent terrorist attacks in Havana. The Cuban government first denied knowledge of their actions, but later admitted they were indeed intelligent agents.

Image 3. The Miami Five. Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

The arrests created a huge uproar worldwide and many argued that the agents were wrongfully convicted. The Miami Five were gradually released from prison during the course of the 2010s, and the last ones were freed as a result of a prisoner swap, part of the détente talks between Cuba and the United States. In exchange, Cuba released the ailing U.S. prisoner Alan Gross, who had been arrested in 2009 for bringing satellite phones and computers into Cuba without the permits required under Cuban law. In addition to images of the Miami Five throughout Havana, one also finds inspirational political graffiti stating “5Í VOLVERAN” (Yes, the 5 will return); the first word being a word play with “Sí” and 5, as in Image 4.

Image 4. 5í volveran (‘Yes, the 5 will return’). Photo: Nadia Nava Contreras. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

The political images discussed above exemplify the ways in which visual statements serve as a powerful means to convey information and to reinforce political consensus and official ideology. These images conform to mutually agreed unwritten rules and, in so doing, allow uniting together for a common cause—often against a mutual adversary—as in the case of the Embargo roadside sign. Pro-regime visual expressions in shared space not only carry strong partisan undertones, but also depictions of individuals as subjects affected by political decision-making, exemplified by the Miami Five imagery. As with the Hugo Chávez portrayals, visual conformity to official ideology implies an important modus of partisan identity representation, one that does not challenge status-quo rhetoric or the one-party system. It is uncertain whether the image producers are de facto representatives of the ruling party or seeking affiliation with them for a sense of security. Even so, we can assume that such imagery effectively serves as a means of political reinforcement of the powers-that-be.

Informal Visual Politics

Because policy-making and official discourses often clash with the ways in which policies are experienced by the people, it is particularly important to consider informal visual statements as well. Image 5 is a small, but gripping example of this. Faded graffiti of a tongue conjoined by an eye is pierced by a butcher’s knife with blood dripping from its blade, and juxtaposed by the following statement: “Live your life and not mine.”

Image 5. Vive tú vida y no la mía (‘Live your life and not mine’). Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

The image may be interpreted in various ways on individual, collective, and societal levels. It evokes what Rancière (2004, 63) has defined as a “double effect” of political art: “the readability of a political signification and a sensible or perceptual shock caused, conversely, by the uncanny, by that which resists signification.” As the author is anonymous, we ultimately have no way of knowing what he or she may have meant with the depiction, whether it is meant as an act of political subjectivization. Yet the strikingly violent symbolism suggests fierce emotional frustration with the intrusion of an omniscient eye into private space, interfering with how one chooses to live one’s life.

In various online representations, the détente process and its side effect of “dethroning” Cuba’s favorite ally Venezuela due to the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, provided a field day for meme-makers and cartoonists. The changing relations between the United States, Cuba, and Venezuela are depicted as a triangle drama, with Barack Obama and Raul Castro flaunting their relationship at the expense of Nicolás Maduro. In Image 6, Maduro, with tears in his eyes and an uncontrollably laughing Obama standing nearby, cries: “Castro don’t leave me.”

Image 6. Castro no me dejes (‘Castro don’t leave me’). Source: Soy502.com.

A Twitter image by @edoilustrado, image 7 in turn, depicts a widely grinning Obama paying a visit to Castro, with a bouquet of flowers and dollar bills in hand, while Castro is pushing the hapless, semi-dressed Maduro off the balcony rail, complete with his clothes and personal hygiene items flying around.

The new “best friends” are often depicted as taking selfies together, as in Image 8, a meme entitled “Pal Face.” The best friend motif stems from the presidents’ televised D17 addresses. In his speech, President Obama’s call for reuniting was underlined by his claim in Spanish that todos somos americanos (‘we are all Americans’), while President Castro assured that the arrangement is based on mutual respect, sovereignty, and the independence of both nations. In comparison to the singular images conforming to official party politics, memes and other humorous online representations provide a means to complicate the power relations involved.

Image 8. Pal Face! Source: Crónica Viva.

Across the world, the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba was generally met with surprise; few media commentators saw it coming. Yet the process did not happen overnight. Obama indicated already during his candidacy that a policy shift toward Cuba would be on his agenda. Castro and Obama assumed office in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and each had been working on various kinds of national reforms. Obama, for example, lifted many of the restrictions on travel, remittances, and financing of exports between the United States and Cuba already in 2009, resulting in a major boost in tourism (Chávez et al. 2005). For his part, Castro gradually allowed sales of private property, purchases of cell phones and computers, and private enterprise for Cuban citizens to make a living off of the tourism industry. In 2011, the educational, “people-to-people” category of travel for citizens of the United States was reopened, while Castro removed the requirement for an exit permit to leave the country.

The most vocal U.S. opponents to the policy change came from the ranks of the Republican Party as well as Floridians of Cuban descent. The critics’ arguments were based on three main viewpoints: the de facto loss of the Cold War, the condoning of human rights violations, and giving up on fundamental U.S. ideals. In this view, the Cold War was either won or lost, and engaging in dialogue with the Cuban regime meant surrender or, as Yoni Sanchez (2015), a Cuban dissident, puts it, “Castroism has won — again.” From the Cuban perspective, the economic argument that the U.S. is “missing out” on economic deals because of the embargo reinforces the perception of “Yanqui” economic imperialism, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, Coca Cola, and McDonald’s taking the best of the Cuban people, as depicted in the meme in Image 9 below.[2] 

Image 9. Enjoy Coca-Cola. Source: Yusnaby.com.

Online images, as in the examples above, make it possible to call attention to political developments in real time outside the censorship of mainstream media. The online visual representations, in effect, enable a form of visual political participation in which grassroots activism and cyberpolitics intersect. By providing opportunities to engage in various parallel discourses, they allow their users to make fun of, take a stand on, and express alternative viewpoints on developing political events. Because of the online circulation “their end purpose, the uses they are put to and the effects they result in,” to quote Rancière (2004, 20) again, cannot be predetermined.

However, online representations necessitate access to the Internet and are only available to those who do. According to existing statistics, up until the détente, Cuba only had a 4.1% Internet access rate per household, the lowest in the western hemisphere (ITU 2015). In 2015, the Cuban government launched a strategy for the expansion of public Internet access on the island by establishing hotspots, with pre-paid cards for users to purchase. The gradual availability of Internet connectivity prompts important questions regarding the distribution of knowledge and access to information. Meanwhile, visual imagery in shared public space provides a more accessible platform for expressing anonymous, grassroots viewpoints.

Reinventing Shared Public Space in Old Havana

The process of urban transformation in Havana intensified in the 21st century. The city provides an example of urban restructuring where a range of global influences converge. Notwithstanding the U.S. economic embargo, Cuba has not been cut off from other parts of the world. In recent decades, its main business partners have been Venezuela, the European Union, and China (Erikson 2005). In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, European nations began investing in efforts to restore cultural heritage sites in the city. In the 2000s, the influx of Latin American, European Union, and Asian capital expanded, alongside private funding from Cubans living abroad. The financial assistance of Spain, France, and the European Union, in particular, is evident in the restoration of the colonial architecture of Old Havana (Alfonso López 2013).

Throughout Plaza de Vieja, the main square of Havana, there are plaques dedicated to European nations and the European Union. Yet the distribution of foreign capital and resources has been conspicuously uneven: the areas visited by tourists and wealthier locals with access to the tourism industry are experiencing the most noticeable changes. Image 10, which depicts the restoration of the National Capitol Building, exemplifies a typical site in the city where renovation processes and decaying old architecture stand side by side in stark contrast to each other. After the Revolution of 1959, the Capitol, which resembles the United States Capitol, has not housed the government but is the home of the Cuban Academy of Sciences.

Image 10. Capitolio (National Capitol Building). Photo: Nadia Nava Contreras. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the city’s main tourist attraction, which in the past decades has been reconstructed with the assistance of the Cuban government and European funding. According to Scarpaci et al. (2002, 158), as many as six agencies and national commissions were tasked with preserving Havana’s built heritage: “For example, three branches of the government as well as UNESCO worked to save Plaza Vieja. Perhaps the greatest support for historic preservation came in 1982, when UNESCO declared Habana Vieja and the network of colonial forts a World Heritage Site.” The restoration of the historic Old Town was a chicken-and-egg type of necessity needed both to draw foreign investment and to attract more tourism (Freeman 2014). The preservation effort resulted in renovations or constructions of buildings, museums, and cultural centers, boosted by the influx of foreign financial capital.

Whereas much of the Revolution of 1959 focused on bringing the development of rural areas into par with urban areas, the emphasis during the past decades has been the reconstruction of major cities in an effort to promote tourism. The dual-currency system, which separates the tourism-economy from the local economy, is striking. Individuals with access to the tourism industry have significantly better incomes and buying power in comparison to those that do not (Krull 2014; Wilson 2013; Hernandez-Reguant 2009). Contrary to images circulating in international media about Havana, famous brands, such as Lacoste, Adidas, Puma, and L’Oréal, are readily available in areas frequented by tourists, as evidenced by Image 11. Whereas international pundits have been speculating about the impact of a U.S. economic invasion, European and Canadian companies have already laid stakes in the country with their economic agendas.

Image 11. Adidas. Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

As with the depictions of binational relations, various visual statements produced by official and grassroots actors alike reveal that city planning is also a source of tensions. In Image 12, the statue of Carlos Manuel Céspedes, considered the Father of the Nation, is cordoned off from the reach of people, symbolically reinforcing the divisions between the haves and have-nots. The tensions between different factions in the country are not new; however, they have assumed new meanings in recent years.

Image 12. Plaza de Vieja (‘Parade Square’), Statue of Carlos Manuel Céspedes. Photo: Nadia Nava Contreras. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

The notion of a singular Cuban “heritage” that is being promoted by the government as representative of national identity is a source of criticism on a grassroots level. Consider, for example, Image 13, the Eye of the Cyclone (Ojo del ciclon), which carries the following text: “Please remove the road bumps and puddles. They are not heritage.”

Image 13. Ojo del ciclon (‘The Eye of the Cyclone’). Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

The image provokes several thoughts. As it is located on O’Reilly Street, a main thoroughfare of Old Havana—an epitome of the restoration efforts—the image implies criticism of what is considered to be “heritage.” The location of the text on the lowest corner facing the street speaks to the necessity of semi-clandestine, grassroots reproach, which is quite distinct from the imagery promoting the government agenda discussed in the previous section. Moreover, the image implicitly takes issue with the economy, which contributes to an uneven distribution of wealth, resources, and infrastructure.

Image 14 offers a similar example. In it, a mouse-like rodent is depicted as saying: Ya no quiero más queso (‘I don’t want any more cheese’). Given that “cheese” is a slang term for money, and that mice are known to be cheese-lovers, one could interpret the image as a protest against the infiltration of foreign capital into Havana and, perhaps, against the masses of tourists flooding into the country with their “cheese.” The signature of the image “Cuba-Ecuador 015,” in turn, implies a possible politico-economic commentary.

Image 14. Ya no quiero mas el queso (‘I don’t want any more cheese.’) Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

The year 2015 saw a political crisis between the two nations, with Ecuador imposing a visa on Cubans in an effort to prevent unlawful immigration to the United States via Ecuador. A web search reveals that the phrase Ya no quiero más queso is in point of fact a part of a longer saying that continues sino salir de la ratonera (‘but to get out of the mouse trap’), which could be interpreted as a statement of solidarity to people wanting to escape Cuba through Ecuador, rather than get goods from there. In some informal personal dialogue, Cubans indicated that Ecuador is a major source of contraband and everyday items in Cuba; hence, the symbolic association to the notion of “cheese.”

Grassroots Visual Interventions in Central Havana

In contrast to Old Havana, the inner city neighborhood of Colón in Central Havana, which lies adjacent to Old Havana, carried a reputation as the historic vice district of the city, with flourishing prostitution and drug trade in the 20th century. According to Scarpaci et al. (2012, 58), Central Havana was originally the site of Spanish immigrants and lower-middle-class workers, who constituted Havana’s “new urban proletariat.” Unlike the historic Old Havana, the Colón neighborhood today does not attract official foreign funding of any kind, nor is it a priority area for real estate investment. Rather, it exemplifies grassroots approaches to housing renovation, citizen activism, and public art. Even if in today’s Colón one does not see visible criminal activities or experience a sense of danger, the ironworks covering the doors and windows of buildings remind visitors of its sordid past.

Pre-1990s policies of urban development focused on the outer areas of Havana, which led to a deterioration of inner city infrastructure with substantial consequences for people’s standard of living. Whereas Old Havana has, for example, state-of-the-art recycling sites (complete with compartments for paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum) sponsored by the European Union, Image 15 testifies to a major sanitation problem in Cólon, caused by inefficient garbage disposal and transportation.

Image 15. Untitled. Photo: Nadia Nava Contreras. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

Throughout Colón—and elsewhere in Central Havana—there is a strong presence of street art and graffiti. Image 16 portrays a “laundry exhibit” in the neighborhood. Although much of the text is illegible, one cue hints at the exhibit’s message. The most visible text proclaims “BEAUTIFUL, SOVEREIGN CUBA,” suggesting a demonstration of some kind, one which the residents of the neighborhood will likely be able to attach meaning to and react upon.

Image 16. Linda Cuba suverana (‘Beautiful, sovereign Cuba). Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

The graffiti in Image 17, in turn, depicts youth sub-culture, perhaps influenced by rap or reggaeton—as suggested by the character’s outfit and accessories. The paintbrush and spray cans point to a creative process, perhaps the reinvention of one’s own identity, rather than conforming to preconceived notions established by older generations. The look on the character’s face, as well as the hands hidden behind the back, evoke a clandestine action, secrecy, and non-conformance. Depending on one’s viewpoint, one could also offer a critical reading of the image: that it poses a forewarning of some kind.

Image 17. Untitled. Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

Whatever the case may be, street art in Colón and elsewhere in Havana may serve as conversation starters on collective issues regarding the ramifications of societal development. The parallel discourses that such informal visual statements offer entail various open-ended possibilities for reinterpretation, serving as competing viewpoints vis-à-vis official depictions. The ways in which people respond to ongoing events also expose how different modes of communication are tied to questions of individual and collective agency. Ultimately, then, these images provide sources of information to contemplate visual commentary that falls outside of official communication networks.

Street Art by Yulier P.

A prime example of street art in Havana is the work of Yulier P. [Rodríguez Perez], a graffiti artist and muralist, who is ubiquitous in the city. Image 18, which is the entrance into his community studio, showcases some of his uncanny, alien-like figures, always painted hairless. The images by Yulier P. resist closure, inviting endless questions and open-ended interpretations. Albeit ambiguous, they are invested with powerful emotion.

Image 18. “Community Studio José Marti” by Yulier P. Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

Image 19 features a character that could be interpreted as a non-conforming adult or an adult in an infant’s body; s/he might be wearing shorts or diapers, but the necklace prevents any singular readings of gender. What the figure is sniffing is not clear either: it might be the smell of a rose, but it could also be something more sinister, such as a heart or an illegal substance. One reading could be that the seemingly deformed figure is a product of substance abuse. Whatever one’s interpretation might be, the image forces the viewer outside of one’s comfort zone. Any reading is, of course, culture-specific, so what might be obvious to local residents may not be caught by a visitor’s analytical eye.

Image 19. Untitled by Yulier P. Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

In Image 20, two identical creatures droop their heads back, with their mouths open, ready to catch a chicken drumstick, or a fruit or berry-like object. It is hard to tell for sure what the object is; rather than something edible, it could be a drop of blood. The lackluster expressions and disinterested glances suggest passivity, as if the figures were waiting for something to fall into their mouths without putting any effort into it and without knowledge of what the “something” might be.

Image 20. Untitled by Yulier P. Photo: Benita Heiskanen. Courtesy of the John Morton Center for North American Studies.

A chance encounter with Yulier P. in Central Havana gave me an opportunity to ask him questions about his art, which captures the curiosity of locals and visitors alike.[3] According to the artist, he insists on creating figures without hair in an effort to underscore the relative—not absolute—character of beauty. Yulier P. makes it a point to emphasize that his is not political art; rather, he defines his art as “social criticism” of the human condition. Some pieces may be about things he unwillingly witnessed or lived through. Even so, he feels they are important to be portrayed and seen. Each image, he asserts, contains a lived experience. At the time of the conversation with Yulier P. in the summer of 2015, the police had investigated him, but had not disrupted his painting.

Some two years later, however, international news outlets reported that the artist had been detained by the authorities and told to erase all of his murals in the city and its environs (Daily Mail 2017). According to news reports, the artist was threatened with imprisonment if he did not voluntarily erase the some 200 images he had created; allegedly, he refused to conform (Nunez Leyva 2017). In a short film about his work, the artist describes Cubans’ reading of his art as “anti-revolutionary” or “anti-government,” a willful illegal act in public space (Las Calles que Hablan, 2017). A week after his detention, Amnesty International (2017) published an appeal, “Urgent Action: Urban Artists at Risk in Cuba,” on behalf of Yulier P., urging citizens to write to the Cuban government on behalf of the artist and to overturn the provision by which his work would be labeled “dangerous.”

The various visual images discussed in this section—as in the previous one—speak to the ways in which shared public space is reinvented by various actors in the city in different ways. Shared public space is a locus of tensions between official and unofficial versions of current events. Specific and abstract consensus and dissensus (Rancière 2012) viewpoints are attempts to impose or contest official representations. Informal visual statements, then, exemplify the ways in which different strata of society manage to express their viewpoints as agents of their own history, enabling their makers to take a stand and to provide alternative discourses to official viewpoints. While people may feel excluded from tourist areas and oppose some of the government’s agenda, visual statements capture their viewpoints in their everyday surroundings, thus also reflecting their personal socio-spatial realities.

Displays of public art serve as an important form of visual intervention, one which exposes multiple linkages between policy-making and grassroots politics of representation. In the case of Yulier P., urban art serves as freedom of expression (if not freedom of speech) as well as an urban spatial struggle. When the series of hurricanes struck the island in the fall of 2017, the artist also deployed his art as a token of solidarity. During the massive flooding in the city, Yulier P. sent images of his work in plastic bottles through the flooded streets of Havana to convey his love and goodwill to the recipients (On Cuba 2017). The ways in which particular urban groups and individuals use shared public space for collective messages to communicate with one another, bottom-up and top-down, has distinct theoretical implications with regards to the creators’ sense of sense of place and being in urban Havana.

Since the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016, some of the D17 initiatives have been rolled back by his administration. Moreover, the binational relations have been hindered by a mysterious “sonic attack” by an unknown source on both U.S. and Canadian embassy personnel in Havana, which led to the repatriation of U.S. officials from Cuba, and vice versa. Even though the future of the binational relations is largely in flux, the diplomatic relations between the countries remain in place. Both the United States and Cuba might see yet another shift in existing power relations, with the U.S. congressional election taking place in 2018 and the presidential election in 2020, as well as with Raúl Castro’s resignation in 2018. The potential lifting of the U.S. trade embargo and the future of the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, located on the southern tip of the island, continue as sources of tensions between the two nations and would need U.S. Congressional approval to be resolved.

Notwithstanding the contingencies and irrespective of which direction the future affairs of the two nations take, changes are already underway, and the formalization of relationships has created a unique set of conditions that impact the everyday lives of Cubans in tangible ways. A visual-spatial analysis of responses to change in Havana provides a useful tool to penetrate official discourses and to demonstrate the impact of policy-making on the lives of people, who we would not hear from otherwise. Indeed, the most important conclusion that can be drawn from the examples in this article is that the pervasive visual imagi(ni)ngs of Havana provide explanatory power that binational geopolitical discourses alone would fail to capture.


All links verified 17 May 2018.

Online Videos

“Las Calles que Hablan (mini documental sobre Yulier P.)”, YouTube 11 July 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdzJUCWPIX4. “Botellas al mar, de Yulier P.” Facebook page On Cuba, 21 September 2017.


News Articles

Daily Mail, August 21, 2017. “Artist ‘Yulier P’ Detained in Cuba, Told to Erase Murals.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-4810908/Artist-Yulier-P-detained-Cuba-told-erase-murals.html#ixzz4tav7S4NM.

Economist, May 29, 2015. “Why the United States and Cuba are Cosying Up.” http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/05/economist-explains-37?zid=305&ah=417bd5664dc76da5d98af4f7a640fd8a.

The Guardian, November 6, 2013. “‘Miami Five’ Case in Unprecendented London Hearing.” https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/06/miami-five-cuba-legal-hearing-london-espionage.

Nunez Leyva, Yanelys. September 5, 2017.Cuban Artist Yulier P Defies Order to Erase His Murals,” Havana Times. http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=127089.

Sanchez, Yoni. December 19., 2015. “Castroism Has Won—Again,” Miami Herald. https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article4699491.html.

Zurcher, Anthony. December 18, 2014. “US-Cuba Deal Has Vocal Critics,” BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-30540089.


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[1] I would like to express thanks to Nadia Nava Contreras and Pekka Kolehmainen for conducting background research with me for this article and for Nadia Nava Contreras for conducting research with me in Cuba. The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Turku supported the trip to Havana for launching this research project. I would also like to acknowledge the John Morton Center Research Network’s scholars, who provided useful commentary on the first draft of the article, and to Albion M. Butters, Malla Lehtonen, and Ilmari Pirkkamaa for technical assistance with the article. Finally, thanks to the anonymous reviewers and editors of this volume for their suggestions for improving the article.

[2] The image was originally found in Yusnaby.com. It is currently available at Wallpapic, https://img.wallpapic.com/i3348-813-57/thumb/politiikka-coca-cola-Virvoitusjuoma-sarjakuvia-taustakuva.jpg.

[3] As Nadia Nava and I ran into the artist unplanned, we could not conduct a formal interview with him, but the conversation was recorded in field notes, dated July 9, 2015. Notes in possession of the author

1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

Urban Murals and the Post-Protest Imagery of Networked Publics: The Remediated Aftermath of Ukraine’s Euromaidan on Instagram

affective narratives, networked publics, protest, urban art

Tetyana Lokot
tanya.lokot [a] dcu.ie
Assistant Professor
School of Communications
Dublin City University, Ireland

Viittaaminen / How to cite: Lokot, Tetyana. 2018. ”Urban Murals and the Post-Protest Imagery of Networked Publics: The Remediated Aftermath of Ukraine’s Euromaidan on Instagram”. WiderScreen 21 (1-2). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2018-1-2/urban-murals-post-protest-imagery-networked-publics-remediated-aftermath-ukraines-euromaidan-instagram/

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In modern hyper-mediated urban environments, public art becomes an inseparable part of the multiplicity of meanings generated by citizens with regards to their city, their country and each other. What meanings can public art convey after a protest in a mediated city? And how do social media users capture and reflect on these visual artefacts? This article focuses on the urban murals that appeared in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital in the post-Euromaidan period (spring 2014 – present day). The creation of murals began as a spontaneous urban practice, but post-protest, morphed into a concerted effort to populate blank walls of decaying apartment blocks around cities with meaningful art, reflecting on the turbulent political, social and cultural changes in the country. The article considers how this mediated public art form resonates with the networked post-protest publics through the affordances of Instagram and explores the different kinds of meanings networked publics in and around the post-protest city can produce. It focuses on how the mediation of the murals on Instagram might reflect or frame the meanings embedded in the murals themselves and how these themes might fit into the broader metaphorical narrative of rebirth and regeneration in the post-Euromaidan city of Kyiv.

“The city finds its own use for things”.
William Gibson

Introduction: Remediating post-protest online

The Euromaidan protest in the fall of 2013-winter of 2014 sprung up around the idea of Ukraine as a pro-European democracy with close ties to its Western European allies. Initiated by the sudden refusal of then-President Victor Yanukovych to sign an association agreement with the EU, the protest movement grew to encompass other claims and grievances, including access to basic human rights and dignity, opposition to state corruption, and police brutality. Though protesters came from all walks of life, protest action was concentrated in urban areas and relied heavily on digital networks for coordination and daily activities. In terms of protest messages and expression, the use of urban space for protest claims was closely tied to social media use to disseminate, popularize and record visual and textual expressions of dissent. The urban public art scene exploded with new and repurposed signs, symbols and slogans. Many art objects, including posters, graffiti, stickers, digital art, were created, circulated and re-interpreted by protest participants and observers (Lishchyns’ka 2015). As in any modern urban environment, such production and consumption of art was heavily mediated through online platforms – in fact, mediation was often an intrinsic part of the artistic objects themselves, imbuing them with additional weight and significance. Public art, in other words, became an inseparable part of the multiplicity of meanings made by protest participants with regards to the momentous events and their role in them.

What meanings can public art convey in the aftermath of a protest in a mediated city? And how do social media users capture and reflect on these visual artefacts? Can we say that the networked publics in and around the city use public art to reflect and make meaning of the post-protest reality?

This article focuses on the urban murals that started blossoming on the walls of multiple buildings in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and other Ukrainian cities, in the post-Euromaidan period (spring 2014 – present day). The creation of murals began as a spontaneous urban practice, but post-protest, morphed into a concerted effort to populate blank walls of decaying apartment blocks around cities with meaningful art, reflecting on the turbulent political, social and cultural changes in the country. The mural movement grew to encompass a slew of international artists and drew worldwide fascination, becoming one of Kyiv’s – and Ukraine’s – main attractions from the “post-protest” period. The creation of the murals has been broadly covered in Ukrainian media (e.g., Kuryshko 2015; DreamKyiv 2015; Afisha 2016; Bigmir 2016), and there is an ongoing effort to document the locations of the murals using an interactive online map (Kyivmural 2017).

The mass proliferation of monumental murals on the walls of buildings in Kyiv occurred in two phases, orchestrated by local and international artists. The first phase, City Art, lasted from May to December 2015 (though a number of post-protest murals appeared earlier). This phase’s main goal was to refresh and transform the historic centre of the Ukrainian capital, and both Ukrainian and international artists worked to create around 30 murals. The second phase, Art United Us, started in March 2016, and is ongoing, with plans to create between 100 and 200 new murals (Afisha 2016). This phase has a more pointed focus on peacebuilding and conflict resolution (Art United Us 2017), echoing the developments in Kyiv and Ukraine, as society has turned from reflecting on the protest period to dealing with the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine instigated and supported by Russian forces. Throughout both phases of the mural creation, mural locations were negotiated with local authorities and residents through public meetings and consultations, and, though artists proposed their own themes and designs (Bigmir 2016), organisers and local residents had the final say in whether a mural would be painted on a particular wall and what it would look like.

In this article I consider how the physically present public art of these murals, mediated online, resonates with the networked post-protest publics through the affordances of Instagram and explores the different kinds of meanings networked publics in and around the post-protest city can generate by engaging with the murals through social media. It focuses on how the mediation of the murals on Instagram might reflect or frame the meanings embedded in the murals themselves and how these distinct themes (Sharp et al. 2005) might fit into the broader metaphorical narrative of rebirth and regeneration in post-Euromaidan Ukraine.

The article examines the visual content and themes of the murals themselves (as experienced by me in person during on-site observation or via mediated means), the mediated images of the murals on Instagram, as well as the affective expressions and contextual information, such as hashtags and other text, attached to these images in Instagram posts. Undertaking a semiotic visual analysis (Kress & van Leeuwen 1996; Jewitt & Oyama 2001) of a sample of relevant Instagram posts about the murals, the study catalogues the representational resources of the images, and categorises them in conceptual and narrative terms. It considers the symbolic and metaphorical structures of the murals themselves as visual materials, but also regards the way the murals are mediated through Instagram and the narrative and interactive structures that emerge in the process of this mediation. The findings stemming from this diverse collection of image-based affective expressions present an interesting case for scholars of mediated urban environments and contribute to the field of knowledge about how urban denizens engage with public art and the ideas it seeks to express in hyper-mediated city environments. Importantly for the Western-dominated field of social media research, this study deals with a case from Eastern Europe, enriching scholarly understanding of how platforms like Instagram are used by citizens of non-English speaking countries and environments where social media may serve as alternative spaces of public appearance, deliberation and meaning-making.

In the article I draw on danah boyd’s definition of networked publics as the imagined collectives of individuals “restructured by networked technologies” (boyd 2010, 39) with the understanding that these publics are also embedded into the material spaces and geographies of the city. I complement this view with Zizi Papacharissi’s conceptualisation of the affective or highly emotional dimension of networked storytelling (Papacharissi 2016). If, as boyd argues, networked publics emerge as both spaces constructed by digital networks and as imagined communities of individuals collectively engaging in technologically mediated practices (boyd 2010), then how do people who form such networked publics engage not only with the digital platform infrastructures, but also with the symbolism and metaphors of mediated public art? And what meanings and representations of the post-protest city emerge from their collective experiencing of these artefacts through the use of networked technologies? Using the post-Euromaidan urban murals and their mediated representations on Instagram as a case study, I explore these entanglements between the concepts of networked publics, visual semiotics and affective intertextual meaning-making to discover how urban denizens orbiting in highly mediated spaces are able to make and re-make the meaning of public art and the post-protest reality it represents.

Murals, urban mediation and platform vernaculars

As an urban art form, murals are generally considered less “illicit” than graffiti, as they tend to get the public’s and sometimes even the authorities’ blessing. Yet they also manage to capture the “hopes and fears, struggles and aspirations” of the communities which create and house them (Rolston 1992, Cockcroft & Barnet-Sánchez 1993, Golden et al. 2002). This potential to serve as vehicles and vessels of interpretive and meaning-making work for the public is especially evident in urban environments where murals emerge in reaction to instances of injustice, tragedy, violence and protest (see e.g. Rolston 1992 on murals in Northern Ireland).

As examples of street art, murals are inscribed into the physical public space and thus are closely linked to people’s consumption and prosumption of such space. In fact, as they are embedded into the canvas of urban spaces, there is a certain inevitability to them being publicly beheld by urbanites. At the same time, this inescapable publicness of murals as street art (Carmona & Tiesdell 2007), when mediated, also allows for a contemporaneous, interactive agency (Visconti et al. 2010), both on the part of the artists and on the part of the urban denizens. Extending Hirschman’s (1983) discussion of artistic agency, we can argue that in multiply mediated urban public spaces, both the artists and the dwellers consuming and remediating the art can “express their subjective conceptions of beauty, emotion or some other aesthetic ideal” and simultaneously “formulate beliefs about the nature of reality and values regarding desirable states of reality” (Hirschman 1983, 46).

In the contemporary, spatially hybrid cities (Ridell & Zeller 2013), public space is at once multimodal and relational, so public art is not only created to be looked at and interpreted by passers-by, but is also, together with the space it inhabits, constantly reproduced in human activities and interactions (Lefebvre 1991). This relationality, in turn, not only enables the (re)production of public art as signs and symbols, but also allows for the reimagining of the meanings behind the artistic artefacts (the signifieds behind the signifiers) and for the retelling of these imaginaries in multiple ways as they are remediated across urban networks, both digital and physical. The mediation and representation of urban spaces, and public urban art in particular, through visual social media such as Instagram has become an integral part of everyday urban existence.

The practices of people that form networked publics around engagements with urban public art are necessarily inscribed not only into physical spaces of the city, but also into the networked spaces of social media platforms. boyd (2010) suggests that the latter formations are imagined collectives of people restructured by the platforms’ affordances for making content and conversations more persistent, highly replicable (text and images easily copied and shared), scalable (increasing potential visibility of text and images) and searchable. Importantly, such affordances of networked spaces lead to collapsed social contexts and the overall blurring of public and private in online discourse. This personalisation of public discourse, especially when it revolves around matters of political or social import, brings to the fore the emerging deformalisation of political debate and the role of individual reflections, emotions (affect) and opinions. Such ‘everyday’ practices allow citizens to inscribe the political within the personal (Highfield 2016) and grant them the ability to participate in and contribute to various aspects of political life in a public, yet highly individualised and often distinctly affective context provided by the digital networks and the hybrid urban spaces they wrap around.

At the same time that our mediated practices of being in urban space become increasingly visually mediated and media-rich, precipitated by what Gibbs et al. (2015) call a visual turn in social media, certain ritualised uses of social media platforms emerge. Highfield defines these ritualised practices as standardised and recurring social media behaviours shaped by both the affordances of platforms and the norms and cultures around them (Highfield 2016, 41). Each of these platforms possesses a unique combination of styles, grammars and logics for expression – what Gibbs et al. term the “platform vernacular” (Gibbs et al. 2015). The vernacular emerges at the intersection of platform affordances and how they are appropriated and performed by platform users. Instagram, specifically, allows image sharing in a seamless, casual way, yet offers a range of features (such as filters or hashtags) that turn shared images into discursive focusing devices, offering a format for condensed expressions of creativity, political views or modalities of emotion and affect, such as admiration, anger, dissatisfaction, hope or passion. Such habitual practices of expression are also influenced by the fact that Instagram use is heavily centered around mobile devices and thus embedded in everyday relations with urban public spaces. This allows social media users to focus attention on particular aspects of their urban environment, be it cultural, artistic or socio-political ones, while also fostering a personal connection with the spaces on an emotional or affective level. Papacharissi (2015), complementing boyd’s view of networked publics, argues that digital networked media are especially adept at serving as conduits for affective expression in moments of social change, inviting users to feel their place in momentous historical events and to develop meaning from these events, even if they were experienced indirectly. In the case of sharing Instagram images of city murals, users are able to draw attention to a particular piece of public art, but also to create certain resonance around the meaning of the piece as interpreted by its beholder. In this way, urban dwellers can engage in ritualised social media practices by adding affective and narrative context with every personal post about public art and thereby contribute to a growing canvas of intertwined individual experiences, constantly shaping and redefining the meaning inferred from their encounters with the art.

Affective publics (Papacharissi 2016) concentrated around a ritualised networked practice (such as sharing images of public art on Instagram), can potentially generate a sense of connectedness among those posting to the platform, weaving their individual experiences into a multimodal set of meanings of a shared lived event or its aftermath. By incorporating the individual affective reactions to and representations of events, networked social media thus permit speculative meaning-making of uncertain situations through affective attunement (Papacharissi 2015). Focused around a particular ritualised practice in hybrid urban spaces, such affective publics could be instrumental in shaping a relational network of spatial imaginaries from which alternative futures of the post-protest city might emerge. A horizontalised, networked, spatially hybrid environment that allows for a multiplicity of voices, emotions and interpretations harkens back to Michel de Certeau’s vision of the city being written “from down below” by the ordinary visions of its urban denizens (de Certeau 1984). Especially in networked environments that offer more ambient and casual ways of reclaiming political and civic agency, emotion and affect emerge as key to informing political transformation and social change (Peltola et al. 2017).

Collecting and analysing visual data from Instagram

My choice of Instagram as a platform for examining the mediated practices of urban denizens around public art was informed by the fact that, unlike Facebook and Twitter, platforms that were originally text-driven, Instagram (founded in 2010) was devised as a primarily visual medium and allows for a casual capture of everyday experiences in photographic form, while also providing a space for textual or narrative content. Instagram is also becoming increasingly popular online, with the platform reporting 800 million monthly users and 500 million daily users as of September 2017 (Etherington 2017). In Ukraine in particular, the number of Instagram users has seen rapid growth and rose from 3.8 million users in April 2017 to 5.6 million users in June 2017 alone (Dmytrenko 2017).

Leaver and Highfield (2016) note that Instagram data is also comparatively more accessible for research scholars than, for instance, that of its parent company, Facebook. Instagram as an application is also available across different mobile operation systems, potentially increasing the pool of users. In terms of related research on affective Instagram publics and the role of emotional narrativity in Instagram use, scholars have investigated sharing practices around grief and mourning (Gibbs et al. 2015; Leaver & Highfield 2016) and around specific communities (e.g., Ging & Garvey’s 2017 study of the pro-ana Instagram posts). Other studies have examined how certain spaces are experienced and mediated through Instagram use, for instance, museums (Weilenmann et al. 2013) or cities in a broader sense (Hochman & Manovich 2013; Boy & Uitermark 2016).

The proliferation of locative mobile media with image-capturing capabilities coupled with image-sharing platforms like Instagram results in a further hybridisation of the “experience” of urban public art, making the material, spatial and digital aspects of it inseparable. MacDowall and de Souza (2017) argue that in fact, there is a close relationship between the architecture and vernacular of Instagram as a platform and the production and consumption of urban street art. This is evidenced by many graffiti and street artists incorporating Instagram into their everyday practices and using it to document, share and distribute their work. The experience of consuming street art is also changed by Instagram as part of our highly mediated interaction with hybrid urban spaces. In this respect, the image-centric nature of Instagram (while also availing of its capabilities for intertextuality) offers a productive way to examine how urban denizens engage with public art in the city and how they use the affordances of Instagram to produce image-based reflections on the art and the meanings behind it.

I collected the data for this case study on Instagram from January to April 2017, focusing on three hashtags that were most commonly used to accompany photos of and mark people’s experiences of murals in Kyiv after the spring of 2014 (the end of the protests). These were #муралыкиева (Russian), #мураликиєва (Ukrainian), and #muralkiev (English). Ukraine, and Kyiv in particular, has a multi-lingual tradition colouring its social media practices, so it was important to capture these rituals in their original forms (e.g., a number of Instagram posts use more than one of the above hashtags, ostensibly to increase visibility, or use them in conjunction with other hashtags). The use of the hashtags also could be seen as indicating the overtly public nature of the posts, and all collected posts were accessed through the publicly accessible desktop Instagram view which does not require registration. Despite these operational definitions of publicity, social media users often have varying degrees of privacy expectations, especially when sharing personal content (Leaver & Highfield 2016). Therefore, in this study I only present selected samples of shared visual content, anonymise the screen captures of Instagram posts, and focus heavily on textual description of the images.

The preliminary number of posts captured on each hashtag was as follows:

#муралыкиева (Russian) – 1,460 posts
#мураликиєва (Ukrainian) – 328 posts
#muralkiev (English) – 149 posts

After cross-comparison and stripping out the duplicates (images that were the same unique posts and contained more than one designated hashtag), the total number of posts for analysis was reduced to 1,817 URLs. I then analysed the Instagram posts employing visual and textual semiotic analysis in terms of the images they contained and the additional textual content that accompanied them, such as hashtags and user-generated captions. I did not analyse the comments from other users under each Instagram post as they were beyond the scope of this project.

The obvious limitation of this sampling method is that focusing on three hashtags does not allow to capture the complete dataset of mural-related Instagram posts (a common issue in Instagram-based research, see e.g., Ging & Garvey 2017; Leaver & Highfield 2016). Certainly, many photos of murals are not marked with these hashtags yet selecting the most commonly used popular ones allows me to productively focus the sampling strategy and capture a non-representative, yet significant subset of relevant data from the social media platform.

In what follows, I analyse Instagram posts by using a social semiotic approach to glean how the semiotic resources of Instagram posts are used for interpretation and intertextual connection (Jewitt & Oyama 2001). This analysis helps gauge how Instagram is used as a visual communication platform to remediate urban murals and how those image-based practices can be understood in the context of post-protest meaning-making and affective expression. In their approach to social semiotic visual analysis, Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) identify three kinds of meaning-related work that images may do: representational (i.e., an image represents the world or part of it), interactive (i.e., an image plays a part in an interaction with those capturing or viewing it) and compositional (i.e., an image constitutes a kind of recognisable textual element). In each of these aspects, the semiotic resources analysed are grounded in particular social, historic and cultural contexts and also shaped by people’s own meaning-making efforts when consuming visual messages.

Of particular interest here are the representational semiotic resources, which Kress and van Leeuwen separate into conceptual and narrative structures. Conceptual structures can symbolically define, characterise or classify people, places or things in the images. In the case of urban murals, reading the images of murals for symbolic or metaphorical definitions of key themes is an important part of the overall analysis of their Instagram-based remediation. On the other hand, narrative structures are indicative of relationships and actions between subjects or objects in the image and can often be seen through vectors of action or reaction in visual materials that might be transactive or non-transactive (Jewitt & Oyama 2001). These can be compounded by analysing the interactive semiotic resources in images, such as distance or point of view, to glean additional meaning from an Instagram photo.

The first stage of analysis was aimed at exploring the imagery of the murals themselves. I categorised the mural images from the Instagram posts with regard to their symbolic or metaphorical conceptual structures, using mutually exclusive categories as they emerged from a preliminary overview of the post sample. These categories were grounded in the social, historic and cultural contexts of post-protest Ukrainian social and urban life and were to some extent informed by additional knowledge about the murals gleaned from media coverage (Kuryshko 2015; DreamKyiv 2015; Afisha 2016; Bigmir 2016), such as information about the artists and interviews with the creators and curators. This contextual categorisation was largely an inductive process and resulted in a list of broad symbolic and metaphorical themes. I discuss these in detail in the findings.

At the second stage of analysis, I shifted the focus to examining the narrative structures with regard to users’ relational and participatory practices in urban space evident in the images. Here, visual analysis centred on the presence or absence of the city dwellers in the photos of the murals they captured, their visual relationship with the murals, their reactions to the murals, and the various angles of the photos suggesting different points of view and distances with regards to the public art in urban spaces. Additional intertextual analysis focused on the presence of user-provided context such as additional hashtags and personal comments about the art or related to it. The findings of this stage of the analysis indicate how people use the affordances of Instagram to connect mediated public art (murals) to their own points of view and affective standpoints, allowing for a multiplicity of visual and intertextual meanings of the post-protest city. In the following, I will summarise the findings of both stages of analysis in separate chapters, with a greater focus on the narrative structures in order to capture the role of Instagram-based mediation practices in meaning-making around public art.

Conceptual structures of mediated urban public art on Instagram

The visual semiotic analysis revealed a number of broad conceptual themes encompassing most of the murals created during the post-Euromaidan period. The key symbolic categories that emerged were: Ukrainian history and heritage; Kyiv’s urban history, myths and stories; protest, revolution and national identity; new heroes of post-Euromaidan Ukraine. A number of the murals also involved the more metaphorical themes of change, rebirth and transformation; freedom and peace; the more emotional themes of hope and love; and abstract art (uncategorised or other). To some extent, these reflect the affective themes of hope, struggle and aspiration encountered by other scholars who have studied murals as public art in various contexts (Rolston 1992, Cockcroft & Barnet-Sánchez 1993, Golden et al. 2002), but a few of the categories are specific to the post-Euromaidan context. I briefly outline and explain the categories below, beginning with the more general themes and then focussing on those related to the post-protest context.

Ukrainian history and heritage (6%, 109 posts): Murals in this category usually depict figures that played important roles in Ukrainian history (e.g., Ukraine’s first president Mykhaylo Hrushevsky) or its cultural heritage (e.g., the writer and poet Lesya Ukrainka). A recurring element in this category is the symbolic presence of traditional Ukrainian dress, ornaments, patterns and other symbols of Ukrainian historical and cultural legacy.

Kyiv as urban history, stories, artefacts (5%, 91 posts): This category contains murals that reflect particular elements of Kyiv’s own, more intimate urban lore. Examples in this category include an image of Archangel Michael (traditionally, the guardian angel of Kyiv city – see Figure 1) and a mural depicting a group of black ravens (a reference to a cage with live ravens hidden in a small yard in old town Kyiv, a closely guarded urban “secret” location). These elements or moments of local lore serve as a kind of visual synecdoche for the city as a whole, while pinpointing their own sentimental or emotional value.

Image 1. Mural, a depiction of Archangel Michael, guardian angel of Kyiv city, in a residential neighbourhood. Photo from Instagram.

Abstract art or other (9%, 163 posts): This category contains largely uncategorisable murals that don’t fit into a particular theme (e.g., an elephant hanging from a cluster of colourful balloons).

Protest, revolution, national identity (39%, 709 posts): While the first three categories are fairly direct in their symbolism, this category is likely the most metaphor-rich, as the art in it seeks to make sense of the tumultuous events of the fairly recent protests and their impact on national – and urban – identity. This is also one of the most densely populated categories in the dataset. Examples of metaphors and allegories in this category include a fairytale setting depicting a mythical hero battling a snake (struggle); protesters in animal masks, one of them carrying a Ukrainian flag, in a standoff with equally masked thugs (Figure 2); a ballet dancer balancing on a bomb with a lit fuse (revolution); a girl in national dress in a field of sunflowers under a blue sky (yellow and blue are the colours of the Ukrainian flag and are often used to signify national identity). This category also includes more recent images commenting on ongoing violence and loss of life in Ukraine, as exemplified by a mural depicting a woman hugging a blank shape of a man with an arrow through his back.

Image 2. Mural, a metaphorical depiction of struggle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ forces in Ukraine, in a residential neighbourhood. Photo from Instagram.

New heroes of post-Euromaidan Ukraine (5%, 91 posts): This category is fairly straightforward, capturing individuals who were prominent during the Euromaidan protests or became symbols of the post-protest environment. Examples here include a portrait of Serhiy Nigoyan (Figure 3), a young protester who was the first victim of the anti-protester violence and died aged only 21; and a mural with Anna Rizatdinova, a female athlete from Crimea (an autonomous republic within Ukraine that was occupied by Russia after Euromaidan).

Image 3. Mural, a portrait of Euromaidan protester Serhiy Nigoyan in downtown Kyiv. Photo by Tetyana Lokot.

Change and transformation (19%, 345 posts): Another more metaphorical category of murals depicting various allegories for change and transformation, including a runner breaking through the finish line and simultaneously breaking through their own skin (Figure 4) and a man crossing a river while holding onto a deer’s horns.

Image 4. Mural, a runner breaking through the finish line, in a residential neighbourhood. Photo from Instagram.

Freedom, peace, hope and love (17%, 309 posts): There are yet more metaphors in murals in this category, ranging from a person with a key through their heart connected to a series of gears (“love runs the world’) to a proliferation of murals containing images of birds (a common symbol of freedom or peace), sometimes with literal additions of text (e.g., an image of storks in a nest and “Peace to Ukraine” under them).

The fact that the thematic category dealing with protest, revolution and national identity, and the ones depicting themes of change, transformation, peace, hope and freedom were the most numerous is in line with the general history of the mural movement and the explicit desire to address these themes in the public art spaces. It is also in line with the aims of the post-Euromaidan mural creation movement to populate public urban spaces with fresh ideas and meanings in the wake of momentous social events. At the same time, the distribution of themes is to some extent informed and shaped by the choices made by individual city dwellers on Instagram as they decide which murals to capture, share and comment upon. Though not a representative sample, the prevalence of mural images with these specific themes among the Instagram-based networked publics indicates a certain preoccupation with and desire to join the public post-protest discourse about social change, urban transformation and identity renegotiation precipitated by the events of Euromaidan and their aftermath.

Narrative structures and practices of Instagram users

Further visual semiotic analysis was aimed more specifically at how the mural images were mediated and represented through the means of Instagram. This analysis revealed some of the key narrative processes and relational practices around social media users’ interactions with murals as a form of monumental public art. In the Instagram images, users captured the urban spaces and the public art inscribed within them, and themselves as interactive participants (engaging in the action). The urban spaces and art interchangeably served as background – what Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) call “locative circumstances” – and as a more central, foregrounded participant in the image.

Self-inscription and juxtaposition of the self and the image in the mural occurred in about one tenth of the posts (198 cases out of 1,817), most often exemplified by the selfie format, with the user’s (users’) face(s) close-up and the mural in the background or acting as a kind of frame (see Figure 5 for examples). This self-inscribing in the Instagram posts was overwhelmingly meant to convey reaction (of the person inscribed to the art), but was predominantly non-transactive, in that no return action was expected from the mural as an inanimate, if meaningful object. In some cases though, this more intimate point of view (suggested by a close-up of the user inserting themselves into the hybrid art space) was replaced by a more distant one, picturing the urban citizen in proportion to the monumental art, to indicate the scale of the space occupied by the artistic creation. In some other cases, users inserted themselves into the artistic landscape more directly by posing as if in dialogue with the mural or as one of its elements.

Self-insertion or more intimate point-of-view practices can serve as indicators of subjectivity and personalisation (Gibbs et al. 2015) of our visual experiences, especially with regard to how we receive and remediate public art in urban spaces. Such self-insertion and “drawing closer” to the murals or “gazing upward” at them can perhaps indicate the “affective attunement” that Papacharissi (2015) describes when discussing how social networked media allow us to inscribe ourselves into historical events through structures of feeling and affect shared with others on the network, even if we ourselves were not physically present at a given event at the time it occurred. In the case of post-Euromaidan murals in particular, such visual affective insertion may serve to integrate the feelings and experiences of Instagram users about the events of the protest and its aftermath into broader structures of meaning and emotion generated by the creation of the murals and their collective representation on Instagram.

Image 5. Caption: Examples of different self-inscription in images with the same mural. Photos from Instagram.

More often than not, however, the Instagram images simply depicted the wall or building hosting the mural, without any interactive participants involved (69% or 1,254 posts). In these cases, users were capturing the art itself or as framed by the urban space it was inscribed into, offering various possibilities to interpret the city as background to the mural; the mural as background blended with the rest of the urban space; or the mural as foregrounded (cropped) exclusively without the urban background. The remaining posts (365 images or about 20% of the total sample) either contained other objects (e.g., coffee cups) or depicted the mural as a smaller part of a larger urban landscape, again negotiating its relationship with the urban space around it by backgrounding or foregrounding the mural in the context of the city. The contextualisation in these cases occurred through the use of intertextual tools such as hashtags or short comments appended to the shared image. Though not part of the visual object per se, these hashtags and utterances are nonetheless part of the Instagram platform vernacular (Gibbs et al. 2015) and connect the shared images to broader discourses and meanings, serving as entryways to other users’ image feeds and cementing Instagram’s sociality as a visual media platform. Yang (2015) further argues that hashtags derive their narrative agency as much from their narrative form as from their contents and social context – and this is certainly true for hashtags used in conjunction with the images on Instagram.

Analysis of textual content appended to the images of murals posted to Instagram revealed deeper insights into the mediated practices around urban public art. Though in about 10% of cases the textual content consisted only of one or more hashtags (e.g., the initial hashtags #муралыкиева, #мураликиєва, and #muralkiev; also #streetart, #modernart, #muralbusters, #walkabout, etc.), in the rest of the cases the posts contained more substantial textual content, such as discussions of the content of the mural or the context behind it, reflections on its meaning or on the emotions elicited by seeing it (see, for instance, figures 6, 7, 8 and 9). The predominant modalities of textual practices amounted to the following:

What is it (what is in the picture): Those who captured and shared photos of murals added context to the images, explaining what they thought the mural depicted, when it was made, who created it, and providing other additional factual details. This level of verbal engagement allowed for some compositional meaning-making and interpretation, but in a very basic sense with only the lightest of framing efforts. For instance, Figure 6 shows a post with an image of a mural where the only added context is the original title of the mural, ‘Love Runs the World’, given to it by the artist and conveyed by the author of the Instagram post.

Image 6. Image of a mural on Instagram, with user adding context by providing the original title of the mural, ‘Love Runs the World’, and the hashtags ‘Kyivmurals’, ‘millo’ (the name of the artist) and ‘InterestingKyiv’. Photo from Instagram.

What is the artistic value: In a number of posts, users debated and critically evaluated the artistic merit of a particular mural. This was done either by using specific additional hashtags (e.g., #modernart) or by offering direct commentary on the quality of the artists’ work, the choice of the theme or the appropriateness of the mural in its surrounding space. This group also accounts for a few comments that dealt with the choice of wall or building which housed the mural (in some cases, the buildings had historical value of their own). There were comments that were positive, as well as negative or neutral in terms of sentiment value. Combined with the visual representational meaning, these comments further elucidate the relational nature of urban space and public art within it, underscoring the tensions between the interactive participants and the represented art in the act of remediation online.

Why it is significant: A smaller number of posters used comments to explain the significance of a particular mural or its subject/theme, adding to the salience and value of the image itself. This is a deeper level of commentary that allows for more profound engagement with the signifier (the mural remediated in an Instagram image) and for an in-depth exercise in compositional meaning-making as it is interpreted into a signified. Comments in this group usually touched on the history behind specific images or events they signified and justified the appearance of particular murals by placing them in the context of recent events such as the Euromaidan protests, the ongoing political reforms or the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine. Some of the comments about significance also involved discussions of the changing image of Kyiv as a ‘European capital’ and the role of the murals as public artefacts signifying these changes. Figure 7 shows one such Instagram post, where the poster analyses a mural depicting a young woman holding an open cage with one bird still inside the cage, and the other out of it. The author of the Instagram post ruminates on the meaning of the image where “the point of the mural is the birds, not the girl” and concludes that “we all have freedom and choice, but are we all conscious of having them?”.

Image 7. Image of a mural on Instagram, depicting a young woman with an open bird cage and two birds. The poster reflects on the symbolism of the image and its relation to issues of personal freedom and choice. Photo from Instagram.

How it makes one feel: Finally, a number of posts contained comments that were overtly personal, emotional or affective in nature and described the users’ own feelings, memories and associations in connection with the murals or their subject matter. While not numerous, these affective expressions served as meta-commentary, connecting the citizens’ concerns to larger themes of fear of change, processing of trauma in the wake of violent protest, anger at ineffective government reforms and hope for a brighter future and a better city (and country). Distinctly personal in nature, these accounts added to the affective structures of personal experience evident from the earlier visual analysis, weaving the resulting intertextual material into the fabric of post-protest urban space and connecting with the multiplicity of post-protest histories attempting to make personal and collective sense of the events that the city and its inhabitants had experienced. Figure 8, for instance, shows an Instagram user adding a simple emotional expression to the image of a mural depicting a woman hugging a blank shape of a man with an arrow through his back, with the words “It seems like just an image, but it carries so much meaning…” and the hashtag #meaningoflife. In contrast, Figure 9 shows an Instagram user sharing a very specific recollection connected to a mural depicting a metaphorical scene of struggle:

A memory from Kyiv – a mural telling the story of how Ukraine fought against its enemies, I remembered it because it’s been timely these past few days (the post was made on February 22, the anniversary of the last days of the Euromaidan protest – TL). When you get to know the country from the inside and gain friends, you feel everything going on here much deeper and you feel empathy.

Though transient and ephemeral, these bursts of affective representations of urban murals in Instagram posts, evident from the combination of image-based symbolic structures and supplementary contextual text and hashtags, arguably contribute to a networked reimagining of the city. They do so by combining the feelings, fears, hopes and aspirations ignited and represented by the public art into a networked collection of the imaginaries of “the post-protest city we want” ­– and allow the networked publics to claim the right to that city.

Image 8. Image of a mural on Instagram, depicting a woman hugging a blank shape of a man with an arrow through his back, with the post author reflecting on how the image makes them feel. Photo from Instagram.
Image 9. Image of a mural on Instagram, depicting a metaphorical scene of struggle. The poster reflects on the symbolism of the image and its relation to Ukraine’s struggle during the Euromaidan protest. Photo from Instagram.


By analysing how murals that emerged in post-Euromaidan Kyiv were visually and verbally mediated on Instagram I explored in this article the possibilities provided by a remediation of urban art for meaningful participation in public life that exist beyond institutionalised political arenas (Visconti et al. 2010). We are talking about an urban politics that is visual, personalised and highly affective. This kind of politics is especially pertinent for non-Western contexts (such as Ukraine and other Eastern European states) where social media platforms are often used by citizens as alternative spaces of public deliberation and meaning-making, but where visual platforms such as Instagram have received significantly less scholarly attention than the dominant players such as Facebook and Twitter. The materials I examined, such as the images of the murals themselves and their intertextual depictions in Instagram posts, demonstrate how public art can engage networked publics and enable them to renegotiate symbolic representations of power, history and citizenship within the city.

Beyond the initial artistic intent and the thematic and relational meanings of the murals dealing with key concerns of a post-protest society in symbolic and metaphorical terms, urban denizens employ various ritualised social media practices and avail of specific platform vernacular to further interpret and make meaning of the public art. They insert themselves and juxtapose themselves with the art in visual terms creating a variety of meaning-making structures around their reactions to the murals, their relationship with them, and their experience of them. These structures signal the users’ subjectivity with regards to public art, a personalisation of visual experience and a certain affective attunement to the state of the city and its dwellers in the aftermath of the protest events. In Instagram posts, these newly formed affective publics weave their experiences and reflections into broader structures of meaning and emotion generated by the creation of the murals and their collective experience of them on Instagram. They further engage in meaning-making practices by adding context to the murals, evaluating their artistic merit, explaining their significance, and sharing personal stories about the feelings and memories that the public art objects evoke in them. Combined, these hybridised spatial practices add layers of meaning to the public art and the spaces it inhabits, allowing for a multiplicity of affective, bottom-up post-protest meanings that contribute to the city being written “from down below” (de Certeau 1984) and include themes of rebirth, regeneration (Sharp et al. 2005) and post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. This multiplicity also extends to the imaginaries of the city itself: the mural, itself a layer of meaning transposed onto a ‘blank’ canvas of a city wall, becomes a canvas where multiple personal meanings are inscribed when the murals are captured and circulated in Instagram posts.

The study’s findings show how engaging with the city through mediated and remediated public art allows citizens (both participants of the protests and not) to weave their own memories, meanings, and feelings into the multiple representations of the post-protest city that are able to co-exist and entangle. The mediated set of networked images and attached textual namings and depictions emerges as both a tool and a space of public conversation about the meaning of art in cities and what it can do. While the murals themselves are a result of public negotiation, the networked imagery around them also emerges as a constant re-negotiation of personal stories and experiences. The city is refashioned and reborn after a crisis through new public art, but also through the multiple networked imaginaries that the art evokes. The rebirth, then, is also hybrid, relational and multispatial, existing in the augmented environment where physical space, bodies and digital images together with their verbal commentaries all merge. The Instagram-based affective public constructed around urban public art in the post-Euromaidan context serves as evidence that engagement with digitally mediated urban art may play a key role in re-negotiating representations of power, history and citizenship in the wake of transformative social events such as mass protests.


All links verified June 3, 2018.


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1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

Hues on a Shell: Cyber-Dystopia and the Hong Kong Façade in the Cinematic City

cinematic city, cyberpunk, Ghost in the Shell, Hong Kong, representation, screenscape

Brian Sze-hang Kwok
sdbriank [a] polyu.edu.hk
Assistant Professor
School of Design
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Anneke Coppoolse
anneke.coppoolse [a] polyu.edu.hk
Assistant Professor
School of Design
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Viittaaminen / How to cite: Sze-hang Kwok, Brian, and Anneke Coppoolse. 2018. ”Hues on a Shell: Cyber-Dystopia and the Hong Kong Façade in the Cinematic City”. WiderScreen 21 (1-2). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2018-1-2/hues-shell-cyber-dystopia-hong-kong-facade-cinematic-city/

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This article considers the (re)production of Hong Kong’s urban space in cyberpunk cinema, specifically in the American interpretation (2017) of Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995). How Chinatowns and Asian cities have inspired cyberpunk environments in both literature (e.g. Neuromancer 1984, Snow Crash 1992) and film (e.g. Blade Runner 1982, Ghost in the Shell 1995) has been extensively explored (e.g. Bruno 1987, Doel and Clarke 1997, Wong 2004). Asian urbanities have fed imaginations about density, verticality, and alienation. Wong (2004, 100) argues that, as filmic configurations of urban futures, Asian cities can be seen as prototypes of what capitalist world cities might become (King 1990 in Wong 2004, 100). Davis (2010, 140) points out, however, that while these cinematic cities signal certain Asian mobility, imaginaries of high-tech futures in the cyberpunk genre particularly emphasise the dark side of life, presenting grubby alleyways, shady business, and images the like.

From William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013), rampant hypermodernity has been presented in a dystopian fashion that involves not only stories about the dark sides of life but also visual narratives about neon-lit and significantly vertical façades. This article considers urban Hong Kong, in these narratives, to be both an actor and a shell—not much different from Ghost in the Shell’s Major character and her cybernetic body. In film, the city is not represented but reframed as “a body with a ghost”: in cyberpunk film specifically, it is reframed as a shell patched with lights and shadows, encapsulating the soul (or what is left of it) of a place. The cyberpunk city is not a copy of a “real” city but rather a particular rendering of a city that is already a simulation.

James Tweedie (2010) stated with reference to Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter (1966) that “[t]he neon sign is where the city begins to assume the form of cinema”. Although he subsequently argues that, today, neon in the “city of spectacle” is rather a fragment from another time and “the future of the city is no longer written in neon” (Tweedie 2010), the dystopian city of the future is significantly and persistently neon-lit. The dystopian city of the future is a patchwork of recycled images—a pastiche, as Bruno (1989) argues. Taking on the position that the cinematic city is not just a context or an image, but also a body and a ghost, this article articulates how, via Oshii’s visual elaborations in the 1995 anime, the American adaptation has produced another kind of future city; a future city that finds both resemblance and misconception in the everyday experience of Hong Kong as a “shell” that is both familiar and unfamiliar (Abbas 1997). This article, thus, reiterates the exchange between film and the city towards a story about spectacle and contemporary urban experience.

The digital revolution that coincided with (and accelerated) the rise of Asia and the growth of Asian megacities, provided the science fiction genre – specifically its sub-genre cyberpunk – much inspiration. Since its early development, cyberpunk (novels, comics, and films) has adapted and built upon the aesthetics of, and imaginations about, digital technology, Asian urbanity, and their convergence. Whether set in Chinatown-like impressions of Western metropolises, in non-specified places of transit, or in actual Asian cities of the near future, the cyberpunk genre with its distinctive visuality has taken Asian urban space as its defining image.

This article focuses on the representation of the Asian urban landscape in the context of science fiction – of cyberpunk to be more exact. It addresses the visual specificities of the imaginations, “reimaginings”, and interpretations of urban space in the American adaptation of Ghost in the Shell (2017). The film being uniquely intertextual, it ought to be understood in the context of the cyberpunk genre (or sub-genre) as a whole. We therefore first elaborate an inquiry into the development of the genre as it configured differently in the West and in Japan. In this inquiry, we acknowledge its socio-historical context while considering its engagement with Asian urban space more generally. This helps us to articulate the postmodern condition in which cyberpunk emerged.

The socio-historical inquiry (however rough and incomplete) forms the contextual base for our analysis of the film – of the ways in which the postmodern city is presented, and of the references to Hong Kong’s urban space as made in this presentation. The analysis then leads us to new perspectives of what geographer David B. Clarke refers to as the cinematic city – cinematic city concerning both “the relations between urban and cinematic space” and the “screenscape” that the cityscape has come to be seen as (Clarke 1997, 2).

We take on the position that the cinematic city is not just a context or an image, but also a body and a ghost as it both hints at a familiar place (a ghost) that is at the same time only a projected shell or a shell that is projected on (a body only). The film portrays a search for what it means to be human. It negotiates questions of real and not real, questions that are particularly challenging when considered in the context of the postmodern city, which is a place of particular references and intertextuality – a place of spectacle where “the real” is hard to find if not long gone. This kind of city is not only postmodern in its thematics, it is postmodern in its form. It is hybrid, it is vertical, it is about façades and projections.

This article articulates how the American adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga has produced another kind of future city via Mamoru Oshii’s visual elaborations in the 1995 anime with the same title; a future city that finds both resemblance and misconception in the everyday experience of Hong Kong as a “shell” that is, as Ackbar Abbas would refer to it, both familiar and unfamiliar (Abbas 1997).[1] The article reiterates the exchanges between film and the city, towards a story about spectacle and the contemporary urban experience.

The postmodern city and the cinematic city of cyberpunk cinema are both spectacles that are subject to and products of what Bruno (1987, 64) calls postindustrial decay. Visually, this has resulted in a recycling (perhaps even a reappropriation) of a recognisable collection of obsolete items and images from the decaying city, in its imagined or projected future. We argue that precisely in the spectacle of the postmodern city as represented in the American remake of Ghost in the Shell, it is made apparent that Hong Kong as one of the Asian cities that has inspired the urban aesthetic of cyberpunk, is both familiar (a ghost) and unfamiliar (a shell) as symbolised in the relation between the film’s main protagonist, the Major, and the city in which she operates.

New Wave Science Fiction

Cyberpunk, as a sub-genre of science fiction, has its roots in the New Wave science fiction movement of the 1960s and 1970s where writers began exploring ways to combine “the best aspects of both science fiction and mainstream literary fiction” (Higgins 2013, 2). This movement is by some (e.g. Higgins 2013; Hoppenstand 2016) described as a response to the limiting “pulp-formula” of traditional science fiction. However, elsewhere it is stated that the movement is best understood as the same genre but “revolving back upon itself to reconsider its original logic” (Roberts 2016, 377). Science fiction writer and professor Adam Roberts (2016, 377) even goes as far as suggesting that New Wave science fiction is nothing more than a way of addressing “what ‘happened’ to science fiction” in the 1960s and 1970s.

What “happened” to science fiction, happened in the context of a changing world where rapid technological development did not only inspire but also induce concern about potentially destructive qualities of technology. While technology brought the first man to the moon, transformative social change and movements in support of social equality happened across the Western world – in the aftermath of World War II, in response to the Vietnam War, and with the end of colonialism, among other world-changing events (Higgins 2013, 1). Instead of excitement about the future, there was an increasing concern about the past (Roberts 2016, 336).

As a decade of conservatism (the 1950s) was quickly replaced by one in which countercultures thrived (with and without psychedelics), New Wave writers were not only inspired by outer space, but also by inner space: “normative consensual reality” was opposed across the United States and Europe, and New Wave writers engaged in this development (Higgins 2013, 5). Specifically, as New Wave writers developed a critical perspective of technological development and of certain world orders, they began to imagine dystopian scenarios. Entropy and chaos were the conditions of New Wave worlds. Alfred Bester’s novels of the 1950s, however, can be taken as early examples of similar critiques. His novels specifically deal with the problem of the (white) masculine hero common in pulp novels of his time (Roberts 2016, 304). Furthermore, in film, Fritz Lang’s cinematic imagination of a dystopian future as portrayed in Metropolis (1927) is an even earlier science fiction work that came to inspire science fiction films and literature of the following decades (The Harvard Gazette, July 17, 2014).

The comic, The Long Tomorrow (1975), which came out in two parts – in the French magazine Métal Hurlant (1976) and later also in its American equivalent Heavy Metal (1977) – became an important visual referent for the urban aesthetic of later science fiction worlds. It includes elements of crime noir fiction and presents a science fiction future with flying cars, dense living environments, and most of all dystopian atmospheres (Neon Dystopia, June 15, 2016). The comic has influenced the worlds of Neuromancer (1984), Blade Runner (1982), and other prominent science fiction novels and films – Star Wars (1977) included, as well as films such as The Fifth Element (1997) and Alien (1979) which the writer Dan O’Bannon and the artist Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius) of The Long Tomorrow were invited to work on (Wheeler 2016). O’Bannon worked on the screenplay of Alien and Moebius on the concept design of The Fifth Element.

Although critiqued for its “dumbing down” of the science fiction genre, which was initially mainly a written genre, Star Wars can be seen to have redefined visual science fiction. With Star Wars, science fiction became one of the most popular genres in visual media (Roberts 2016, 399-400). Furthermore, Tron (1982), which came out some years later (and which storyboard and production design Moebius had also worked on), provided a certain narrative and visual grammar for the presentation of cyberspace, telling a story about a hacker fighting a Master Control Program inside a computer (Roberts 2016, 399). And Blade Runner released in the same year, proposed the grubby, postindustrial urban aesthetic that has since been the accepted image of cyberpunk film.

A Postmodern Aesthetic

Indeed, soon after The Long Tomorrow, cyberpunk grew into a significant sub-genre of science fiction, bringing together dark views of urban life and imaginations about the dystopian potential of technological change (Abbott 2007, 124). As early as the 1980s, authors such as Neal Stephenson and William Gibson began narrating detective-like stories where hackers or self-destructive cops would fight corrupt or otherwise shady corporations in hyper-technological settings (Abbott 2007, 124). These stories present a near future that is exclusively urban and particularly hybrid – racially, spatially, bio-technologically, and aesthetically. Neuromancer in particular established the cyberpunk sub-genre as it combined the premise of Tron with the Blade Runner aesthetic (Roberts 2016, 439).

Cyberpunk, however, can be seen as something more than a sub-genre. It needs to be understood as part of a much larger cultural development. It did not just develop in a context that was particularly postmodern, it partly defined this context (Roberts 2016, 440). Giuliana Bruno (1987, 63), in her argument about postmodernism as elaborated in her reading of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, states that postindustrial decay – which inspires the New Wave and cyberpunk aesthetic – is an imminent condition of the modern city. It is not an imagination about, but an implication of the city of the near-future. She suggests that the future city is not ultramodern by default but postmodern by consequence, leading to the adaptation of an aesthetic of decay in the cyberpunk genre. Geographer David Harvey calls this a remarkable portrayal of the conditions of postmodernity and of the complex experience of space and time (Harvey 1989, 322).

Bruno (1987, 64) explains postindustrial decay as “an effect of the acceleration of the internal time of process proper to postindustrialism”. The speeding up of production has resulted in a mode of “recycling” – a reusing of obsolete things, fashion, images, the city – that has found form in the cyberpunk genre. This mode of recycling is a pastiche. There is no longer room for uniqueness (Bruno 1987, 66). Pastiche has its own logic, and can be understood as radical eclecticism. It celebrates representation in the postindustrial society – in the “society of the spectacle” of Marxist thinker Guy Debord (1983) where everything is a simulation (Bruno 1987, 67). The real is the fiction (Bruno 1987, 67). In other words, with postmodernism, the imaginary of the city as presented in cyberpunk is “the real”. The real and the simulation are no longer one or the other – the city is the simulacrum. The cyberpunk city, in Bruno’s reading, does not “conceal the truth”, it “conceals that there is [no truth]”, following a quote from Ecclesiastes in Baudrillard’s book Simulations (1983, 1).

Even though cyberpunk presents a certain simulacrum – a representation only, that patches together diverse reused images, objects, cities, cultures – a note has to be made about the racial aspect of its temporally adjacent universes. With the premiere of the much-anticipated Blade Runner 2049 (2017), a discussion revived not only about cyberpunk’s fetishisation of Asian urban space, but about the systematic exclusion of Asian actors from cyberpunk films. Los Angeles in 2049 – the setting of this new Blade Runner film – is more than a Chinatown of the future. It is presented as an urban agglomeration with distinct East-Asian features; it stages the usual vertical architectural form and endless urban sprawl, decorated with neon-coloured signage in Japanese and Chinese. Korean signs appear later, when the story moves to the abandoned city of Las Vegas. Yet, in spite of this significantly hybrid urban image with East-Asian characteristics, the film’s cast is predominantly white while only a few extras seem to be of East-Asian descent.[2]

This critique of exclusion follows from recent whitewashing allegations made when actress Scarlett Johansson was selected for the role of the Major in the film of our focus – the American remake of Ghost in the Shell (e.g Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2017). Ghost in the Shell originally being a Japanese manga that was developed by Japanese comics artist Masamune Shirow, and subsequently turned into two anime films by director Mamoru Oshii[3] who took inspiration from the Hong Kong cityscape, it has been widely argued that an Asian actress should have been given the part – not in the least place because the Major’s name in the anime series is not Mira Killian (as in Sanders’ remake), but Motoko Kusanagi.

This discussion about white actors playing non-white roles, or roles in films that ought to present racially diverse urban fabrics, is highly important and very necessary. It does, however, not fit the scope of this article. We focus on the representation of urban space in Rupert Sanders’ version of Ghost in the Shell. That is, we mainly focus on screenscapes and less on the socio-cultural fabric of the cinematic city. In so doing, we address the other argument that is often made with regard to cyberpunk, namely that it fetishises Asian cityscapes. We do this by also highlighting developments in, and the importance of, Japanese science fiction and its related aesthetic form.

Ghost in the Shell

Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell is the most recent adaptation of the infamous Japanese comic series with similar (English) titles – The Ghost in the Shell (1989), Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor (1996), and Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface (2001) respectively. This series is created by Masamune Shirow, whom critics refer to as the master of Japanese cyberpunk (e.g. New Retro Wave, February 1, 2016; Nihonden, July 25, 2016). Japanese cyberpunk relates to Western cyberpunk but it has its own characteristics – usually with an industrial aesthetic and a challenging plotline. Shirow’s manga series – its philosophical fabric and social contemplation – also presents such a narrative. It has a depth to it that already begins with the titles.

“Ghost in the Shell” directly references Hungarian-British author Arthur Koestler’s book The Ghost in the Machine (1967) which was, in turn, based on an earlier idea coined by British philosopher Gilbert Ryle as he described René Descartes’ theory of mind-body dualism (Komel 2017, 923). Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell explores existential questions about the relation between spirit and body and, in so doing, presents a layered story with a complex plotline. The American adaptation of Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell follows a model of narration that the world is more familiar with. Some critics (e.g. Mintzer 2017; The Japan Times April 12 2017) refer to it as a “sleek watered-down version”. However, produced by Paramount to be screened as a mainstream film, a simpler storyline was to be expected.

Ghost in the Shell tells a story about a fight against cybercrime in the city of the near future. It follows the Major character whom is called Mira Killian in the American adaptation. She is a cyber-enhanced human (a ghost in a shell) and the first fully functioning result of a secret project by Hanka Robotics – a corporation that builds and sells cyborgs and cyber enhancement services. The corporation developed a technology with which artificial bodies (shells) could integrate human brains (ghosts). The CEO of Hanka Robotics put the Major to work on counter-terrorism operations with a bureau called Section 9. Although she has the perfect artificial body to work on such cases, she increasingly experiences glitches related to her “real” past, which should not be possible.

The Section 9 team, including the Major’s loyal partner Batou, witnesses a cyber-terror attack on a conference at Hanka Robotics at the beginning of the film. After this, the Major begins chasing antagonist Kuze, the Puppet Master. Kuze is able to hack the artificial minds of cyborgs, hence his nickname. In her quest to find Kuze, the Major discovers that there had been other test subjects of Hanka Robotics’ secret project whom had all seemingly died. At the same time, she discovers that the memories she has of a past that she believed was hers, are mere implants and that the glitches she experiences are fragments of her actual past. The American adaptation has further included a storyline where the Major discovers that she has, in fact, another name – Motoko Kusanagi – and a mother whom she decides to visit. However always supported by her partner Batou, a change of events causes the Major to become the subject of a chase as her narrative is increasingly woven into that of Kuze.

Whilst the narrative structure and philosophical layering of the Japanese manga (or lack thereof in the American remake) is worth investigating, what this article focuses on is the remake’s visual references – specifically, the urban imagery that defines the Ghost in the Shell universe and that makes reference to an urban landscape that has inspired much of the Japanese and Western cyberpunk genre. Indeed, Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell has not only taken reference from the initial manga. It largely borrows from the anime Ghost in the Shell that was made in 1995, some years after the first of the manga series had come out. It was Mamoru Oshii who turned to Hong Kong in his quest to finding the perfect image of the future. The anime is the first of a sequel, the second being Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which was released in 2004. This sequel (Oshii 1995, 2004) is a classic in its own right which is, in turn, influenced by another cyberpunk classic, namely Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The latter, as alluded to earlier, is often presented as a metaphor of the postmodern condition (Bruno 1987, 62) and was indeed a source of inspiration for much of the cyberpunk movement – both in the West and in Japan (Medium, December 31, 2016).

Cyberpunk Cities

Cyberpunk cities are daunting metropolises; they are forecasts of tomorrow’s Londons, New Yorks, Tokyos – of hybridised global cities – where “hyper-communication” (Abbott 2007, 124) informs high-rise landscapes and subterranean plotlines. Indeed, many of these forecasts feature Asian (e.g. Japanese or Chinese) characteristics, specifically in the composition of the respective universes the films, novels, and comics are set in. For example, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which, as mentioned above, set the tone for a novel branch of cult films (neo-noirs), features Los Angeles in 2019, as imagined with distinctively Asian characteristics: neon-lit streets, high-rises, and dense, “multicultural”[4] urban publics. The image of Blade Runner presents a “postmodern pastiche”, as both Bruno (1987) and Wong (2000, 98) argue.

Leonard Sanders (2008) attempts to explain the extensive references to the Japanese city, as made in Western cyberpunk fiction – in films such as Blade Runner or even more literally in, for example, William Gibson’s Neuromancer which is set in the Chiba Prefecture (an industrial area near Tokyo). First of all, he alludes to the Western exoticisation of Japan and to the existing admiration for Japanese aesthetics (e.g. tea ceremonies, geishas) and martial arts (e.g. judo, karate) (Sanders 2008, 29). That is, specifically in the New Wave movement, Asia was “re-signified” following the inward look of the New Wave science fiction movement and its fascination with the spiritual side of Asian culture Star Wars’ Jedi tradition being the most obvious example (Goto-Jones 2008, 14-15). Yet, the reason for cyberpunk to be this involved with Japan has also to do with the rise of Japan as an economic force, which was specifically apparent in the 1980s and 1990s. As Goto-Jones (2008, 15) puts it, “Japan was no longer merely science fictional, Japan had become the future itself”.

Sanders argues that the American (Western) imagination about Japanese urbanity can be understood as what he calls “postmodern orientalism” (Sanders 2008, ii) or “techno-orientalism” (Sanders 2008, 237). The imagination about a technologically advanced yet dystopian Japanese city is a response to the economic crises of the 1980s in the West, as well as a realisation that the world may be moving towards a “Japanese future” (Sanders 2008, 237). While Japan was no longer a military threat to the West (post-WWII), this imagination was not so much based on anxiety, but rather on a certain form of excitement. Or, as Goto-Jones (2008, 14) argues, the Western (specifically European) view of the Japanese future was informed by an earlier romantic mystery that came with the place.[5]

Besides imaginations about distinctively Japanese futurism, or Japan-inspired representations of near-future cityscapes, Hong Kong is the other place that has triggered imaginations of dystopian futures for decades. The impression of Neuromancer’s Chiba that Barclay Shaw, the illustrator of the Phantasia Press edition (1986) of William Gibson’s book, gave is not quite what a future Japanese street scene would look like. Instead, it features a fragment of an urban space that has a significant Hong Kong “feel” (Wong 2004, 98). Since, myriad Hollywood films have also taken Hong Kong as a source of inspiration for their representations of dystopia or as settings for significantly dystopian events – some recent ones being Pacific Rim (2013) and Doctor Strange (2016).

At this point, it may be clear that the urban aesthetic of cyberpunk films is often informed by particularly Asian or, to be more precise, East-Asian characteristics. Yet, as Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell proves, such imaginations are not one-directional (e.g. a Western gaze onto the East). As we will elaborate in the next section, Japanese cyberpunk was also fascinated by Asian urbanity, specifically by the densely populated Chinese enclave called the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, which was demolished in the early 1990s. This is to say that Japan is not only “science fictional” (i.e. inspiring Western science fiction), it has its own science fiction tradition with its heydays in the 1970s and 1980s (Goto-Jones 2008, 15). This Japanese tradition is particularly open to diverse media forms that can carry the narratives – it has embraced the “convergence culture”, Ghost in the Shell’s diverse adaptations being an example of this (Goto-Jones 2008, 15).

Furthermore, in its fantasy about Hong Kong’s urbanity, Japanese cyberpunk can be seen to have adapted to another kind of Orientalist perspective (Sanders 2008, 247). More specifically, as Sanders argues, inspired by Edward Said’s (1994) view of empire, the Kowloon Walled City forms “an unparalleled (and unforgettable) example of the geography of empire and the many-sided imperial experience that created its fundamental texture” (Sanders 2008, 248). With texture, he means, both Hong Kong as the British saw it and the circumstance that allowed the enclave to emerge and sustain. The Kowloon Walled City became a site for interaction between “imperialising Europe” and the “imperialised other world” (Sanders 2008, 248).

Postmodernism and Hong Kong Urban Space

Despite there being significant differences between the kind of cyberpunk fiction that was produced in the West and in Japan in the 1980s and the 1990s (differences in plotlines, audiences, and socio-cultural movements), cyberpunk and its intertextuality could be understood as a transnational conversation under the socio-political conditions of its time. The apparent connectedness of that time, and the mediated society that it implied, invited critiques of postmodern existence and initiated questions about the meanings of relations between people and between people and machines (i.e. biotechnology). Yet, cyberpunk could also be understood as a movement that thrived on the possibility of connectedness (of being connected) that had become so apparent at the end of the twentieth century. As Fredric Jameson argued, the genre is the “supreme literary expression if not of postmodernism, then of late capitalism itself” (Jameson 1991, 419). Japan, in this story, is precisely that – a “postmodern scene, a global array of disjunctive flows” (Sanders 2008, 4).

Japanese scholar and critic Takayuki Tatsumi observed that specifically in the late 1990s, both American and Japanese cultures came to new conversations not only between outlooks and belief systems, but also between “the science-fictional Japan of the American imagination and Japanese science fiction itself” (Tatsumi 2006, 176). In this conversation between Western – particularly American – culture and that of Japan, American imaginations about Japan (and Asian urbanity) interact with (and, at times, inspire) Japanese representations. Tatsumi considers this conversation to be one between Orientalist and Occidentalist views of Japanese and American cultures and aesthetics (Tatsumi 2009, 318).

The mise-en-scène of Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell however suggests also another kind of orientalising. It presents a highly aesthetic interpretation of the urban spaces of Hong Kong – an interpretation that is for an important part informed by the form and circumstance of the earlier mentioned Kowloon Walled City (Image 1). The Kowloon Walled City, demolished in 1993, was a patch of urban space within the territory of Hong Kong, that was kept as a mainland Chinese enclave during Hong Kong’s colonial days. It was a notorious and hyper-dense hybrid space with its own rules; a space of anarchy where everything was possible – trade, gambling, etc. Regardless of its disappearance (or possibly partly induced by it), the Kowloon Walled City has left an “affective imprint” as it became the subject of – or inspiration for – among other cultural products, Japanese manga and anime (Fraser and Li 2017, 218).

Image 1. “The Kowloon Walled City” by Dan Jacobson (under CC BY-SA licensing).

The Kowloon Walled City became subject to filmic exploration at a moment in history when anxiety in the context of postmodernism and late capitalism was specifically prevalent (Fraser & Li 2017, 225). It has indeed been a source of inspiration for a range of Japanese manga and anime fiction – among which, for instance, Tsubasa: Rezaboa Kuronikuru (2003-2009) and Kindaichi Case Files, Hong Kong Kowloon Treasure Murder Case (2012). The creative production and the consumption of such imaginations seems to manifest an “Orientalist fantasy” (Ng 2015, 145 in Fraser & Li 2017, 225) that is apparent in both Japanese cyberpunk fiction, and in cyberpunk as produced in America and in the West more generally.

Furthermore, in light of Bruno’s (1987, 64-67) argument about postindustrial decay and the related radical eclecticism that celebrates “the society of the spectacle” (Debord 1983), it can be argued that the reproduction of the Kowloon Walled City in Japanese cyberpunk fiction is precisely the kind of recycling of otherwise obsolete urban details (rather, of urban details that have previously been rendered redundant) that produces its postmodern aesthetic.

A City, a Shell, a Soul?

The latest Ghost in the Shell adaptation can be understood to have come full circle – via Blade Runner, Shirow’s manga, and most importantly Oshii’s anime, which has to an extent been visually influenced by Blade Runner (2017) – in its portrayal of a future city that is both inspired by earlier cyberpunk work (that took inspiration from Hong Kong), and by Hong Kong’s cityscape as we know it today. These inspirations and interactions, further, work between Japanese and Western visions and narratives, as well as interpretations of urban settings. Where Oshii’s anime was merely inspired by Hong Kong’s urbanity and its significant architectural configuration, the American adaptation has interpreted the anime towards a blockbuster film that does more than simply reference Hong Kong.

Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell “inserts” fragments of the actual city into the story of Ghost in the Shell – however not before the necessary post-productive treatment. In its search for “real” locations in Hong Kong, the adaptation can be seen to superimpose an imagined Hong Kong onto the actual cityscape. Yet, at the same time, it can also be seen to have laid images of Hong Kong’s city- and streetscapes over Oshii’s anime. As explained in Baudrillard’s (1983, 1) words, Hong Kong has become the simulacrum. As the real and the simulation are no longer binary oppositions in the context of the postmodern city, the city of the postindustrial society is a city that is a spectacle of recycled urban fragments – a spectacle that projects a city.

The second scene of the film establishes this in a long shot that takes the audience along a “holographic neon-lit”[6] cityscape that ends at the film’s Major character standing on top of a building, looking down at the city below. The city features a spectacle, a landscape of skyscrapers decorated with holographic advertisements that form a dynamic composition of blue-, green-, and red-tinted hues. Lights cast over the otherwise dark buildings. A landscape of verticality presents neon colours that match the usual impression one has (or is given) of Hong Kong’s cityscape and its patchwork of neon signs. In the distance, one building boasts a stylised five-petal Hong Kong orchid tree flower – the flower that features on Hong Kong’s flag. Certainly, this scene – with its long flyover aerial establishing shot – presents the spectacle of Hong Kong and of the film itself – giving away clues that Bruno (1987, 66) might call recycled images. The scene presents both the film and the city in which it is set as an intertextual complex: a pastiche.

With the establishment of the location, the next scene addresses the possibility of cyber enhancement in humans. It features a banquet for the President of the African Federation, organised by corporation Hanka Robotics. The conversation at the banquet engages different opinions about cyber enhancement to which an important comment is made about what is “real” and pure in this context. It introduces the audience to the existential question the story of Ghost in the Shell evolves around – between soul and body – namely, “what it means to be human.”[7] This scene is the first of many scenes in which questions of the “real” are explored in terms of human existence, however let us emphasise again that these questions are woven into the fabric of the postmodern city, the city that is in itself a copy of sorts – a patchwork of references.

At the end of the scene, it is made clear that the Major character is the one struggling most with this question of soul and body, which also explains the opening scene of the film. In this scene, we see her wake up to a voice that tells her that her human body had died but that her “ghost” was saved and given a new “shell”. What is interesting about the portrayal of loneliness that seems to come with such bioengineered existence, is the aesthetic connection that is made between the Major’s being inside a cybernetic body and the urban landscape in which she operates as an agent fighting crime.

The cybernetic body – the artificial body – is in a way just like (or part of) the city in the background. It is a shell – a reference to a (human) body – while the postmodern city is at the same time a reference to a city and therefore a shell. The city is a shell that is constructed through intertextual references that are, to a significant extent, digital in nature. This connection between the cybernetic body and the urban environment in which it operates is made particularly apparent in the transition from the second scene into the third. Here, the Major has realised that an attack is about to take place at the Hanka Robotics banquet. The fastest way for her to get from the top of the building to the banquet hall is by travelling through the digital spaces of the city. She dives down from the building into the data structure of the city – she becomes one with the city, her ghost is encapsulated by it. The Major exists for a short while merely in the city’s cyberspace, emerging again from a wall-length screen at the site of the attack, to help keep casualties to a minimum.

The scene following the banquet attack is one of many that makes the connection between the cybernetic body and the “shell” of the city visually explicit. In this scene, the Major is back in what seems to be her room. She is resting (for as far as cyborg bodies need resting) and as the camera moves further away from her, the window above her bed emerges and allows a view of the city she lives in – an anonymous urban image featuring particular verticality. The Major is positioned in the middle of the screen – on her own – against a backdrop of the city. Indeed, the urban landscape mirrors the shell of the cybernetic body. It forms an urban shell that is seemingly soulless. Yet, it is also a familiar place and therefore potentially a place with a soul.

Returning to the idea of loneliness – the kind that the Major seems to be experiencing when considering her existence as something potentially other than human – she does not seem to seek closeness to others. She does seek physical closeness to people in an attempt to understand how their bodies differ from hers. However, even the person who knows her best – her partner Batou who went through cyber enhancement himself, after he had got injured in an explosion – struggles to be close to her. His cyber enhancement involved the fixing of a new pair of eyes, which allowed him to “see like her”. Yet, the Major seems to carry the burden of the existential question of what it means to be human entirely on her own.

Regardless of the implied sense of loneliness, the Major seems only “at peace” when she is truly alone; when she is away from people and data streams. She is “at peace” when she is away from the city; when she does not need to think about her own existence. In Osshi’s anime as well as in the American remake, there is one place where the Major can find this kind of quiet. She spends time under water, away from cyber noise and away from people. She makes deep dives which – as a dialogue between her and Batou in Oshii’s anime explains – make her feel anxious and lonely but hopeful as well. Specifically, in that brief moment when she comes back up, approaching the surface, she feels like she could transform into something different: a reference to a possible rebirth, or hopes thereof. Precisely this capacity to be hopeful might make the Major most human. In the absence of the city, hope for “real” existence seems to be able to exist. Once resurfaced, however, the postmodern city features again in the background. “Reality” kicks in. The simulacrum is the real.

In the American remake, the postmodern city as seen from the water is most certainly a reference to the all too familiar Hong Kong skyline. In Osshi’s anime, it is a similar skyline of a similar city. The city is a simulacrum both at the level of the streets – in the urban details interpreted from the Kowloon Walled City via Osshi’s anime through to Sanders’ remake – and at the level of the skyline.

Perspectives and Souls

Other wide-panning shots of the cityscape hint at similar ideas about the connection between city and shell and city and soul. The shots do so as the skyscrapers they capture feature building-high projections of human and cyborg figures. The “screenscape” can be understood in two ways. On the one hand, it is as though the projections on the buildings suggest that the shell of the city may be more than just a shell: a body with a soul (if not a human soul, then a “cybersoul”). On the other, it may be articulating the exact opposite, namely that everything in the city of the future is a projection: a spectacular place without a soul.

At the street level, the typical chaos presents itself with illegal sellers of sorts chasing after potential buyers, advertisements flashing by, stray dogs living in alleyways. The atmosphere of these streets and the adjacent indoor spaces the streets give access to (grim nightclubs, brothels) is perhaps closest to what one would imagine the Kowloon Walled City was like. Oshii’s anime gives at a certain moment in the film a minutes-long impression of the chaos of the city from the level of the streets (which are in Oshii’s version waterways). This is one of the most remarkable scenes in the anime, however the American adaptation has not quite adapted this in the same way.

What Sanders’ adaptation instead emphasises is a series of recurring bird’s-eye view shots of the city. These are shots similar to the long shot at the beginning, revealing fragments of the city’s network of roads and flyovers, surrounded by holographic advertisements projected on and between buildings. It appears that the city of Ghost in the Shell (2017) is best presented in this way – somewhere between street level and rooftops. Architects Adam Frampton, Jonathan D. Solomon, and Clara Wong came to a similar observation about Hong Kong some years ago whilst living in the city. They published a book titled Cities Without Ground: a Hong Kong Guidebook (2012) in which they present Hong Kong as existing above- and underground. They argue that Hong Kong is a city without ground as the density of its urban centres has made it necessary to build roads and pedestrian infrastructures in the air and underground.

Whilst the authors map out the ways in which public and private spaces in Hong Kong are connected via networks of pedestrian walkways that lead people from shopping malls to train stations without ever needing to set foot on the ground, we prefer to interpret their claim – rather, borrow their idea – about “Hong Kong without ground” in relation to the city’s significant verticality. Life happens vertically in the city that tops the list of cities with most skyscrapers. Further, verticality speaks to everyone’s imagination just like it did to comics artists O’Bannon and Giraud when they created The Long Tomorrow (1975) or to Fritz Lang for that matter, and to his screenwriter Thea von Harbou, when they realised Metropolis (1927). Indeed, the vertical city is a pastiche. It occurred and reoccurred ever since the very first science fiction works.

Cyberpunk worlds are vertical and stories play out both underground, in the air, and also on rooftops. Myriad scenes in cyberpunk films have important events happen on rooftops – Blade Runner’s infamous final scene included. Rooftops are also places for vulnerable moments. The new Blade Runner 2049 includes a love scene between replicant K and holographic avatar Joi, which plays out on a rooftop (against a backdrop of urban verticality). Further, besides the second scene of Ghost in the Shell (2017) in which the Major is scanning the city for cybercrimes, there is a rooftop scene with Batou whom is supposedly enjoying a beer on a quiet night, accompanied by a street dog that he has befriended.

Chow and De Kloet (2013, 140) in their reading of rooftops in Hong Kong films, argue that in the vertical city of Hong Kong rooftops are places where characters come to terms with themselves and with the urban space in which they find themselves. Drawing from Lindner (2011), they further suggest that alienation and detachment are far more severely experienced in big metropolises. Rooftops, then, are places that “connect the materiality of global capitalism with embeddedness in a local environment” (Chow and De Kloet 2013, 142-143). Transferring this idea to the cyberpunk city and to the Major on top of that building, she is quite literally connecting with both the materiality as well as the local environment of the city below. Batou, on his rooftop, projects an entirely different experience of “connecting” as he is both in touch with the materiality of the postmodern city (the physical rooftop) and connected with the stray dog from the alley – the local environment.

Verticality gives a city a body (a shell). It provides an urban shell for projection. Yet, it also allows a city a soul – on rooftops or in moments of human interaction. In other words, it allows spaces for encounters, such as on rooftops – encounters that do not need to be violent. Rooftops allow distance and connection. They allow a special kind of vantage point where one can be both in the city and looking at it. They provide perspectives of spectacles and inner selves: reflection.

The Cinematic City

“You’re what everyone will become one day”, this is what the Major is told in a moment of doubt. The first of her kind (at least that is what she has been told), the Major is a success story of biotechnology – an operative ghost inside a shell. If the cybernetic body, the shell, is like the city. And if the intention is indeed to reproduce this body and the related technology, i.e. “You’re what everyone will become one day”, then the body and the city are both the simulacrum. There is no original.

We have elaborated an inquiry into imaginations and images of Hong Kong as a cinematic city in the context of cyberpunk film – a postmodern city which spectacular visuality is repeatedly re-presented in cyberpunk cinema and specifically in Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell. In this film of our focus, the city is not just a representation of urban fragments or – in Bruno’s words – recycled images. Instead, it is reframed as “a body with a ghost” as it is connected to the Major’s quest to finding meaning to her being or not being human. In cyberpunk film, the city is reframed as a shell patched with lights and shadows – with intertextual references, recycled meanings – encapsulating the soul (or what is left of it) of a place.

David Clarke (1997) suggests that cinematic representation influences how a city is understood in the minds of people. Certainly, Hong Kong comes with a certain aesthetic meaning that film (specifically cyberpunk film) has attached to it. The new adaptation of Ghost in the Shell only confirms this, precisely because it has both taken inspiration from previous imaginings of Hong Kong and from the city itself. If the Major is what everyone will become one day – a ghost in a shell – Hong Kong may be approached in a similar way. Hong Kong is the dystopian film of the future – it has long become a cinematic city, a simulacrum – a screenscape. The future city then finds both resemblance and misconception in the everyday experience of Hong Kong as a “shell” that is both familiar and unfamiliar (Abbas 1997).

Ghost in the Shell is a story about spectacle and contemporary urban experience. Its latest adaptation has proven more than any other cyberpunk film that there is both recognition and distance, anxiety and resemblance, spectacle and little moments of loneliness: the city as simulacrum still beholds some elements of familiarity in experience. Precisely in, or due to, the spectacle of the postmodern city, Hong Kong as one of the Asian cities cyberpunk film has taken reference from, is both familiar (a ghost) and unfamiliar (a shell). Hong Kong is familiar and unfamiliar in its spectacle of verticality and neon-lit façades, in its significant decay, in its concern with the real, in its use of rooftops, and in its lack of ground. Rather, the postmodern city in Sanders’ remake of Ghost in the Shell can be recognised as Hong Kong precisely because of the elements of spectacle and their relation to those little moments when the spectacle exists at a distance – when we as an audience “see” the Major; when we tend to see something more than just a façade – a ghost (soul).


All links verified 20 May 2018.


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Tatsumi, Takayuki. 2006. Full Metal Apache: Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America. Durham: Duke University Press.

Wong, Kin Yuen. 2000. “On the Edge of Spaces: Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and Hong Kong’s Cityscape,” Science Fiction Studies 27 (1): 1–21.


[1] Ackbar Abbas (1997: 78) argues that “changing cities produce many sights that are unfamiliar”. Taking on a visual perspective of changing cities, however, he sees also an “unfamiliar in the familiar”; an unfamiliar that quickly becomes familiar due to a continuous replay of imagery of the city. Abbas calls this situation a déjà disparu (not a déjà vu) where the “televisual” seems to overtake all other ways in which we might formerly have been able to look at the city. We take this line of thought to connect to what we will later address, following Bruno (1989), as the pastiche of the postindustrial city–a spectacle of recycled fragments.

[2] Also British actor Lennie James–an actor with African-Trinidadian roots–and Somali-American actor Barkhad Abdi make an appearances in the film, playing secondary parts.

[3] There have been more interpretations of the manga, among which two TV series and video games.

[4] “Multicultural” however with a noticeable choice for white (male) characters.

[5] Also earlier on in the 20th Century had Japan been an inspiring and somehow mystical place that was represented in Western fiction (Goto-Jones 2018, 14).

[6] The image appears neon-lit in that diverse neon colours cast their hues over surrounding buildings, yet neon technology has been replaced with a digital variant which makes a clear reference to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982).

[7] Where the manga and the anime have presented this question in a much more complex manner, the American adaptation of the story has set the tone for simplicity right at the start of the film. We do not want to project any opinions about this in our article. For a critique of the film’s plotline, we refer you to the many film reviews that can be found online.

1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

Pienoismalli menetetyn kaupunkimaiseman kuvitelmana – Kulttuurinen elinkaarianalyysi Viipurin pienoismallista

elinkaarianalyysi, historiakulttuuri, kaupunkimaisema, pienoismalli, rekonstruktio, representaatio, toinen maailmansota, tuhot

Simo Laakkonen
simo.laakkonen [a] utu.fi
VTT, maisemantutkimuksen yliopistonlehtori
Turun yliopisto

Susanna Siro
susanna.siro [a] utu.fi
FM, tohtorikoulutettava
Turun yliopisto

Viittaaminen / How to cite: Laakkonen, Simo, ja Susanna Siro 2018. ”Pienoismalli menetetyn kaupunkimaiseman kuvitelmana – Kulttuurinen elinkaarianalyysi Viipurin pienoismallista”. WiderScreen 21 (1-2). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2018-1-2/pienoismalli-menetetyn-kaupunkimaiseman-kuvitelmana-kulttuurinen-elinkaarianalyysi-viipurin-pienoismallista/

Tulostettava PDF-versio

Yhteiskunnallisen todellisuuden makrotaso – kutsutaan sitä sitten maailmaksi tai yhteiskunnaksi – on pitkälti rakennettu erilaisten mahdollisia tulevaisuuksia kuvittelevien mallinnosten, kuten pienoismallien, mikromaailmojen avulla. Vastaavasti mahdollisia menneitä todellisuuksia, historiallisia makromaailmoja, hahmotellaan rakentamalla mallien avulla mikromaailmoja. Tässä artikkelissa suuntaamme huomion mikromaailman ja makromaailman väliseen vuorovaikutussuhteeseen kadonneiden kaupunkimaisemien näkökulmasta. Selvitämme tapaustutkimuksen avulla, miten (ja kenties miksi) menetettyä ympäristöä esittäviä pienoismalleja rakennetaan. Kehitimme pienoismallien taustalla olevan monivaiheisen ja -tahoisen prosessin erittelemiseksi menetelmän, jota kutsumme kulttuuriseksi elinkaarianalyysiksi. Menetelmä sisältää viisi vaihetta: kaupungin historian rekonstruktion, ideologisen rekonstruktion, materiaaliskulttuurisen rekonstruktion, rekonstruktion tilassa, ja pienoismallin kokemisen rekonstruktion. Empiirisenä kohteenamme on Viipurin kaupunkia kuvaava pienoismalli.


Kaupungit ovat olleet pitkään tarinankerronnan keskeisiä kohteita ja näyttämöitä. Tässä artikkelissa tarkastelemme aivan erityistä kaupungin esittämisen kulttuurista muotoa – historiallista kaupunkipienoismallia – käyttäen esimerkkinämme Viipuria, kaupunkia, josta sinänsä on kerrottu ja kirjoitettu lukemattomia tarinoita. Huomiomme varsinainen kohde on se monipolvinen tapahtumaketju, jossa menetettyä kaupunkimaisemaa esittävä historiallinen pienoismalli toteutetaan. Kyse on yrityksestä saada ote kaupunkimenneisyyden kuvittelemisesta ja siihen liittyvistä vallan vaikutuskanavista.

Viipurista tuli toisen maailmasodan jälkeen Suomen ristiriitaisin ja traagisin ylirajainen kuviteltu kaupunki. Viipurin entisille asukkaille siitä tuli sekä Stalinin tuhoama ja neuvostodiktatuurin runtelema dystopia että sotaa edeltäneen arjen muistojen kultaama, rautaesiripun taakse jäänyt saavuttamaton utopia. Myös Viipurin uusille asukkaille, maaseudulta pakkosiirretyille venäläisille, kaupungista muodostui utopia ja dystopia. Heillekin sotaa edeltänyt vauras, vapaa ja länsimaalainen Viipuri oli saavuttamaton urbaani utopia. Uusi elinympäristö, sodan raunioittama Vyborg, puolestaan oli dystopia suhteessa omiin menetettyihin kotiseutuihin, joita moni kaupunkiin siirretty muisteli nostalgian kultareunuksin (Tuominen 2009). Sekä kaupunkina että siitä tehtynä pienoismallina Viipuri symboloi sodassa menetettyjä maisemia niin idässä kuin lännessä.

Kaupunkien historiallisten pienoismallien erityisluonteen ymmärtämiseksi ne on syytä nähdä osana pienoismallien laajempaa kenttää. Pienoismalleilla tarkoitetaan yleensä todellisesta tai suunnitellusta kohteesta tehtyä pienempimittakaavaista mallia. Kulttuureiden historiassa pienoismalleja on kautta aikain käytetty asioiden opetteluun, esittämiseen, kehittämiseen ja koristetarkoituksiin (Lampinen 1995, 7; Hyötyniemi 1996, johdanto). Kysymykseen, mitkä varsinaisesti ovat pienoismalleja ja mitkä eivät, ei kuitenkaan ole yksiselitteistä vastausta. Pienoismallien historia on pitkä, ja sen alkupiste ulottuu ihmislajin kehityksen alkuhämärään.

Parhaiten tunnettu pienoismallien lajityyppi lienevät leikkikaluina käytetyt pienoismallit, ja siksi käytämme niitä tässä johdannossa esimerkkinä pienoismallien kehityksestä.

Ensimmäiset leluiksi valmistetut kaarnalaivat, käpylehmät, hiekkalinnat ja kivikirveet olivat kenties enemmänkin toiminnan kohde kuin jäljittelivät näöllisesti esikuviaan. Varhaisimpina säilyneinä pienoismalleina mainitaan yleensä egyptiläisten hautoihin asettamat pienet laivat sekä ihmis- ja eläinhahmot. Antiikin aikana valettiin pieniä ihmishahmoja tinasta ja lyijystä leikkikaluiksi. Suurempien figuuriarmeijoiden keräily oli aluksi aatelin huvia. Suuren yleisön harrastus alkoi tinasotilaista (Nyyssönen 2011, 13). Leikkikaluvalmistaja Märklin (perustettu 1859) ja Fleischmann (1887) erikoistuivat korkealaatuisten teknisten pienoismallien valmistamiseen. Vähitellen teollisia rakennussarjoja valmistettiin sotilas- ja rautatiekaluston lisäksi autoista, lentokoneista ja nukkekodeista. Valmistusmateriaaleina oli puun, pahvin ja metallin lisäksi bakeliitti. Muoviteollisuuden kehitys toi valmiit rakennussarjat markkinoille 1930-luvulla Englannissa ja Yhdysvalloissa, mikä moninkertaisti harrastajamäärät. Frog (1932), Airfix (1939) ja Revell (1945) erikoistuivat muovisiin pienoismallisarjoihin, ja varsinainen massatuotanto alkoi 1950-luvulla, kun bakeliitti korvattiin polystyreenillä (Lines & Hellström 1989). Tietokonepelien tulo markkinoille alkoi vähentää fyysisten pienoismallien rakentamista 1980-luvulla, ja osa rakentamisesta muuttui digitaaliseksi (Longman 2003). Lelut ovat silti nykyäänkin pääsääntöisesti miniatyyrejä eli ilman mittakaavaa rakennettuja malleja jostakin, vaikka niitä ei markkinoida sellaisina. Varsinaiset pienoismallilelut ja -rakennussarjat ovat myynnissä usein erikseen.

Pienoismalleja on käytetty leikkikaluina ja koristeina mutta myös eri alojen ammattilaisten työvälineinä. Teollisen aikakauden pienoismallit saattoivat olla huomattavan pieniä tai suuria.[1] Ne voivat olla yksinkertaisia tai sisältää hyvinkin kehittynyttä teknologiaa. Rakentamisessa, arkkitehtuurissa ja kaupunkisuunnittelussa pienoismalleja on hyödynnetty jo pitkään tulevaisuuden talojen, kortteleiden ja kaupunkien kuvitelmina. Arkielämässä pienoismalleja voidaan käyttää erikoisryhmien apuvälineinä. Viihdeteollisuudessa niillä tuotetaan erilaisia efektejä. Tieteellisteknisessä simuloinnissa, esimerkiksi laivanrakennuksessa, pienoismalleilla on vankka asema. Erilaisissa siviiliviranomaisten ja sotilaiden kehitysprojekteissa hyödynnetään niin maaston kuin erillisten kohteiden pienoismalleja. Robottien laajeneva käyttö 2000-luvulla on avannut aivan uusia näköaloja pienoismallien tai pikemminkin miniatyyrien kehittämiseen monella eri alalla teollisuusroboteista ja kotitalouksien robotti-imureista kuvauskoptereihin.

Erilaisten mallinnosten ja nimenomaisesti pienoismallien laajassa ja kirjavassa kentässä yksi erityinen pienoismallien tyyppi ovat museoiden historialliset pienoismallit. Kaupunkien menneisyyttä kuvaavilla pienoismalleilla on laaja yleisö ympäri maailmaa. Historiallisten kaupunkipienoismallien taustaa, niiden rakentamista ja merkityksiä on yhteiskuntatieteellisessä ja humanistisessa tutkimuksessa kuitenkin pohdittu vähän. Artikkelimme vahvistaa tämän alueen tutkimusta kohdistamalla huomion menetettyä maisemaa esittäviin kaupunkipienoismalleihin. Esimerkkinä käytämme Viipurin kaupungin historiallista pienoismallia.

Kun useimmat pienoismallit kuvastavat pääasiassa nykyisyyttä tai mahdollisia tulevia rakennuksia tai maisemia, museoissa näytteillä olevat pienoismallit esittävät joko osaksi tai kokonaan kadonneita rakennelmia ja/tai maisemia. Keskitymme artikkelissa Viipurin menetettyä kaupunkimaisemaa esittävään pienoismalliin ensiksikin kysymällä: Millaisissa prosesseissa historiallista menetettyä maisemaa esittävä kaupunkipienoismalli on rakentunut alkuperäisestä ideasta näyttelyesineeksi ja museovieraan koettavaksi? Toiseksi pohdimme, miksi menetettyä maisemaa esittäviä kaupunkipienoismalleja rakennetaan, ja mikä niissä mahdollisesti kiinnostaa. Mistä pienoismallien katsojissaan herättämä viehätys tai jopa lumo ehkä johtuu? Entä mitä niin historialliset kaupunkimallit kuin niiden viehätysvoima kertovat kaupungin muistamisesta ja kuvittelemisesta?

Todettakoon, että niin nykyinen kuin historiallinen pienoismallimaailma on hyvin monimuotoinen, ja suuntaa antavankin kuvan muodostaminen sitä koskevasta tutkimuskentästä ei ole yksinkertaista. Kaiken kaikkiaan pienoismalleja esittelevä kirjallisuus on teknisesti suuntautunutta: kirjallisuudessa käydään yleisellä tasolla läpi mallien rakentamisen historiaa, mallintamisen teoreettista taustaa sekä rakentamisen teknisiä haasteita. Julkaisuissa esitellään erilaiset mittakaavat ja niiden merkitys mallille, vaihtoehtoiset valumallit, visualisointitavat, pienoismallikuvaus, pienoiskorkokuvat (pienoismalli, joka esittää maastonmuotoja), maisemapienoismallit, virtaus- ja tuulisuusmallit ja lukuisat muut erilaiset mallityypit. Valtaosa eri maista saatavasta kirjallisuudesta on pienoismallien rakentamisoppaita (ks. esim. de Chadarevian & Hopwood 2004; Czére 1971, 232; Heinonen 1993; Jetsonen 2001; King 1996; Knoll, Hechinger, Heyer 2006; Lampinen ym. 1995: Morris 2006; Nyyssönen 2007; Pedersen 1996).

Pienoismalleja teknisellä tasolla tarkastelevat teokset sivuavat kaupunkeja, niiden monimuotoisuutta ja historiaa vain etäisesti. Varsinaista tutkimustietoa kaupunkien historiallisista pienoismalleista ei kirjallisuudesta löytynyt. Myöskään varsinaista tutkimusteemaamme, kadonneita kaupunkimaisemia rekonstruoivia pienoismalleja ja niiden kehityshistoriaa käsittelevää kansallista tai kansainvälistä tutkimusta ei käytännössä löytynyt lainkaan. Historialliset kaupunkipienoismallit tuntuvatkin siten olevan uusi ulottuvuus, lähes kartoittamaton alue ihmistieteellisessä tutkimuksessa.

Kohti kulttuurista elinkaarianalyysia

Yksi henkilö pystyy yleensä tekemään omin voimin vaivatta maalauksia, pienikokoisia patsaita tai muita taideteoksia. Suurten töiden aikaan saaminen vaatii kuitenkin usein pitkällistä ja useita vaiheita sisältävää yhteistyötä eri toimijoiden välillä. Pienoismallin synty on usein tällainen pitkä ja monivaiheinen prosessi, ja yleistasoisenkin otteen saaminen siitä on huomattavan hankalaa. Tutkimuksemme alkuvaiheessa erotimme kaupunkipienoismallin kehityskaaressa yksitoista eri vaihetta, joista jokaiseen osallistuu erilaisia toimijoita. Mutta miten lähestyä ja ymmärtää pienoismallin rakentamisen ainutkertaista ja luovaa prosessia lähemmin?

Yhden luontevan metodologisen lähtökohdan kaupunkipienoismallienkin tarkasteluun tarjoaa materiaalisen kulttuurin tutkimus. Se kiinnittää keskeistä huomiota esineiden ”elämäkertaan” tunnistaen niin eliöillä kuin esineillä vertauskuvallisesti omat elämänkaarensa, johon sisältyy potentiaalisesti monia erilaisia toimintoja ja merkityksiä (Appadurai 1986; Marshall & Gosden 1999). Materiaalisen kulttuurin tutkimuksen kentällä on erilaisia lähestymistapoja, kuten antropologi Igor Kopytoffin (1986) esineiden kollektiivisen kaupallistamisen malli tai sosiologi Paul du Gayn ja kumppaneiden (du Gay ym. 1997) esineiden kuluttamisen kulttuurisen vuorovaikutuksen malli. Siinä missä huomattava osa esineiden elämäkertojen tutkimuksesta on painottanut kulutustavaroiden symboliikkaa, representaatioita ja merkityksenantoprosesseja (ks. McCracken 1986; Löfgren 1997), esimerkiksi arkeologit Vesa-Pekka Herva ja Risto Nurmi (2009, 159) ovat tarkastelleet puolestaan aineellisten jäänteiden materiaalisia ominaisuuksia ja käyttötarkoituksia arjessa.

Vaikka materiaalisen kulttuurin tutkimus auttaa historiallisten kaupunkipienoismallien aineellisen luonteen hahmottamisessa, se ei tunnu jäsentävän tämän erityisen ja epäkaupallisen esineen ainutkertaista tuotanto- ja käyttöprosessia riittävän selväpiirteisesti. Menetelmällisesti materiaalisen kulttuurin tutkimuksen lähestymistavat painottuvat usein jonkin tietyn näkökulman tai joidenkin vaiheiden ”tiheään” tarkasteluun, eivät niinkään esineiden koko elämänkaaren kuvaukseen (ks. Hicks & Beaudry 2010). Ajan huomioon ottaminen on kuitenkin oleellista esineiden kulttuurisen dynamiikan ymmärtämiseksi (Macken 2015). Saadaksemme oman tarkastelumme kohteena olevan pienoismallin aineellisesta ja aineettomasta elinkaaresta sekä kokonaisvaltaisen että analyyttisen otteen sisällytimme teoreettiseen pohdintaan myös luonnontieteellistekniset elinkaarianalyysit. Niiden avulla arvioidaan tietyn tuotteen, prosessin tai toiminnon aiheuttamia vaikutuksia yhteiskuntaan ja/tai ympäristöön sen koko elinkaaren kuluessa (ks. esim. Guinée ym. 1993, 2011). Yhdistämällä humanistisen tutkimusotteen luovuutta ja luonnontieteellisteknisen elinkaarianalyysin eksaktimpaa jäsentämistapaa kehitimme historiallisten kaupunkipienoismallien tutkimiseen analyysimenetelmän, jota kutsumme kulttuuriseksi elinkaarianalyysiksi.

Kuten termi kulttuurinen elinkaarianalyysi jo itsessään kertoo, siinä tarkastelun kohteeksi valittu kulttuurinen prosessi pyritään hahmottamaan alusta loppuun. Tämä tapahtuu jakamalla prosessi vaiheisiin, joista jokainen on tutkittavissa sekä erikseen että kokonaisuuden osana. Viipurin historiallisen pienoismallin osalta pelkistimme alunperin yksitoistaosaisen elinkaaren viiteen peräkkäiseen vaiheeseen, jotka nimesimme seuraavasti: kaupungin historian rekonstruktio, ideologinen rekonstruktio, materiaaliskulttuurinen rekonstruktio, rekonstruktio tilassa sekä pienoismallin kokemisen rekonstruktio.

Lähtökohtamme on, että analyysissa on hyvä ottaa huomioon kaikki nämä vaiheet, jotta se kattaisi historiallisen pienoismallin kehityksen kokonaisuudessaan, mikä puolestaan mahdollistaa lineaarisen tai pikemminkin syklisen kokonaiskuvan rakentamisen. Hahmottamamme kulttuurinen elinkaari alkaa pienoismallin kulttuurisesta ’raaka-aineesta’ eli sen kohteena olevaa menetettyä kaupunkimaisemaa koskevista yleisistä historiakäsityksistä. Useiden välivaiheiden jälkeen päätepisteenä on valmiin pienoismallin nähneen museovieraan muodostama (ainakin ideaalisesti ajatellen) uusi historiakäsitys, joka vuorostaan päätyy kyseisen kulttuurisen raaka-aineen osaksi. Kulttuurinen elinkaarimalli toisin sanoen kuvaa kulttuurin tietyn osa-alueen materiaalisen ja immateriaalisen uusintamisen kehän tai spiraalin.

Tarkastelumme sateenvarjomainen avaintermi on rekonstruktio. Tarkoitamme sillä yksinkertaistetusti ilmaisten jonkin uudelleen rakennettua versiota, ennallistusta, joka pyrkii olemaan alkuperäisen jäljitelmä, mutta joka perustuu aina historiallisiin lähteisiin esineestä, jota ei sellaisenaan enää ole olemassa (Moilanen 2009). Lähdeaineistoissa saattaa olla puutteita, jolloin rekonstruktion sijaan joudutaan tekemään representaatio, esitys jostakin. Käytännössä rekonstruktio ja representaatio löytyvät muodossa tai toisessa lähes jokaisesta mallin tuottamisen työvaiheesta. Kummankaan termin merkitys tai käyttö ei ole yksiselitteistä. Valitsimme näistä omaksi kattotermiksemme rekonstruktion, koska huomion kohteena on museoesine, joiden tapauksessa käytetään yleisesti termiä rekonstruktio (ks. esim. Turpeinen 2005, 22, 61, 72; myös Aurasmaa 2002, 14,157).

Esittelemme seuraavassa kulttuurisen elinkaarianalyysin viisi päävaihetta yleistasoisesti. Sen jälkeen seuraavassa luvussa siirrymme empiiriseen tapaustutkimukseen.

1. Kaupungin historian rekonstruktiossa on kyse yleisistä historiakäsityksistä suunniteltavan pienoismallin taustalla. Yleiset historiakäsitykset voi jakaa James Dellen (2008) näkemystä muokaten tutkittuihin julkisiin historiaesityksiin, yhteisöjen kokemuksellisiin historiakäsityksiin sekä yleisiin myytteihin. Edward Saidin (2002, 251) mielestä kaikki yleiset historiakäsitykset ovat periaatteellisista eroistaan huolimatta poliittisesti valittuja, muodostettuja ja muunneltuja. Kaupunkia ja sen maisemaa koskevien historiakäsitysten moninaisuus on merkille pantavaa – joskaan kaupunkien pluralismi- eli moninaisuusteorian valossa se ei yllätä (Jordan 1990; Judge 1995, 14-15). Peter Aronssonin (2004, 125-132) mukaan paikallisen historiakulttuurin muotoutumiseen vaikuttavat ensin yksityisten ihmisten kertomukset ja esineet, toiseksi media, tiedotus ja kulutus ja kolmanneksi julkisen vallan historiapolitiikka, koululaitos, korkeakoulut ja kulttuuriperintöinstituutiot. Historia näyttäytyy nykyisyydessä erilaisina historiakulttuurin ulottuvuuksina; immateriaalisesti muistina, kokemuksina ja käytänteinä sekä materiaalisesti hyödykkeinä, esineinä, rakenteina ja maisemina, jotka kaikki ovat osallisia muistamisessa ja unohtamisessa (ks. myös Leone & Little 2004; Jones 2007). Leena Valkeapäätä (2006, 79) lainaten me kaikki tuotamme ja kulutamme historiakulttuuria.

Historiakulttuurin eri muodot vaikuttavat kaupunkipienoismallin taustalla oleviin historiakäsityksiin. Tärkeä teema kulttuureissa yleensä ja siten myös urbaaneissa historiakäsityksissä on elämä ja kuolema: yhtäällä kaupunkien synty ja kehitys, toisaalla niiden taantuminen ja jopa tuho (Jacobs 1961; Mumford 1961; Lawton 1989). Yleensä kaupunkien ja kaupunkimaisemien muutos jaetaan esiteolliseen, teolliseen ja jälkiteolliseen vaiheeseen (esim. Hohenberg & Lees 1985). Toisaalta mittavat luonnon tai ihmisen aiheuttamat onnettomuudet ovat johtaneet kautta aikain kaupunkien häviämiseen joko osittain tai kokonaan. Käytännössä lähes jokaisen kaupungin historiasta löytyy useita kadonneita maisemia, joista olisi ainakin periaatteessa mahdollista tehdä pienoismalli.

2. Ideologisella rekonstruktiolla viittaamme prosessin ulottuvuuteen, johon sisältyvät päätökset siitä, rakennetaanko pienoismalli vai ei. Jos pienoismalli päätetään rakentaa, seuraavat kysymykset koskevat sitä, mistä menetetystä kaupunkimaisemasta malli tehdään, miksi se tehdään juuri siitä, ja millä rahoituksella malli toteutetaan. Poliittinen vallankäyttö hallitsee ideologisen rekonstruktion vaihetta. Jokainen hallinto, oli se sitten demokraattinen tai totalitaarinen, pyrkii jättämään itsestään jälkiä kansakunnan muistiin. Ideologinen rekonstruktio on historiapolitiikkaa, koska pyrkimyksenä on edistää päättäjien näkökulmasta oikeana pidettävää historianäkemystä (ks. Aunesluoma & Kettunen 2008). Se, miten vallanpitäjät tai tietty ryhmä päättää yrittää muokata yhteisön muistia, etenkin niin sanottuja muistin paikkoja (esim. Nora 1989; Peltonen 2003) ja vastaavasti muistamattomuuden paikkoja, herättää lähes aina keskustelua ja synnyttää vastakkainasetteluja (Grönholm 2010, 107). Kyse on vallasta, jonka käsitämme tässä Michel Foucault’ta (1991) seuraten laajasti; valta ei liity ainoastaan virallisiin valtarakennelmiin, vaan se nousee toimijoiden aktiivisuudesta ja käytänteistä, olivat toimijat keitä tai mitä tahansa.

Maisemat ovat yksi monista kulttuurisista rakennelmista ja esityksistä, joiden tuottaminen ja uusintaminen on palvellut kulloistenkin eliittien ja päättäjien intressejä (Cosgrove 1984; Häyrynen 2005, 27). Maisemaa koskevassa historiapolitiikassa fiktiivinen, faktuaalinen ja aktuaalinen lomittuvat. Nykyhetkessä tapahtuva politikoiminen, menneisyyden selittäminen sekä tulevaisuuteen vaikuttaminen nivoutuvat toisiinsa saumattomasti (Tilli 2009, 280-281). Lisäksi historialliset kaupunkipienoismallit ovat myös monumentteja, suuren yleisön nähtäväksi tehtyjä kolmiulotteisia teoksia, joilla halutaan tuoda esille jotakin tiettyä kadotettua maisemaa. Jokainen pienoismalli on aina ideologisten valintojen tulos.

3. Materiaaliskulttuurinen rekonstruktio koskee kaupunkipienoismallin suunnittelussa tarvittavaa taustatyötä ja lähdeaineistoja sekä rakentamisessa käytettäviä menetelmiä ja materiaaleja. Taustaselvitys kohdistuu asioihin, jotka ovat olennaisia mallintamistyön etenemisen ja lopputuloksen vakuuttavuuden kannalta. Selvityksen kohteena ovat maisema- ja kaupunkisuunnittelua sekä arkkitehtuuria esittelevät kirjat, lehtiartikkelit, valokuvat, filmit ja asiantuntijahaastattelut sekä erilaiset arkistot, rakennusdokumentit, kartat, piirustukset ja maalaukset. Käytännössä lähdeaineistot ovat aina puutteellisia ja ristiriitaisia, mistä johtuen pienoismallien rakentamissuunnitelmat ovat vain suuntaa antavia.

Materia on olennainen osa kaupunkipienoismallien rakentamisprosessia, koska kaupungissa jos missä aineellinen kulttuuri on keskeisessä osassa (Lehtonen 2006, 6). Pienoismalli on itsessäänkin eri materiaaleista tehty artefakti, esine, joka voidaan rajata, rakentaa, muotoilla ja pinnoittaa monin eri tavoin. Elinkaarianalyysin kannalta keskeinen kysymys on, millainen vaikutelma pienoismallilla halutaan luoda ja millä keinoilla tämä tehdään. Pienoismallissa historiallinen autenttisuus haastaa mallin maastonmuotojen ja arkkitehtuurin uskottavuuden sekä kasvi- ja eläinkunnan elävyyden (Nyyssönen 2007, 9). Kuinka jäljitellä heinäkasaa tai puun lehvästöä? Miten saada muovi näyttämään vedeltä tai metalli hamppuköydeltä? Kuinka tehdä pienoismallista sekä kiinnostava että helposti lähestyttävä tai luoda siihen samaan aikaan vaikuttava ja luonteva tunnelma? Kiinnostavan pienoismallin rakentaminen on vaatelias tehtävä.

4. Rekonstruktio tilassa. Historiallisia kaupunkipienoismalleja on yleisimmin esillä museoissa. Yleisö ja museo kommunikoivat monella eri tasolla. Museon institutionaalinen asema yhteiskunnassa suuntaa museokokemusta jo ennen kuin vieras on astunut tilaan sisään. Museon sijainti, arkkitehtuuri ja palvelut puolestaan vaikuttavat vahvasti tulijan ensivaikutelmaan niin museosta kuin näyttelystäkin. Anne Aurasmaa (2002, 70) puhuu museoon tulosta siirtymäriittinä. Museon sisätilat ja muunneltavat rakenteet asettavat rajat, joissa museovieraan lopullinen kehollishenkinen kokemus muotoutuu (Saarikangas 1998, 248, 260; Turpeinen 2005, 206-209). Kokemista museotilassa ohjataan määrittelemällä erilaisia kulkusuuntia ja pysähtymiskohteita palveluineen. Kokemukseen vaikuttavat myös museon muiden kävijöiden käyttäytyminen sekä tilojen värit, valot, äänet ja hajut sekä muut vaikeammin määriteltävät tunnelman osatekijät, joita museovieras ”lukee” käyntinsä aikana (Järvinen 2008; Lefebvre 1991, 11-12; Saukonpää 2011, 20).

Museojohdon lisäksi keskeinen vallankäyttäjä museotilassa on näyttelyn suunnittelija. Hän tekee valinnat siitä, mitä esitetään, missä, milloin ja miten. Tilan ominaisuuksien hyväksikäyttö on ratkaiseva tekijä siinä, mitkä näyttelyesineet käytännössä huomataan, miten hyvin niitä voi tarkastella, miten ne ymmärretään ja muistetaan (Quimby 1978). Museoiden vallankäyttö ilmenee niin koko tilan, esineiden valinnan, niiden järjestämisen, esillepanon kuin selittämisen kautta. Museossa sijaitsevaa pienoismallia ympäröivät ja siihen kietoutuvat muistin, vallan ja tilan suhteet.

5. Kokemisen rekonstruktio on kulttuurisen elinkaarianalyysin viimeinen tarkasteluvaihe, jossa huomio kohdistuu museon asiakkaisiin ja heidän kokemukseensa. Museovieraan suhde niin instituutioon, museoon, näyttelyyn kuin museoesineisiinkin on säädellyistä puitteistaan huolimatta monitasoinen ja jopa ennalta arvaamaton. Kävijän näkemykset pienoismallista muotoutuvat museaalisen kokemusvirran jatkumona, ja siksi pienoismallin onnistunut sijoittelu ja esillepano museaalisen elämyspolun varteen on tärkeää. Mikäli ymmärrämme museon erityisellä tavalla jäsentyneeksi tavaksi katsoa, pienoismalli on ihanteellinen museoesine, sillä se on rakennettu tällaista katsomista ja kokemista varten (Alpers 1991, 25-32). Visuaalisuus ja laajemmin moniaistisuus on olennainen osa niin pienoismallia kuin museovieraita; heidän havaintokykyään, tapaansa aistia ja ymmärtää näkemäänsä (Johansson 2007, 77).

Kaupunkipienoismallin rakennuttamisen ja tietyn historiakuvan esille tuomisen taustalla saattaa olla hyvinkin yleviä ajatuksia. Esineistä tehtävät tulkinnat voivat kuitenkin olla monenlaisia ja myös yllättäviä (Herva & Nurmi 2009, 160). Näyttelytilassa kaupunkipienoismalli ja sen taustalla oleva julkinen historiakäsitys muuttuvat museovieraan yksityiseksi tulkinnaksi, koska jokainen katsoja kokee pienoismallin omista lähtökohdistaan (Immonen 2011, 235-236; Karjalainen 1996). Näytteilleasettajan tavoin katsojalla on paitsi kyky myös oikeus ymmärtää näyttely ja sen sanoma omalla tavallaan; ymmärtää se väärin tai jopa kieltäytyä vastaanottamasta sitä. Museokävijä tulee katsomaan näyttelyä omien odotustensa ja arvojensa kanssa. Siten ei ole olemassa yhtä oikeaa tai väärää tapaa katsoa tai kokea pienoismallia. Museovieraiden näkemysten oikeellisuuden pohtimisen sijaan tärkeämpää on heidän kokemustensa kuunteleminen ja ymmärtäminen (Turpeinen 2005, 54-55).

Edellä esittelimme kulttuurista elinkaarianalyysia yleisellä ja käsitteellisellä tasolla. Kun siirrytään puhumaan analyysin empiirisestä toteutuksesta, erilaisten lähteiden tarve ja saatavuus vaihtelevat valitun tapaustutkimuksen mukaan (Laine, Bamberg & Jokinen 2007). Omassa pienimuotoisessa tutkimuksessamme Viipurin historiallisesta pienoismallista kirjallisuustutkimuksella oli merkittävä osa teeman tutkimattomuuden takia. Analyysin ensimmäinen vaihe eli kaupungin mahdollisten menetettyjen maisemien hahmottaminen perustui laajuutensa vuoksi myös tutkimuskirjallisuudelle. Toisessa ja kolmannessa analyysivaiheessa hyödynsimme aikalaiskirjallisuutta, lehdistömateriaalia ja arkistoaineistoa (Wiipuri-museon säätiö/Stiftelsen för Wiborg-museet) sekä pienoismallin suunnittelijan sähköpostihaastattelua. Analyysin neljäs vaihe sisälsi edellisten lisäksi museohenkilökunnan edustajien haastatteluja sekä havainnointia paikan päällä museotilassa. Viimeisessä viidennessä vaiheessa teimme haastatteluja ja havainnoimme museovieraita museotilassa ja pienoismallin läheisyydessä. Toteutimme myös pienimuotoisen kyselyn: yhteensä 37 museovierasta kirjoitti kokemuksiaan näyttelystä kyselylomakkeelle palauttaen vastauksensa anonyymisti näyttelytilassa olleeseen keruulaatikkoon. Hyödynnettyjen aineistojen tutkimisessa käytimme pääasiassa tekstiaineiston lähilukua, tilahavaintojen analysointia sekä haastattelujen ja kyselyvastausten erittelyä (lähemmin ks. esim. Bauer & Gaskell 2000; Turpeinen 2005; Ruusuvuori & Tiittula 2005; Fingerroos, Haanpää, Heimo & Peltonen 2006; Pöysä 2015).

Jo aineistojen maantieteellisen hajanaisuuden (aineistoa hankittiin Helsingissä, Lahdessa, Lappeenrannassa ja Porissa) vuoksi emme kyenneet kartoittamaan saati käymään läpi kaikkea ensikäden lähdemateriaalia, jota olisi mahdollisesti ollut käytettävissä (ks. Arkistojen portti). Työn aikana kävi kuitenkin selväksi, että kulttuurisen elinkaarianalyysin avulla tutkimuskohteesta voidaan muodostaa ymmärrettävä kokonaiskuva, vaikka tiettyjen vaiheiden lähdeaineistot olisivat huomattavankin puutteellisia. Syynä tähän on, että monivaiheinen analyysitapa (Kuva 1) mahdollistaa erilaiset ja osin toisistaan riippumattomat tai monikäyttöiset lähdeaineistot. Samalla analyysimme liikkuu monien tieteenalojen kuten maisemantutkimuksen, arkkitehtuurin, taiteen, kulttuuriperinnön, maantieteen ja museologian piirissä, mikä tuo mukaan monet toisiaan tukevat näkökulmat, teemat, lähderyhmät ja menetelmät. Metodologisesti lähestymistapamme voi katsoa edustavan monitieteistä hermeneuttista tutkimustraditiota (Gadamer 2004, 29).

Kulttuurisen elinkaarianalyysin vaiheMahdollisia kysymyksiä
Kaupungin historian rekonstruktio
  • – Millainen historia kaupungilla on?
  • – Miten siitä on kirjoitettu?
  • – Millaisia ovat eri ryhmien omat
  • historiakäsitykset?
Ideologinen rekonstruktio
  • – Kuka on mallista päättävä taho?
  • – Ketkä ovat rahoittajia?
  • – Mitkä ovat syyt juuri tietyn
  • historiakäsityksen valintaan?
Aineelliskulttuurinen rekonstruktio
  • – Millaisten lähdeaineistojen
  • pohjalta malli suunnitellaan
  • (aineistojen määrä ja laatu)?
  • – Millainen on rakentajan
  • valintaprosessi?
  • – Mitkä ovat mallin rakentamiset
  • materiaalit ja menetelmät?
  • – Millainen on mallin
  • rakennusprosessi?
Tilallinen rekonstruktio
  • – Millaiseen instituutioon,
  • rakennukseen ja tilaan malli tulee?
  • – Kuinka toimiva kyseinen tila on?
  • – Millainen asema mallille annetaan
  • instituutiossa, rakennuksessa ja
  • näyttelyssä?
Kokemisen rekonstruktio
  • – Miten hyvin instituutio, malli ja
  • näyttelyvieras kohtaavat tilassa?
  • – Millaisia tuntemuksia, tunteita ja
  • ajatuksia malli herättää
  • näyttelyvieraassa?
  • – Millaisen käsityksen katsoja luo
  • kaupungin historiasta?

Kulttuurinen elinkaarianalyysi Viipurin kaupungista

Edellä yleisellä tasolla esitellyt kulttuurisen elinkaaren päävaiheet kuvaavat siis prosessia, jonka kautta menneisyyden maisemaa rekonstruoiva kaupunkipienoismalli rakentuu. Prosessin viisi osa-aluetta kattavat kaupunkipienoismallin rakentumisen päävaiheet prosessin alusta sen loppuun. Seuraavaksi sovellamme kulttuurista elinkaarianalyysia Viipurin kaupunkipienoismallin rakentumiseen. Tarkastelemme kutakin vaihetta erikseen aloittaen ensimmäisestä vaiheesta, Viipurin historiasta.

Vaihe 1. Viipurin historiat ja menetetyt maisemat

Viipuri sijaitsee Karjalassa, joka on Pohjois-Euroopassa nykyisen Suomen ja Venäjän raja-alueella sijaitseva historiallinen alue. Karjalan maisemaa ovat toistuvasti muokanneet mannerjäätiköt. Karjalan kannas paljastui jäätikön alta viimeksi noin 10 000 vuotta sitten. Jääkauden jälkeisen maankohoamisen aiheuttama Itämeren rantaviivan siirtyminen ja sitä seurannut kasviston ja eliöstön kehitys on merkittävin Karjalan luonnonmaisemaan vaikuttanut ilmiö. Viipuri sijaitsee paikassa, josta pääsi aiemmin jokiteitse Laatokalta, Euroopan suurimmalta järveltä, Suomenlahdelle. Laatokan vesialtaan kallistuessa kyseinen kulkuväylä kuivui vähitellen, ja Laatokan uudeksi laskujoeksi avautui idempänä Nevajoki noin 3300 vuotta sitten (Saarnisto 2003).

Liikenteen solmukohdassa sijainnut Viipuri oli esihistoriallisena aikana karjalaisten asuin- ja kauppapaikka, jonne he pystyttivät myös varustuksen. Katoliseksi käännytetty Ruotsi järjesti vuonna 1293 ortodoksista Novgorodia vastaan ristiretken, jonka tuloksena Ruotsi valloitti Karjalan ja rakensi karjalaisten varustuksen paikalle Viipurin linnan. Ensimmäisen kerran Viipurin kaupunki mainitaan asiakirjoissa vuonna 1336, ja kaupunkioikeudet se sai vuonna 1403. Kaupungissa arvioidaan 1500-luvun puolivälissä olleen noin 2000 asukasta. Kuitenkin vasta kaupunginvallien purkaminen, kanavan rakentaminen ja Viipuri-Pietari-rautatien avaaminen 1800-luvun loppupuolella käynnistivät kaupungin kasvun ja teollistumisen (Hämynen & Shikalov 2013, 9, 93-95). Kaupunkinäkymältään Viipuri poikkesi silti edelleen Suomen muista kaupungeista, sillä se oli maamme ainoa keskiaikainen kaupunki.

Yleisesti ottaen kaupunkimaisemien menetyksen taustalla on ollut niin luonnollisia kuin ihmisen aikaan saamia tuhoja. Pohjois-Euroopassa ei juuri ole tuhoisia luonnonmullistuksia, kuten maanjäristyksiä, tulivuorenpurkauksia, pyörremyrskyjä tai hyökyaaltoja. Merkittävimmät tuhot Itämeren alueen kaupungeissa ovat yleensä olleet ihmisen aikaansaamia. Teollistumiseen ja kaupungistumiseen kiinnittyvän modernisaation lisäksi suurimpia syitä kaupunkimaiseman menetyksiin historiallisena aikana ovat olleet sodat ja/tai tulipalot (ks. esim. Herva, Ylimaunu & Symonds, 2012, 76). Teollisuusmaiden kaupunkirakenteiden asteittainen modernisaatio johti kuitenkin 1900-luvun vaihteessa siihen, että useampaa kuin yhtä korttelia koetelleet suuret kaupunkipalot loppuivat (Suikkari 2007, 9; ks. myös Bankoff, Lubken & Sand 2012). Poikkeus tästä säännöstä viime vuosisadalla olivat eritoten maailmansodat, joiden aikana suurpalot palasivat Euraasiassa moderneihin kaupunkeihin. Viipurissa merkittäviä kaupunkipaloja on sattunut vuoden 1351 jälkeen peräti 26 kertaa. Näistä tulipaloista 20 on tapahtunut rauhan aikana, ja kuusi on ollut sotien aiheuttamia (Suikkari 2009, 54). Tätä tragiikan sävyttämää urbaanin historian kuvaa, Joseph Schumpeteria (1942, 83) mukaillen toistuvaa luovaa tuhoa, voi pitää Viipurin menetettyä kaupunkimaisemaa esittävän pienoismallin rakentamistarpeen kulttuurisena pääraaka-aineena.

Vaihe 2. Viipurin pienoismallin ideologinen rekonstruktio

Periaatteessa Viipurin menetetyn maiseman rekonstruktion kohteeksi olisi siis voitu valita vähintään 26 eri tapahtumaa ja ajankohtaa. Käytännössä niistä kuitenkin valittiin pienoismallin kohteeksi yksi nimenomainen. Tässä osiossa tarkastelemme kyseisen valinnan taustoja ja syitä.

Viipurin pienoismallihankkeen takana oli vuonna 1971 perustettu kaksikielinen säätiö nimeltään Wiipuri-museon säätiö/Stiftelsen för Wiborg-museet, jonka päätavoite oli alusta lähtien Viipuri-aiheisen museon aikaansaaminen (Karjala 28.11.1985, 3). Säätiön edustajiston jäsen, metsänhoitaja Aarno Piltz esitti pienoismallin rakentamismahdollisuutta säätiön edustajiston kokouksissa 1979 ja 1980, mutta kummallakin kerralla esteenä oli varojen puute. Vuonna 1980 Piltz kuitenkin lahjoitti edustamansa Karjalaisen kulttuurin edistämissäätiön nimissä 5000 markkaa pienoismallin suunnittelemista varten. Lisäksi eräs entisten viipurilaisten organisaatio antoi samaan tarkoitukseen 10 000 markkaa. Tämän seurauksena säätiön hallitus nimitti pienoismallitoimikunnan helmikuussa 1981 (Karjala 28.11.1985, 1).

Säätiö päätyi valitsemaan pienoismallin kohteeksi hyvin myöhäisen ajankohdan Viipurin pitkästä kaupunkihistoriasta: vuoden 1939. Tuolloin noin 83 000 asukkaan Viipuri ei ollut vain yksi kaupunki muiden joukossa, se oli Helsingin jälkeen Suomen tasavallan toiseksi suurin kaupunki. Suomen virallisen tilaston (1941, 27) mukaan Viipuri oli kulttuuriltaan suomalainen: sen väestöstä 93 prosenttia oli suomenkielisiä; lopuista asukkaista suurin osa oli ruotsin- ja saksankielisiä. Suomen kaupunkien, mukaan lukien Viipurin, poliittista päätöksentekoa alettiin perustaa vuosien 1865 ja 1873 asetusten jälkeen kunnalliseen autonomiaan ja edustukselliseen hallintoon, joka muodostui aluksi varallisuuteen pohjautuvilla vaaleilla valituista lautakunnista, kaupunginvaltuustosta ja -hallituksesta. Vuonna 1876 toimintansa aloittaneeseen Viipurin valtuustoon valittiin vuoden 1918 kunnallisvaaleissa niin työväen kuin porvariston edustajia (Tilastoa 1918). Kokonaisuudessaan valtuusto valittiin yleisen äänioikeuden perusteella vuodesta 1920 lähtien (Heuru 2001, 12-13; Kallenautio 1986, 282). Kommunistien toimintakieltoa lukuun ottamatta Viipuria hallittiin maailmansotien välisenä aikana pohjoismaisen demokratian periaattein.

Itsenäisyyden ajan Viipuri oli taloudellisesti ja toiminnallisesti ennen kaikkea kauppa-, varuskunta- ja hallintokaupunki. Kaupungissa oli Euroopan suurin puutavaran vientisatama, Uuras (Huunonen 2015).”Pohjolan Pariisiksi” mainostettu Viipuri oli toimelias, vauras ja kaunis kulttuuri- ja urheilukaupunki komeine kivitaloineen, lukuisine puistoineen ja moninaisine vesistöineen, luisteluratoineen ja uimarantoineen. Kaupunki oli 1930-luvun aikana rakennuttanut vielä useita arkkitehtonisia merkkirakennuksia, kuten Uno Ullbergin suunnitteleman funktionaalistyylisen maakunta-arkiston, taidemuseon ja synnytyssairaalan sekä Alvar Aallon suunnitteleman modernin kaupunginkirjaston (Hirn & Lankinen 2000; Neuvonen 2000). Suomen suurimman, yli 650 00 asukkaan läänin pääkaupunkina Viipurilla, jonka maamerkkinä oli sen keskustassa sijaitseva keskiaikainen linna, näytti olevan edessään komea tulevaisuus (esim. Helsingin Sanomat, Kuukausiliite 1989, n:o 18).

Toinen maailmansota mullisti lukuisten kaupunkien tulevaisuudensuunnitelmat perinpohjin eri puolilla maailmaa. Näin kävi myös Viipurille. Natsi-Saksa ja Neuvostoliitto solmivat syksyllä 1939 hyökkäämättömyyssopimuksen, ns. Molotov-Ribbentrop -sopimuksen, minkä seurauksena puna-armeija hyökkäsi Suomeen marraskuussa 1939, ja maiden välillä alkoi myöhemmin talvisotana tunnetuksi tullut verinen sota. Rauha solmittiin maaliskuussa 1940, ja vaikka Neuvostoliitto ei onnistunut valtaamaan Viipuria sodassa, Suomi joutui luovuttamaan rauhanteossa Karjalan itäisen osan ja sen kaikki kolme kaupunkia – Viipurin, Sortavalan ja Käkisalmen – Neuvostoliitolle. Yli 400 000 karjalaista, mukaan lukien kaikki Viipurin asukkaat, muutti neuvostovallan alta Suomeen. Vuonna 1941 alkaneen jatkosodan aikana Suomi valloitti Viipurin takaisin, ja yli kolmasosa kaupungin väestöstä pääsi palaamaan kotikaupunkiinsa vuosien 1941-1944 välillä. Lopullisesti Suomen lippu laskettiin Viipurin linnan tornista kuitenkin 20. kesäkuuta 1944 noin kello 16:45, kun Viipurin puolustus murtui (Kuva 1). Kaupungin suomalainen väestö pakeni taas asettuen toisesta maailmansodasta kuin ihmeen kautta itsenäisenä ja demokraattisena valtiona selvinneeseen Suomeen.

Kuva 1. Viipurin linna oli niin Suomen itsenäisyyden kuin läntisen kulttuurin symboli. Suomen lippu hulmusi Viipurin linnan yllä talvisodan taistelujen loppuun saakka. Kaupunki luovutettiin Neuvostoliitolle vasta rauhanteon jälkeen. Lähde: SA-kuva

Viipurin rakennuksista oli toisen maailmansodan aikaisissa pommituksissa, tykistökeskityksissä ja taisteluissa sekä niitä seuranneissa tulipaloissa tuhoutunut tai vahingoittunut jopa kaksi kolmasosaa. Ainoastaan kahdeksan prosenttia rakennuskannasta säilyi täysin vahingoittumattomana (Hämynen & Shikalov 2013, 77, 86, 105, 110-116). Kotikaupungistaan paenneiden alkuperäisten suomalaisten asukkaiden koteihin muutti ensin puna-armeijan upseereita ja sen jälkeen eri puolilta Neuvostoliittoa siirrettyjä uusia asukkaita. Viipuriin suomenkieliset kadut ja aukiot nimettiin uudelleen neuvostotyylin mukaisesti esimerkiksi Puna-armeijan kaduksi tai Leninin aukioksi. Kaupunkitilan lisäksi myös kaupungin pitkää historiaa ryhdyttiin venäläistämään puheissa ja julkaisuissa (Jussila 1983). Suomalaisista asukkaistaan kokonaan tyhjentynyt ja pahoin raunioitunut Viipuri jäi vain 40 kilometrin päähän Suomen ja Neuvostoliiton välisestä uudesta rajalinjasta rautaesiripun taakse ulkomaalaisilta eli erityisesti entisiltä asukkailtaan suljetuksi neuvostorajakaupungiksi. Viipurin eletyn kaupunkimaiseman (Louekari 2004, 273) menetys oli siten sodan tuhojen, alkuperäisen väestön poismuuton, vieraan vallan, uusien asukkaiden ja vallanvaihdosta seuranneen rappiokauden vuoksi likimain täydellistä (Kuva 2).

Kuva 2. Toisen maailmansodan aikana Viipuri joutui kolme kertaa taistelukentäksi. Keskiaikaisesta kellotornista otettu yleiskuva näyttää tuhoja Viipurin vanhassakaupungissa jatkosodan alussa syksyllä 1941. Lähde: Sot.virk. J. Taube, SA-kuva.

Entinen vapaa, vauras ja kaunis Viipuri jäi elämään kaupungista poismuuttaneiden suomalaisten asukkaiden muistoissa, lukuisten viipurilaisten yritysten, yhdistysten ja urheiluseurojen piirissä sekä lauluissa, muistelmissa, kuvakirjoissa, romaaneissa ja tutkimuksissa. Tämä kaupungin traagisen menetyksen synnyttämä muistamisen virta ei kuitenkaan riittänyt kauungin entisille asukkaille, vaan kaupungista haluttiin rakennuttaa myös pienoismalli, yksityiskohtainen fyysinen muisto (ks. Jones 2017). Sitä tarvittiin menneen maailman ja sitä koskevien inhimillisten kokemusten ja tuntemusten tueksi, niiden uudelleen luomiseksi (King 1996). Tarve muistin tukemiselle pienoismallilla oli ilmeinen, koska Viipurin tuho ja menetys oli lähes käsittämättömän nopea ja raju jopa toisen maailmansodan tuhojen mittakaavassa (Laakkonen, Tucker & Vuorisalo 2017). Viipurin kaupunki muuttui lähes yhdessä yössä itsensä dystopiaksi; kommunistidiktatuurin alle jääneeksi tyhjäksi, suljetuksi ja perifeeriseksi rauniokaupungiksi. Samalla entisestä kauniista, toimeliaasta ja demokraattisesti hallitusta kaupungista tuli saavuttamaton utopia niin sen menettäneille suomalaisille asukkaille kuin raunioiden keskelle muuttaneille uusille neuvostoasukkaille. Kysymys tuossa tilanteessa kuuluikin: Mistä Viipurista pienoismalli tuli rakentaa?

Wiipuri-museon säätiön päätöksen mukaan pienoismallin tuli esittää Viipuria sellaisena kuin kaupunki oli 2. syyskuuta 1939 kello 10:30. Syynä tälle päätökselle ja tarkalle ajankohdalle oli se, että tuolloin Suomen ilmavoimien lentokone oli lentänyt kaupungin yli ja valokuvannut sen lähes kokonaan (Wiipuri-museon Säätiö 2/1981). Sodasta säästyneet ilmavalokuvat tarjosivat korvaamatonta kuvamateriaalia sellaisen pienoismallin suunnittelulle, joka ikään kuin jäädyttäisi Viipurin viimeisen hetken rauhanajan Suomen tasavallan toiseksi tärkeimpänä kaupunkina. Symbolista lisäarvoa kyseiselle päivämäärälle antoi se, että lentoa edeltäneenä päivänä Saksa oli hyökännyt Puolaan ja toinen maailmansota oli alkanut Euroopassa.

Päätös syksyn 1939 tilannetta kuvaavan pienoismallin rakentamisesta esiselvityksineen oli välttämätön ensiaskel tavoitteeseen pääsemiseksi, mutta tarkan suunnitelman laatimiseen ja varsinaisen pienoismallin rakentamiseen tarvittiin huomattavasti lisää varoja. Wiipuri-museon säätiön edustajisto katsoi, että pienoismallin aikaansaaminen oli nähtävä kaikkien entisten viipurilaisten ja karjalaisten yhteiseksi asiaksi. Rahavarojen kartuttamiseksi vedottiinkin niin yksityisiin henkilöihin kuin yhtiöihin. Säätiön alaisuuteen perustettiin erityinen Viipurin pienoismallirahasto (Karjala 1984, 9). Säätiön anomuksesta yritysten lahjoitukset saivat valtionvarainministeriöltä verovapauspäätöksen (Wiipuri-museon Säätiö 5, 6/1981;1, 2/1982). Näillä toimilla suunnitelman rahoitus saatiin turvatuksi ja pystyttiin siirtymään seuraavaan vaiheeseen: pienoismallin taustamateriaalin kokoamiseen, varsinaiseen suunnitteluun ja lopulta itse mallin rakentamiseen.

Vaihe 3. Pienoismallin materiaaliskulttuurinen rekonstruktio

Pienoismallin rakentamiseen tarvitaan tietoa, taitoa ja näkemystä. Kuinka Viipurin pienoismallin rakennussuunnitelmalle tarvittava historiallinen tietopohja käytännössä sitten koottiin, miten pienoismallin rakentaja löytyi sekä minkälaiset materiaalit ja työstämistavat rakentamista varten valittiin? Näitä rekonstruktion kysymyksiä tarkastelemme tässä osassa.

Wiipurin-museon säätiö (5/1982) allekirjoitti vuonna 1982 intendentti Juha Lankisen kanssa sopimuksen, joka sisälsi Viipurin kaupungin pienoismallin rakentamiseen tarvittavien lopullisten karttojen ja piirustusten laatimisen sekä mallinrakennustyön valvonnan. Lankisella oli työhön läheinen suhde, sillä hän oli syntynyt Viipurissa vuonna 1937. Lisäksi hänen isänsä, Jalmari Lankinen, oli toiminut Viipurin kaupungin arkkitehtinä maailmansotien välissä ja evakuoinut kaupungista lähtiessään lukuisien karttojen, kaavojen ja rakennuspiirustusten lisäksi noin 3000 valokuvaa kaupungista (Lankinen 1999). Viipurista, sen historiasta ja arkkitehtuurista tuli lopulta Juha Lankisen elämäntyö: hän haastatteli aiheeseen liittyen noin 200 ihmistä ja vieraili Viipurissa yli 400 kertaa (Miettinen 2015).

Lankinen laati kaupunkitopografian ja pääosiltaan ruutukaavoitetun mallinnusalueen suunnitelman, rakennusten korttelikaaviot, julkisivupiirustukset sekä katto-, piha- ja katupäällysteiden kuvaukset oman kokoelmansa sekä Viipurin maistraatin arkiston, haastattelujen ja valokuvien pohjalta (Wiipuri-museon Säätiö 1981). Syyskuun toisena päivänä 1939 kello 10:30 otetun ilmavalokuvasarjan perusteella kaupungin alueella tuolloin olleet laivat, junat, raitiotievaunut, autot, torikauppiaiden myyntikojut, puusto ja jopa takapihojen halkopinot kyettiin sijoittamaan mallisuunnitelmaan tarkasti silloisille paikoilleen (Lankinen 1999; Lankisen haastattelu 2011). Pienoismallin värien valinta kuitenkin osoittautui ongelmalliseksi, koska lähdeaineistona oli pääasiassa mustavalkoisia valokuvia ja filmejä (Wiipuri-Museon säätiö 1975). Näitä ja muita tarvittavia lisätietoja saatiin Lankisen ehdotuksesta Karjala-lehteen perustettujen vanhojen valokuvien tunnistamispalstan kautta. Lehti julkaisi vuodesta 1975 lähtien Lankisen kirjoituksen kera vanhoja valokuvia paikoista, joista tarvittiin lisätietoja (Viipuri 1986, 4). Aineisto- ja tietopyyntöjen kautta kaupungin entiset asukkaat – Viipurin kortteleiden, talojen ja takapihojen todelliset asiantuntijat – otettiin mukaan pienoismallityöhön alusta lähtien.

Työtä valvoi säätiön asettama pienoismallitoimikunta. Sen ”yliasiantuntijana” oli Viipurin asemakaava-arkkitehtina vuosina 1918-1937 toiminut Otto-Iivari Meurman, joka toimi vuodesta 1940 lähtien Suomen ensimmäisenä asemakaavaopin professorina Helsingin teknillisessä korkeakoulussa (Karjalainen, 2.4.1984). Säätiön asettama pienoismallitoimikunta päätti, että rakennusurakan kohteeksi tuli 1:500 mittakaavaan tehtävä kaupunkipienoismalli Viipurin keskusta-alueesta. Pienoismallin rajoiksi valittiin tunnettuja kohteita, joiden perusteella mallialue oli paikallistettavissa mallin suunnitteluajankohdan Viipurissa. Tällaisia kohteita olivat esimerkiksi Siikaniemen linnoitus sekä Papulan kansanpuisto. Toimikunta pyysi keväällä 1984 urakasta tarjouksia mallikortteleineen kahdeksalta alan yrittäjältä. Tarjouksia tuli kuusi. Toimikunta tutki ensin nimettöminä jokaisen lähetetyn mallikorttelin ja asetti ne paremmuusjärjestykseen kiinnittäen huomion materiaaleihin, yleisilmeeseen ja tunnelmaan sekä yksityiskohtien hienouteen ja herkkyyteen. Yksimielisen valinnan jälkeen nimimerkkikuoret avattiin. Toimikunnan suureksi tyydytykseksi voittanut ehdotus ei ollut hinnaltaan kallein. Tarjous oli Lahdessa toimivan pienoismallien rakentamiseen erikoistuneen yrityksen, Mallituote Lasse Anderssonin laatima (Pienoismallille 1985, 2). Urakkasopimus työn tekemiseksi allekirjoitettiin kesällä 1984, ja pienoismallin näyteosan oli määrä olla valmis vuoden sisällä kesäkuussa 1985 (Viipurin 1985, 6).

Pienoismallin rakensi Lasse Anderssonin johdolla kuuden hengen työryhmä. Mallipohja korkeuskäyrineen tehtiin pahvista. Rakennusten, laivojen, autojen ja junanvaunujen materiaaliksi valittiin muovi. Kirkkojen ristit, sähkötolpat sekä sataman nostokurjet valmistettiin metallista. Puusto valmistettiin esikäsitellystä jäkälästä. Joissakin työvaiheissa, esimerkiksi kovan muovilevyn liimauksessa, hyödynnettiin Anderssonin itsensä kehittämiä työtapoja. (Lankinen 1999.) Pienoismalli tehtiin mahdollisimman hyvin sen alueellisen ja kansallisen merkittävyyden takia. Viimeistely, esimerkiksi pienen talon maalaus pohjustuksineen, saattoi kestää kahdeksan tuntia. Joitakin kohteita maalattiin uudelleen, kun tieto värisävystä täsmentyi. (Pienoismallille 1985, 2.) Viimeistelyssä käytettiin usein apuna suurennuslasia. Haastattelussa Juha Lankinen (2011) painotti, että pienoismallin uskottavuus riippui niin kokonaisuuden kuin yksityiskohtien tarkkuudesta. Viipurin entiset asukkaat olivat pikkutarkkojakin siitä, että heidän kotikaupunkinsa rakennettiin uudelleen mahdollisimman oikein.

Kuva 3. Viipurin pienoismallin toisen vaiheen valmistumis- ja tiedotustilaisuus pidettiin Etelä-Karjalan museon länsisalissa vuonna 1986. Kutsuvieraiden lisäksi kuvassa on Wiipuri-museon aktiiveja, joista keskimmäisena pienoismallihankkeen kantava voima, Aarno Piltz. Kuva: Etelä-Karjalan museo.

Viipurin suhteeseen 1:500 rakennettu pienoismallin näyteosa, jossa oli tuolloin 600 taloa, avattiin juhlallisesti yleisön nähtäväksi vuonna 1985. Wiipuri-museon säätiön alkuperäisen päätöksen mukaan ”pienois-Viipurin” rakentamista kuitenkin jatkettiin rahoituksen niin vain salliessa (Kuva 3). Kymmenen vuoden rakennustyön jälkeen mallin ensimmäinen pääosa (7,5 x 3,4 m) valmistui vuonna 1995 ja toinen pienempi pääosa (3 x 2,5 m) vuonna 1996. Tämänkin jälkeen mallia täydennettiin lähinnä yksityisiltä ihmisiltä, karjalaisilta järjestöiltä ja Lappeenrannan kaupungilta saaduin varoin. Nykyään Viipurin pienoismalli on kokonaisuudessaan kooltaan 24 neliömetriä, ja siinä on lähes 4000 rakennusta (Kuva 4). Pienoismalli esittää historiallista Viipuria eräin harkituin virhein (Kuva 5). Merkittävin niistä on, että päivä, jota malli esittää eli 2. syyskuuta 1939 ei ollut virallinen liputuspäivä. Pienoismallin ehdottomana keskipisteenä on silti Viipurin linnan tornin huipulla salossa oleva Suomen lippu, joka viestittää kaupungin olleen tuolloin osa Suomen tasavaltaa (Lankinen 1999).

Kuva 4. Suomen ainoa keskiaikainen kaupunkimaisema, Viipurin vanhakaupunki, pienoismallin esittämänä. Lähde: Seppo Pelkonen, Etelä-Karjalan museo.
Kuva 5. Se toinen harkittu virhe. Suomen lippu ei liehu pienoismallissa ainoastaan Viipurin linnan huipulla vaan myös lääninvankilan pihalla – joskaan ei siellä yksiselitteisesti vapauden symbolina. Kuva: Seppo Pelkonen, Etelä-Karjalan museo.

Vaihe 4. Viipurin pienoismallin rekonstruktio museotilassa

Tarvittiin vielä asianmukaiset tilat, joihin Viipurin pienoismalli saatettiin pysyvästi sijoittaa ja saattaa julkisesti nähtäville. Tässä osassa käsittelemme Viipurin pienoismallin sijoitteluhistoriaa sekä nykyistä museorakennusta ja perusnäyttelyä, jossa Viipurin pienoismalli sijaitsee. Tarkastelemme myös, millä tavalla pienoismalli on sijoitettu museotilaan.

Wiipuri-museon Säätiö alkoi hakea pienoismallille sijoituspaikkaa jo vuonna 1973. Säätiö harkitsi aluksi sijoituspaikaksi hallitsemaansa vanhaa koulurakennusta Helsingissä. Sitä ei kuitenkaan pidetty rakenteiltaan sopivana museokäyttöön. Helsingin kaupunki tarjosi vaihtoehdoksi ensin vanhaa siunauskappelia, mutta säätiö hylkäsi ehdotuksen tilan korkeiden kustannusten vuoksi. Säätiö ehdotti vuorostaan kaupungin vanhojen satamamakasiinien hyödyntämistä. Lisäksi säätiö tiedusteli mahdollisuutta käyttää Suomenlinnan, Helsingin edustalla sijaitsevan pohjoisen Euroopan suurimman merilinnoituksen laajoja tiloja. Neuvottelut Helsingin kaupungin kanssa kuitenkin kariutuivat, ja säätiö ryhtyi vuonna 1976 neuvottelemaan pienoismallin sijoittamisesta Turun, Lahden ja Lappeenrannan kaupunkien kanssa. Suomen itärajalla, hieman yli 50 kilometrin päässä Viipurista sijaitsevan Lappeenrannan kaupunginhallitus hyväksyi samana vuonna säätiön ehdotuksen, että kaupungin hallinnassa olevan Etelä-Karjalan museon yhteyteen perustetaan erillinen Viipuri-museon osasto.

Viipurin pienoismallin sijoituspaikka ei ollut Viipuri-museon osaston perustamispäätöksen myötä silti selvä, sillä kyseinen sopimus ei sisältänyt mallin sijoitusta. Pienoismallista olivat Lappeenrannan lisäksi kiinnostuneita niin Helsinki kuin Lahden kaupunki, joihin oli maailmansodan lopussa asettunut asumaan paljon Viipurin entisiä asukkaita ja muita karjalaisia siirtolaisia (Suuriarvoinen 1982). Pienoismallin sijoituskysymys oli hankala ulkopoliittisistakin syistä. Neuvostoliitto, jonka kanssa Suomella on yli 1300 kilometriä pitkä raja, oli tuolloin vielä voimissaan. Siksi tietyissä poliittisissa piireissä katsottiin Viipurin historian esille tuomisen olevan ulkopoliittisesti ”epäsuotuisaa”. Viipurin pienoismalli oli joutua kylmän sodan poliittiseksi pelinappulaksi, ja lopullisen päätöksen saaminen Lappeenrannan kaupungilta osoittautui hankalaksi (Eevan haastattelu 2011). Lopulta Lappeenrannan kaupungin kanssa kuitenkin päästiin sopimukseen pienoismallin sijoittamisesta Etelä-Karjalan museoon.

Sijoittelussa oli myös käytännön haasteita. Alkuperäisen pienoismallin suojana ei ollut vitriiniä, joten vahingoittumisen vaara oli suuri. Kesällä 1985 mallin ylle päätettiin teettää lasivitriini. Ensimmäisen vitriinirakennelman asentaminen kuitenkin epäonnistui, ja vahinko rikkoi satojen työtuntien tulokset. Uuden vitriinin suojaama korjattu pienoismalli oli aluksi esillä museon länsisalissa, josta se siirrettiin museon itäsaliin osaksi Kolme karjalaista kaupunkia -nimistä perusnäyttelyä. Tämä näyttely kuvasi Viipurin lisäksi Käkisalmen ja Lappeenrannan kaupunkeja, joista Viipurin ja Käkisalmen Suomi joutui luovuttamaan toisen maailmansodan seurauksena Neuvostoliitolle. Museon rajallisesta huonetilasta johtuen ja mallin lähikatselun helpottamiseksi pienoismallin pohjoisin osa sijoitettiin pääosasta erilliseen vitriiniin. Museossa Viipurin kaksiosainen pienoismalli on luonteva osa laajempaa On the Border/Rajalla -teemaa (Kurri ym. 2010, 86).

Toiminnallisesti museotila on kuitenkin haasteellinen. Etelä-Karjalan museon kivirakennus on sisätiloiltaan tiilirakenteinen, ja museon sisällä kulkee holvikaarinen pylväsrivistö, joka jakaa tilan kahteen osaan. Viipurin pienoismalli on sijoitettu pääovia vastapäätä olevaan museon takimmaiseen osaan niin, että se näkyy pylväitten välistä heti museoon sisään tultaessa (Etelä-Karjalan museo, 1999). Näyttelyn suunnitellusta kiertosuunnasta johtuen sijainti on sekä hyvä että hono. Näyttely on tarkoitettu kierrettäväksi siten, että Viipurin pienoismalli tulee katsottavaksi näyttelyn loppupuolella. Koska pienoismalli kuitenkin näkyy jo ulko-ovelta, monet museovieraat suuntaavat suoraan sen luokse, jolloin muu näyttely jää vähemmälle huomiolle. Viipurin pienoismalli hallitsee tilaa ja koko näyttelyä siten ehkä liiaksikin.

Vaihe 5. Viipurin pienoismallin kokemisen rekonstruktio

Etelä-Karjalan museossa, jossa Viipurin pienoismalli sijaitsee, käy vuosittain noin 16 000 kävijää, joista ulkomaisia asiakkaita on noin yhdeksän prosenttia (Ståhlbergin haastattelu 2018). Jokainen näistä museovieraista kokee niin koko näyttelyn kuin yksittäisen pienoismallin omalla tavallaan mutta samalla oman kulttuurinsa osana (Laine 2001, 28). Seuraavassa tarkastelemme Viipurin pienoismallin kokemista niin museon henkilökunnan kuin museovieraiden kuvausten perusteella.

Vyötärön korkeudelle asetettujen pienoismallien äärellä on helppo tarkastella Viipurin menetettyä kaupunkimaisemaa kokonaisuutena. Etelä-Karjalan museon kokoelmista vastaava amanuenssi Reija Eeva (2011) kuvaa haastattelussa asiakkaiden käyttäytymistä näin:

Erityisesti Viipurin pienoismallin ympärille kokoonnutaan tunnistamaan paikkoja ja pohtimaan vaikkapa Alvar Aallon suunnitteleman kirjaston sijaintia tai ihailemaan tuomiokirkkoa, joka tuhoutui talvisodassa. Tavallista on, että asiakkaat yrittävät löytää kaupunkikuvasta tunnistettavia maamerkkejä, kortteleita, katuja ja jopa rakennuksia ja kytkeä pienoismallin paikkoja tämän päivän Viipuriin. (Ks. Kuva 6.)

Kuva 6. Menetetyn Viipurin keskustaa. Suomalaiset museovieraat hakevat pienoismallista kiintopisteitä, kuten osanäkymän keskellä olevaa Aallon kirjastoa tai punatiilistä tuomiokirkkoa, joka tuhoutui sodassa.

Kävijöissä on luonnollisesti paljon vanhemman sukupolven suomalaisia, joilla on vielä läheinen side menetettyyn Viipuriin. Näiden katsojien joukossa pienoismalli herättää henkilökohtaisia muistoja, joita vaalitaan sen äärellä. Myös ylisukupolvinen suhde kaupunkiin elää pienoismallin kautta. Niin lapsiperheet kuin nuoremman polven suomalaiset käyvät katsomassa pienoismallia, jotkut useammankin kerran. Suomalaisille katsojille pienoismalli muodostaa aineelliskulttuurisen kiinnepisteen maailmaan, jota ei enää ole.

Pienoismalli on ylirajainen kohde. Suomessa vierailevat venäläiset, joista useimnat tulevat Pietarin ja Moskovan seudulta, ovat museon suurin yksittäinen ulkomaalaisryhmä. Siinä missä suomalaiset perehtyvät yksityiskohtiin, venäläiset tarkastelevat pienoismallia kokonaisuutena (Tamsin haastattelu 2018). Museon Venäjä-suhteista vastaavan asiantuntijan, Satu Ståhlbergin mielestä pienoismalliin tutustuvien venäläisten museovieraiden tulkintakehys on erilainen kuin suomalaisten. Neuvostoliiton suurvaltakeskeinen historiakäsitys on jättänyt pitkän varjon nyky-Venäjän historiapolitiikan ylle. Ståhlberg vieraili Viipurissa, kun kaupungissa juhlittiin vuosien 1710-2010 ”venäläisen Viipurin” 300-vuotisjuhlia, mikä on suoraa jatkoa neuvostoajan historiapolitiikalle (Jussila 1983). Toisaalta on syytä muistaa, että nyky-Venäjäkin on suuri valtio, jonka mittakaavassa Viipurin usein 20 vuodeksi laskettu suomalaisaika on niin lyhyt, että se sivuutetaan helposti. Monikansallisen Venäjän näkökulmasta Viipurin seutu ei myöskään tyhjentynyt suomalaisista kokonaan, koska tämän kansallisuuden edustajia asuu edelleen alueella. Toisaalta Viipurissa asuu jo useampi sukupolvi siellä syntyneitä venäläisiä viipurilaisia. Yleisesti ottaen mitä koulutetumpia ja valveutuneempia venäläiset museovieraat ovat, sitä paremmin he tuntevat Viipurin suomalaista historiaa. Useimmat venäläiset museovieraat ovat silti yllättyneitä löytäessään Lappeenrannan museosta suomalaisen Viipurin pienoismallin, mutta he suhtautuvat siihen yleensä erittäin myönteisesti (Ståhlbergin, Tamsin ja Kuutin haastattelu 2018).

Niin ulkomaiset kuin kotimaiset katsojat, joilla ei ole vahvaa sidettä Viipuriin, arvostavat mallia sekä teknisenä ja taiteellisena suorituksena että rakennusperinnön säilyttämisenä jälkipolville. Yleisesti ottaen museovieraat kuvaavat pienoismallia seuraavin sanoin: ”kaunis”, ”hienostunut”, ”nostalginen”, ”mahtava asia jälkipolville” (Etelä-Karjalan museo, 2015). Kävijät pitävät Viipurin pienoismallia poikkeuksellisen kiinnostavana näyttelyesineenä (Eevan haastattelu 2011; Rinno 1985, 3). Se kiehtoo molempia sukupuolia, kaikkia ikäryhmiä, eri kansallisuuksia ja erilaisia persoonia. Sekä yleisö että henkilökunta pitävät pienoismallia museon ”helmenä” tai ”kruununjalokivenä” (Rinno 1985, 3; Eevan haastattelu 2011; Kuutin ja Ståhlbergin haastattelu 2018). Kaiken kaikkiaan pienoismalli on erinomainen väline Viipurin suomalaisen historian muistamiseksi.

Viipurin pienoismallin vaikutuksesta keskusteltaessa on syytä mainita, että malli on nykyään nähtävissä myös verkossa. Viimeisen kymmenen vuoden aikana yli sata Tampereen ammattikorkeakoulun opiskelijaa on opintojensa osana skannannut pienoismallin rakennuksia yksi kerrallaan 3D-tekniikan avulla monikieliseksi Virtual Viipuri 1939 -näyttelyksi (2006, täydennetty 2016; ks. http://www.virtuaaliviipuri.tamk.fi/). Verkossa voi tutustua Viipuriin kaupungin monivaiheiseen historiaan ja kaupungin virtuaaliseen pienoismalliin kuvien ja videon kautta (Jaakkonen 2012). Erityisesti nuoremmille sukupolville verkko on luonteva tapa tutustua malliin (YLE 2007).

Jokainen museovieras antaa kaupunkipienoismallille oman merkityksensä ja luo siitä omat mielikuvansa (Nurmi 2014) osallistuen samalla koko kaupunkia koskevien yleisten historiakäsitysten muokkaamiseen. Kulttuurisen elinkaaren kehä kiertyy katsojassa loppuun alkaakseen jälleen uudelleen.

Historialliset kaupunkipienoismallit – menneen kuvittelemisen outo lumo

Olemme artikkelissamme tarkastelleet vuoden 1939 Viipurin pienoismallia esimerkkinä käyttäen, millaisessa prosessissa (ja kenties miksi) kadonneita kaupunkimaisemia kuvaavia pienoismalleja rakennetaan. Tutkimuksemme antaa panoksen konkreettisten pienoismallien historian vähän tutkitulle kentälle, jolla etenkään menetettyjä kaupunkimaisemien konkreettisia mallinnoksia ei ole juuri tutkittu. Kehitimme pienoismallien rakentamisen tarkasteluun viisivaiheisen kulttuurisen elinkaarimetodin, joka hyödyntää monien tieteenalojen asiantuntemusta ja soveltuu hyvin poikkitieteelliseen tutkimukseen. Oma tutkimuksemme antaa viitteitä, että menetelmällä on saatavissa kokonaiskuva, joka kattaa kohteeksi valitun pienoismalliartefaktin materiaaliset ja immateriaaliset ominaisuudet ja auttaa hahmottamaan niiden yhdessä muodostaman kehämäisen elinkaaren alusta loppuun. Analyysitavan vahvuus on sen monikäyttöisyydessä ja joustavuudessa niin kohteiden, lähdeaineistojen kuin tulkinnan osalta.

Tapaustutkimuksemme osoitti, että Viipurin kaupunkimaisemaa on kohdannut sen historian aikana vähintään 26 kertaa tuho, joka olisi voinut toimia viitepisteenä menetettyä maisemaa esittävälle pienoismallille. Malli, jota olemme artikkelissa tarkastelleet, päätettiin kuitenkin rakentaa vuoden 1939 rauhanajan Viipurista, kauniista ja tuon ajan oloissa vauraasta, pohjoismaista demokratiaa edustavasta länsimaisesta kaupungista. Pienoismallin rakentaminen edellytti vahvatahtoista avainhenkilöä (Aarno Piltz) ja toimivaa organisaatiota (Wiipuri-museon säätiö), jotka yhdessä kykenivät tekemään tarvittavat toimet prosessin aloittamiseksi sekä kokoamaan riittävästi rahoitusta ja historiallista lähdeaineistoa pienoismallin suunnittelemiseen. Tietopohjaa täydennettiin osallistamalla Viipurin entisiä asukkaita pienoismallin yksityiskohtien tarkkuuden takaamiseksi pitkän rakentamisprosessin aikana. Valmiin pienoismallin lopulliseksi sijoituspaikaksi valikoitui neuvotteluissa museo Lappeenrannassa, lähellä rajan taakse jäänyttä Viipuria.

Viitaten tämän teemannumeron kirjoittajakutsun luonnehdintaan kaupungeista voidaan sanoa, että missä nyky-Viipuri näyttäytyy rappion ja turmeluksen dystooppisena syöverinä, siinä pienoismallin esittämä menneisyyden Viipuri edustaa kukoistuksen ja edistyksen utooppista onnelaa. Dikotomia havainnollistaa historian usein vastakkaisiakin käyttötapoja, joissa historiaa voi Pirjo Markkolan (2009, 274) sanoin hyödyntää joko nykyisyyden synkkänä kääntöpuolena oman ajan saavutuksia korostaen tai oman identiteetin myönteisenä rakennusaineena. Menneisyyden suomalainen Viipuri, nykypäivän venäläinen Viipuri ja näistä kahdesta käytävä jännitteinen keskustelu on yksi osa Suomen ja Venäjän välistä vuoropuhelua vallatun Karjalan historiaa koskevista tulkinnoista (Jussila 1983; Fingerroos 2006, 5; Raivo 2004, 62). Materiaalisen ja immateriaalisen pienoismallin avulla Viipurin ja Karjalan suomalainen historia – jonka vaipumista menneisyyteen tietyt ryhmät rajan molemmin puolin toivovat – ei pääse unohtumaan.

Kuvitelmana menneestä urbaanista elämästä Viipurin pienoismalli on sangen erikoislaatuinen. Kyse on Suomen historian kipupisteen esineistymästä, kouriintuntuvasta symbolista epäoikeudenmukaiseksi koetulle Viipurin ja koko Karjalan miehitykselle (Kuva 7). Neuvosto-Viipurista tuli kaupunkihistorioitsija Lewis Mumfordia (1961, 234) mukaillen suomalaisille niin tyrannopolis, parasitopolis kuin nekropolis, kuollut kaupunki. Viipurin pienoismalli ei silti ole vain menetyksen symboli tai muistelemisen esine. Yksityiskohtaisena teknistaiteellisena artefaktina se on jotain enemmän: se on aistien, tunteiden, mielikuvituksen ja muistin kiihdytin, joka saa niin historiaan, nykyisyyteen kuin tulevaisuuteen suuntautuvat ajatukset liikkeelle. Yhdessä aineellinen ja virtuaalinen pienoismalli ovat luomassa uutta historiakäsitystä etenkin nuoremmille suomalaisille ja venäläisille sukupolville, joille toisen maailmansodan tapahtumat ovat jo etäisiä tai jopa täysin tuntemattomia.

Kuva 7. Evakkolapsia ruokitaan maantien varressa Viipurin pohjoispuolella kesäkuun lopulla 1944. Viipurin ja Karjalan menetys jätti suomalaisten historiakäsitykseen syvän haavan, jota pienoismalli osaltaan laastaroi. Lähde: Kuvaaja Hans O. Lindh, SA-kuva.

Toinen tavoitteemme artikkelissa oli pohtia, miksi pienoismalleja – ja erityisesti kaupunkipienoismalleja – on ylipäätään tehty ja edelleen tehdään eri puolilla maailmaa. Toimme jo johdannossa esiin erilaisten pienoismallien yleisyyden niin esiteollisissa kuin teollisissa kulttuureissa. Tämä kertoo siitä, että ihmisellä on tarve tehdä, esitellä ja kokea pienoismalleja. Havaintojemme mukaan historialliset pienoismallit ovat museoiden suosituimpien näyttelyesineiden joukossa. Pienoismallien viehätyksen, jopa lumon, selittäminen ei kuitenkaan ole yksinkertaista. Ei olekaan ihme, että erityisesti historiallisten pienoismallien problematiikasta löytyy tutkimusta olemattoman vähän. Pohdimme päätteeksi Viipuri-tutkimuksestamme ponnistaen joitakin alustavia suuntia tuonnempaa tutkimusta silmällä pitäen.

Yhtenä avaimena pienoismallin lumoon voi pitää pienoismallin oleellisinta ominaisuutta eli käännettyä mittakaavaa, toisin sanoen mallin pientä kokoa suhteessa kohteeseen, jota se esittää. Luonnon mittakaavassa ihminen on suhteellisen pieni ja heikko olio, mutta pienoismallimaailmassa ihminen muuttuu jopa tuhat kertaa todellista kokoaan suuremmaksi. Pienoismalli toisin sanoen avaa lähelle maan tasaa sidotulle lajillemme konkreettisen mahdollisuuden tarkastella maailmaa poikkeuksellisesta näkökulmasta, jättiläisen tai linnun perspektiivistä. Pienoismalli mahdollistaa pääsyn omien vajavaisten fyysisten ja henkisten kykyjen rajoittamasta realistisesta maailmasta toiseen, käännettyjen mittasuhteitten yliluonnolliseen maailmaan.

Kaupunkipienoismalli kääntää myös merkityksiä. Kadonnutta urbaania ympäristöä kuvaavan pienoismallin suunnittelu vaatii vahvan historiallisen lähdepohjan, jotta lopputulos voi olla mahdollisimman todenmukainen. Silti jo käännetyn mittakaavansa vuoksi pienoismalli on tietenkin abstraktio todellisuudesta. Toisaalta juuri tästä syystä se tuo ihmisen tarkasteltavaksi historiallisen maiseman konkreettisena materiaalisena kokonaisuutena. Pienoismalli on sitä realistisempi, mitä uskottavammin sen rakentaja kykenee luomaan illuusion todellisuudesta (Sallinen 2007, 9). Pienoismalli on toisin sanoen paradoksi, joka sekä vääristää että tukee tuotettua kuvaa historiasta ja maisemasta. Siten pienoismallin rakentamisessa yhdistyvät historioitsijan, insinöörin, taiteilijan ja taikurin maailmankuvat, tiedot ja taidot.

Pienoismalli ei vaikuta vain maisemaan, jota se esittää, vaan myös katsojaansa. Koska pienoismalli on esineenä yhtäältä autenttinen, toisaalta luonnoton, se synnyttää katsojassa helposti ”luovan ristiriidan” (Turpeinen 2005, 10). Ottaessaan tätä kautta katsojaa valtaansa pienoismalli alkaa tavallaan mallintaa ihmisen mieltä. Pienoismallin harhainen mutta uskottava perspektiivi antaa keinotekoisenakin katsojalle luonnottoman vallan ja voiman tunteen. Maailman tarustossa ihmisen muutos normaalista yliluonnolliset kyvyt omaavaksi olennoksi on yleinen kertomus, jota on käytetty usein varoittavana esimerkkinä. Idealistisesti ajatellen käänteisen mittakaavan ja sen mahdollistamien merkitysten voikin toivoa vahvistavan vastuuntuntoa, jotta ihminen tarkastelisi toimiensa seurauksia myös kriittisesti.

Yksi mahdollinen selitys kaupunkipienoismallien viehätykselle on niiden venäläistä matrjoshka-nukkea muistuttava kerroksellinen rakenne. Toisaalta pienoismalli on itsessään kolmiulotteinen tila, joka on osa suurempaa kolmiulotteista tilaa (näyttelytila ja museorakennus), joka puolestaan on osa vielä suurempaa kolmiulotteista tilaa (kaupunkimaisema), joka taas on kaupunkipienoismallin viimekätinen kohde. Paitsi tilaan liittyviä oivalluksia historiallinen pienoismalli saattaa tarjota museovieraalle aineksia ajatella todellisuutta kolmiulotteisesti myös aikaperspektiivistä erilaisina menneisyyksinä, nykyisyyksinä ja tulevaisuuksina. Asiasisällön osalta pienoismalli voi virittää miettimään kehityskulkuja niin myönteisten, neutraalien kuin kielteisten mahdollisuuksien kautta. Onkin nähdäksemme perusteltua puhua pienoismallien kolminkertaisesta kolmiulotteisuudesta niin ajan, paikan kuin koetun todellisuuden suhteen. Parhaimmillaan pienoismalli havainnollistaa ja auttaa ymmärtämään yhtä maailman monimuotoisinta sosioekologista kokonaisuutta, kaupunkia, yksinkertaistetun monimutkaisuuden kautta.

Taustalla pohdinnoissamme historiallisen kaupunkipienoismallin vetovoimasta on neljä metatasoista selitystä: evoluutio, yliluonnollisuus, ristiriitaisuus ja kerroksellisuus. Viidentenä mahdollisena selityksenä voidaan pitää pienoismallien (ja yleisemminkin esineiden) kulttuurista elinkaarta itsessään dynaamisena tulkitsemis-, päätös-, luomis-, rakentamis- ja kokemisprosessina. Niin pienoismallin taustavoimat, suunnittelijat, rakentajat, näytteilleasettajat kuin suuri yleisö pääsevät tulkitsemaan pienoismallin makro- ja mikromaailmaa omalta kannaltaan. Kukin näistä ryhmistä käyttää kaupunkipienoismallin kulttuurisen elinkaaren eri vaiheissa omanlaistaan valtaa ja tekee valintoja, joiden seurauksena jokaisen pienoismallin taustalla oleva kulttuurinen elinkaari on kokonaisuudessaan ennalta arvaamaton. Juuri tämä arvaamattomuus, suoranainen anarkistisuus, tekee osaltaan sekä kaupunkipienoismalleista että niiden esikuvista, kaupungeista, niin kiehtovia.


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[1] Jotkut pienoismallit ovat todella suurikokoisia, kuten Bay Model. Yhdysvaltain armeijan (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) 1950-luvulla rakentama pienoismalli simuloi San Franciscon alueen rannikkovesistöjä ja niiden hydrologiaa, ja sillä testattiin alueelle suunnitellun jättiläispadon mahdollisia vaikutuksia. Patoa ei rakennettu. Tämä Kalifornian Sausalitossa sijaitseva pienoismalli on nykyään kunnostettu ja avattu suurelle yleisölle museona. Pienoismalli on laajuudeltaan kahden amerikkalaisen jalkapallokentän kokoinen. Lisätietoa: http://www.spn.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Bay-Model-Visitor-Center/

1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

The Graffiti Storyline and Urban Planning: Key Narratives in the Planning, Marketing, and News Texts of Santalahti and Hiedanranta

graffiti, narratives, planning, storytelling, temporary use

Kai Ylinen
kai.ylinen [a] jyu.fi
MA, Doctoral Student
Art History
University of Jyväskylä

Viittaaminen / How to cite: Ylinen, Kai. 2018. ”The Graffiti Storyline and Urban Planning: Key Narratives in the Planning, Marketing, and News Texts of Santalahti and Hiedanranta”. WiderScreen 21 (1-2). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2018-1-2/graffiti-storyline-urban-planning-key-narratives-planning-marketing-news-texts-santalahti-hiedanranta/

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This article regards urban planning as a form of storytelling and argues that there is significance in whose stories and which storylines are acknowledged to belong to the narrative fabric of a place and how the stories of future districts are communicated to the public through narratives during a planning project. My focus is on the storyline that follows the activity of graffiti culture in the two case areas of Santalahti and Hiedanranta (located in the city of Tampere in Finland) during these areas’ phases of transition created during the redevelopment of former industrial areas into residential districts. In my discursive analysis I identify key narratives that recur in planning, marketing, and news texts concerning the two case areas. These narratives are 1) Progress and Innovations, 2) The Old with the New, 3) The Warm, Welcoming Home, 4) Together with Communities, 5) Ruin and Despair, 6) Graffiti as Art and a Pastime, and 7) The Underground. The key narratives offer insight into the means by which the stories of the two future forms of the districts are distributed to the audience by various agents, the narratives that are dominant, and the degree to which the existence of the graffiti storyline is visible in them.


There are two comparable post-industrial areas undergoing significant redevelopment and giving rise to diverse and diversely constructed narratives in the western region of the city of Tampere in Finland: Santalahti and Hiedanranta. Both areas have had industrial activity in the past, are currently in a process of being transitioned into residential districts and have a recent history of economic idleness. Although the areas have had small businesses and entrepreneurs working there during their idle state, there has been at least some inactivity and lack of maintenance of the buildings. This idleness has created an opening for temporary activities to occur in Santalahti and Hiedanranta, and enabled the birth of stories; in particular, a storyline formed around graffiti, which is the focus of my article. This storyline attaches to the active graffiti culture operating in both areas before and during the planning of the two remodeled districts.

This empirical case study describes how the future forms of the districts of Santalahti and Hiedanranta are presented to the public through key narratives found in planning, marketing, and local newspaper texts. I ask which narratives are dominant. Is the graffiti storyline included in these narratives, and if it is, how? With narratives I refer to the intentional-communicative artefacts of storytelling. In the words of Gregory Currie, these artefacts “have as their function the communication of a story, which function they have by virtue of their makers’ intentions” (Currie 2010, 6). In turn, I view a story, essentially, as a sequence of events or experiences –  or a presentation of a single one (Finnegan 1998, 9; Skalin 2008, 201). Finally, I use the concept of storyline to refer to a particular chain of events in order to differentiate various narrative threads within a story.

My purpose is to bring forward the aspect of storytelling in urban planning and the importance of the narrative fabric of places under redevelopment. Mark Childs, in his article concerning how place stories can inform and condition urban design, gives stories high priority among the other vital features of a site: “Listening to stories of place can inform designers about the narrative fabric that is as much a critical part of the context of a site as the soil type” (Childs 2008, 184). When I use narrative fabric (as mentioned by Childs) I mean a composition of place stories such as everyday practices, experiences, and memories of dwellers, myths, novels, photographs, and newspaper articles produced of a place, and unbuilt designs produced during planning (Childs 2008, 175).

The narrative fabric is especially interesting in the cases of Santalahti and Hiedanranta, as the first district has had to deal with multiple, clashing interpretations of the area and, in the planning of the second one, storytelling has been intentionally used as a participatory method to understand what kind of future district people are hoping for. My approach supports this issue’s theme of a city as a central stage for narration, where diverse visions and stories can guide the planning or challenge its ambitions and objectives, and thus shape the future of places in the city. My article draws on the studies concerning the relations of storytelling and planning (Mandelbaum 1991; Throgmorton 1993, 1996, 2003; Sandercock 1998, 2005; Forester 1999; Eckstein 2003; Childs 2008; van Dijk 2011; van Hulst 2012; Bulkens, Minca & Muzaini 2015), as well as studies of the temporary use of spaces (Haydn & Temel 2003; Groth & Corijn 2005; Doron 2010; Lehtovuori & Ruoppila 2012; Colomb 2012).

I have intentionally made graffiti a protagonist in this article, as the storyline relating to it has not yet been properly analyzed in the context of the two case areas. Furthermore, my aim is to contribute to the discussion of contemporary graffiti and street art as cultural heritage (MacDowall 2006, 2017; Avery 2009; Kimvall 2013; Merrill 2014; Ylinen 2015; Alves 2017; Nomeikaite 2017). By referring to heritage, the studies suggest that, despite being a highly controversial culture of artistic expression, even graffiti belongs to the narrative fabric of the place it actively occurs in – and in some cases, it contains historical, artistic, or communal value worth discussing as a part of the area’s future. This raises another important question in my study: Whose stories and which storylines get to be told during an urban planning process?

This article is divided into eight sections, including the introduction and the conclusion. In the following section, I will first explain how planning and storytelling are connected. After that, I will focus on the settings and the graffiti storylines of Santalahti and Hiedanranta, followed by a section in which I describe the research materials I have used in my analysis, and I explain the method of analysis. Finally, I describe the seven key narratives found in the planning, marketing, and newspaper texts concerning the two areas. In reporting the results particular attention will be devoted to how the graffiti storyline is present in the key narratives.

Storytelling in Planning

To tell a story has been defined in the words of Lars-Åke Skalin as “to state that this or that sequence of events is an occurrence of this world, or of a possible world (fictional, hypothetical etc.), in a past, present, or future time dimension” (Skalin 2008, 201). However, the relations between storytelling and planning require some further exploration. First, Merlijn van Hulst (2012, 302–303) has specified two models in which storytelling and planning practice work together: storytelling as a model for planning and storytelling as a model of planning. The former model positions storytelling as a contemporary method that can be used in planning practice for better understanding the narrative fabric of place. In her contribution to the authorship issues of planning stories, Barbara Eckstein noted that in many cases the stories used in a planning project belong to somebody else, for example, to communities and individuals who have shared their stories (Eckstein 2003, 21). Such stories are, for example, the ones told from within the graffiti scene in Santalahti and Hiedanranta. The storytelling methods used in a planning project allow the stories of communities, groups, and individuals to be made use of in urban planning in order to ensure that every stakeholder has been heard and listened to (see, e.g., Sandercock 2005). In extension to van Hulst’s models, Bulkens, Minca, and Muzaini considered storytelling as an act of resistance, as a way “to allow individuals affected by a spatial planning project to voice their concerns and their respective positions” (Bulkens, Minca, & Muzaini 2015, 2313–2314). Ideally, the storytelling methods enable planners and designers to utilize local knowledge and identify problems, which might offer solutions to conflicts in all stages of a process.

Van Hulst’s second model positions planning itself as a way of storytelling, meaning that planning does not just make use of others’ stories but also produces its own ones. For John Forester (1999) the practice stories of planners are an effective way of learning about both others’ and one’s own work in the planning field, whereas James Throgmorton (1993; 1996; 2003) has famously argued that, to the core, planning is persuasive and constitutive storytelling about the future. From the perspective of the designs used in planning, Terry van Dijk adds that places undergoing development also gradually grow towards that told future (van Dijk 2011, 126). He also emphasizes that planning as storytelling is not only future-oriented but also about changing perceptions of what these places mean and are in the present time (van Dijk 2011, 134).

To construct a persuasive story about the present and the future of a specific site, planners and designers connect multiple storylines concerning places and various aspects of that area. These storylines may be set in a past, present, or future time dimension and are transformed into narrative objects such as documents and designs and eventually a new plan. When presented to the public, the complete planning story, or some sections of it, will be interpreted in numerous ways depending on which storylines the planners have included in their story construction, the stories of which individuals and communities they are using, which audience will be receiving the story, and through which narratives they are delivering it.

Some narratives have been born apart from the formal planning process, hence not all of them necessarily support the intended story constructed by planners and designers. In this study, I will also analyze texts produced by owners, developers, and marketing specialists of the properties and journalists of the local newspapers. In addition to planning practitioners, landowners, and property developers working on the redevelopment, journalists are important agents. They are, ideally, able to craft narratives that would otherwise be lacking by raising questions and perspectives the other two groups either cannot or will not raise, and thus they have the possibility to act as mediators between the city in charge of the planning, property developers in charge of the construction, the landowners, and the public.

I argue that the informal narratives also contain constitutive elements of the narrative fabric of place. In the following section, I will describe the cases of Santalahti and Hiedanranta and their graffiti storyline, which emerged during a state of temporary use in both areas: outside the formal planning process in Santalahti and as a part of it in Hiedanranta.

The Settings of Santalahti and Hiedanranta

The city of Tampere is the third largest city in Finland, holding 228 274 inhabitants (as confirmed in May 2017 on their official website). The inland city between two lakes is the center of the Council of Tampere Region, located in Western Finland approximately 180 kilometers to the north-west from the capital Helsinki. Tampere was the main industrial city in Finland during the 19th century, and therefore its history lies heavily on its industrial heritage and working-class culture. The factory eras of Santalahti and Hiedanranta are both considered notable parts of Tampere’s industrial history from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

The industrial use was the primary use of both areas in the past. After the factory era came to an end, the following economic idleness was accompanied by temporary activity in the area. This temporary use suggests a state that occurs between the former primary use(s) and the new primary use(s) that are to be achieved by the redevelopment of the area (Lehtovuori, Hentilä, & Bengs 2003; Lehtovuori & Ruoppila 2012). Typically, temporary use may appear in indeterminate spaces that seem to have been “left out of time and place” (Groth & Corijn 2005, 503) in contrast to their surrounding environment. Such spaces are, for example, empty lots, idle industrial areas, train yards, and spaces under bridges (see, e.g., Doron 2000). Both the Santalahti and Hiedanranta areas include such indeterminate spaces with a recent history of temporary use. I will view the two settings one by one.


Santalahti is located two kilometers to the west from the city center, between a railroad and the lake Näsijärvi. In particular the eastern part of the Santalahti area comprises of historical factories, which made goods such as paper and matches in their time, as well as of warehouses and buildings associated with the industrial activity. The two former industrial blocks that are currently framed by the match factory, the paper factory, the bone meal factory, and the roofing felt factory are in unauthorized temporary use by urban subcultures, such as graffiti artists, skateboarders, photographers, and the young. The graffiti storyline in the two factory blocks in Santalahti began uninvited in 1990s after all formal activity in the factory buildings had ceased. Over the two following decades the writers and artists gradually painted layers of graffiti pieces inside and out on all four factory buildings and their warehouses. The long wall on the other side of the railroad is also painted with graffiti and considered a hall of fame within the scene.

Image 1. Several graffiti pieces on the southern façade of the roofing felt factory in Santalahti. Kai Ylinen 2017.

Planners working on the Santalahti project employed the rational and systematic planning model in which storytelling methods were not used. The new master plan for transitioning Santalahti into a residential district was confirmed on 4 April 2017 after a 10-year planning process. It is estimated that the current population of 290 will increase to 2300 residents in the future. In the eastern part of the area, the graffiti-blooming match factory and the paper factory are protected in the master plan. In addition, the future tramline that is currently under development in the city of Tampere will run through Santalahti.

The properties in Santalahti are owned by private developers. The new master plan for the Santalahti district was ordered from the City of Tampere by these actors. According to an email by Heli Toukoniemi, Land Use Manager of the City of Tampere, the city does not own any buildings in the area. The main property owners working on the development of the site are Pohjola Rakennus, YH Kodit, and Lemminkäinen, of which the first two stand behind branding and marketing the area as Uusi Santalahti (‘New Santalahti’).

Image 2. A map of the New Santalahti, courtesy of Pohjola Rakennus and YH Kodit, sent by an email to the author by Tuire Mäenpää / YH Kodit.


Hiedanranta is situated in western Tampere and is also on the shore of the lake Näsijärvi, four kilometers from the city center. It is connected to the busy commercial district of Lielahti and shares its eastern border, on the shore, with Santalahti. In Hiedanranta stands a former sulfite cellulose factory, later owned by Metsä Board (previously M-Real), along with its extensions, several buildings for the factory staff, and the historical Lielahti mansion. The activity in the factory ended in 2008 and the City of Tampere bought the site from Metsä Board in 2014. The industrial environment was closed to the public until 2016.

After opening the idle factory area, the City of Tampere has made various events and activities possible by renting facilities to citizens for intended and authorized temporary use, supporting the organization of events in the area. Under the name Temporary Hiedanranta, the area offers scopes for action to various parties, for example, to a café, a cultural center, craftspeople and artists (for them to establish studios), a skateboarding hall, and an open space for circus professionals and practitioners. The current graffiti and mural art visible in the area have been made in 2016 and 2017 in two legal art events held by the Tampere-based street art and graffiti organization Spraycankontrol.

Image 3. A few of the graffiti and mural art pieces made in the event of Spraycankontrol ’17 in Hiedanranta. Kai Ylinen 2017.

The planners of Hiedanranta have chosen a participatory planning approach to which storytelling methods have been central. The planning of Hiedanranta is still in process. In the structure plan published in 2017, the future Hiedanranta is divided into three subareas, as shown in Image 4 below: 1) the Lielahti Hybrid District, an innovative part of the Lielahti commercial area, 2) the Factory City, consisting mainly of the post-industrial environment and the historical Lielahti Mansion area, and 3) the Canal City, a neighborhood in the shore zone of lake Näsijärvi, between the central marina and Santalahti marina. The district is anticipated to offer homes for 25 000 residents and new jobs for 10 000. Like in Santalahti, the future tramline will be operating in Hiedanranta.

Image 4. A map of the future Hiedanranta showcasing the three neighborhood identities, courtesy of the City of Tampere, visible on the page 19 in the Structure Plan of Hiedanranta.

The Materials and the Method of Analysis

This study includes three diverse types of research material from between 2013 and 2017, which is the period when both future forms of the districts have been planned and/or promoted to the public. First, planning texts include plans, reports, statements, and designs produced by planners, architects, other designers, or city officials. All in all, 49 items in this set were analyzed, excluding the various planning documents of Santalahti that were published before 2013, some of which are summarized in the final report. Thirty items belong to the planning texts of Santalahti and the remaining 19 to the planning texts of Hiedanranta.

The second set of materials includes marketing texts, comprising of billboards, flyers, websites, promotional maps, and customer magazines (created by property owners, developers, advertising agencies, or marketing specialists). Eleven of the marketing texts target Santalahti and four Hiedanranta.[1]

The third set consists of news texts, including news articles about Santalahti or Hiedanranta from three local newspapers – Aamulehti, Moro, and Tamperelainen – published between 1 January 2013 and 20 September 2017.[2] The articles in this category include only the newspapers’ journalistic content, meaning that all advertisements and letters to the editor were excluded. Thus, these texts are produced by journalists and those responsible for the paper’s editorial stance. These three papers were chosen for their content and distribution being central to Tampere. The news texts include 91 articles in total. Thirty-six of them cover Santalahti: 26 published in Aamulehti, nine in Moro, and one in Tamperelainen. Hiedanranta was the subject in 53 articles, 38 of which were published in Aamulehti, one in Moro, and 14 in Tamperelainen. In addition, two articles included both districts as their subject, one published in Aamulehti and the other one in Tamperelainen.

It must be noted that although there seem to be less news articles about the Santalahti area, this is a result of the demarcation of this study. First, discussion about Santalahti began over ten years ago but the issues were selected to fit a timeframe in which narratives about both areas were active in the newspapers. Also, within the selected timeframe, more press releases were published about Hiedanranta as it is a newer development project, resulting in more articles on this district during the period. Second, the development of the Santalahti area is well documented, only the articles focus on the very specific processes active in the area, especially those concerning the long-planned and now built road tunnel and the future tramline. The articles that focus purely on these two major development projects in the city are excluded from the materials.

My analysis is based on identifying the broad, recurrent key narratives present in the previously described materials. Often used in the narrative analysis of life stories, key narratives are produced as well-worn accounts that the author uses to explain and justify their actions and decisions (Phoenix 2008, 67). In addition, the focus of this analysis is on the content reading of narratives “as manifested in separate parts of the story, irrespective of the context of the complete story” (Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach & Zilber 1998, 16). This means that not all key narratives appear in every text, and not all are intended to be part of the formal planning stories. As there also exists “repeated subject matter” (Phoenix 2008, 67) within the texts that focus on informal storylines, the key narratives found in them are as essential and constitutive to the narrative fabric of place as the ones found in texts presenting formal planning stories. By using this method of analysis, I am able to specify the most often used means of communicating the stories of the present and the future of Santalahti and Hiedanranta.

I have identified seven key narratives that were recurrent in the planning, marketing, and news texts. The first four are future oriented: 1) Progress and Innovations, 2) The Old with the New, 3) The Home, and 4) Together with Communities. The remaining three depict the present of the areas: 5) Ruin and Despair, 6) Graffiti as Art and a Pastime, and 7) The Underground. All seven can be connected to the graffiti storyline in some way – at the very least, by the absence of it. The narratives are also the ones shared by all material types, with an exception of The Warm, Welcoming Home narrative that was missing from the news texts and the Ruin and Despair narrative that was missing from the marketing texts.

Table 1. The number of texts in each key narrative, organized by the area and material type.

Table 1 above shows how the key narratives are distributed between the two areas and the text types. As planning texts also contain comprehensive reports and compilations about all stages of the plan and marketing texts target the whole new district, one item can feature in multiple key narratives. There are also a few texts that did not contain any narrative elements. These texts are, for example, numeric tables, technical descriptions, forms, and purely descriptive items. All the following narratives are intertwined, and some of them are dependent of another.

The Key Narratives

There is variety regarding which narratives are dominant in the presentations of each area, as seen in Figure 1 below. The most dominant key narratives in both are Progress and Innovations and The Old with the New that wholly support the intended planning stories. Along with The Warm, Welcoming Home narrative, recurrent mostly in marketing texts, the two last narratives where the graffiti storyline is visible through their original scene-based authors are minor ones. They are, however, also supporting the formal planning story of Hiedanranta, whereas in Santalahti, The Underground narrative in particular strictly opposes the official story constructed by planners and designers. The storyline authored by those acting from within the graffiti scene in Santalahti was never intended to be part of the area’s present or future by those working on planning. Instead, the planning story of Santalahti gets support from the highly visible Ruin and Despair narrative, even though a large number of stories delivered by this narrative are told by authors who are not working in planning.

Figure 1. The division of narratives.

These differences in dominant narratives are caused by three central factors. First, the planning methods are different. The planners in the Santalahti case relied on the rational planning model and the planners in Hiedanranta employed a participatory approach, which explains why the Together with Communities narrative is used so much more often in the texts of Hiedanranta. The second has to do with the ownership of land and properties. Unlike in Hiedanranta, the properties in Santalahti are owned by private actors. The ownership status sets distinctly different interests, objectives, and ambitions for the redevelopment of these areas, greatly affecting the kind of narratives that are dominant.

The third factor is involved with the larger cultural context. It has to do with cultural shift regarding graffiti appreciation. Santalahti carries the weight of many years of unauthorized graffiti activity. Its narratives are weighted down by the idea of a wasted and ruined district ridden with crime: trespassing, arson, drug use, and graffiti (Ylinen 2015, 42–45). The graffiti in the area has, over the years, become the most often used means of depicting the unlawful nature of the area and the ruined state of its buildings. This narrative began during the period of zero tolerance of graffiti in the capital area of Finland and before the cultural shift regarding graffiti happened; and it has not changed since then. Hiedanranta does not have this weight of years. Its redevelopment began after the cultural shift regarding graffiti; the period of zero tolerance was over – graffiti, street art, and mural art were already being painted and legal graffiti walls were built all around the country. Graffiti had entered an era of being gallery-worthy art. These major distinctions are vital to understanding why the narratives are different in nature between the two areas. Next, I will go over all the seven key narratives.

1) Progress and Innovations (future-oriented)

This narrative is present in all the material categories concerning both Santalahti and Hiedanranta. It is the most dominant narrative and there is no difference in how it has been used between the two areas. It supports the intended planning stories of the future and concentrates purely on the redevelopment of the areas. The texts describe both areas as new and modern districts, focusing on how many residents the area will hold or how many jobs the new facilities will offer. In the news texts, the narratives focus on describing plans and designs, such as visualizations and maps.

The progress is seen to generally be welcomed by the city and its residents. It is shown by emphasizing cleverness, sustainability, and innovations. For example, in the guidelines for blocks in Santalahti (Seppänen and Villanen 2014), the innovativeness of Santalahti shows in its sustainability and renewable solutions. This is visible in the use of renewable energy sources, favoring wooden materials, supporting choices for public transport and cycling, and creating green-roofs that will be utilized in urban farming and recreational activities.

The urban farming and renewable energy sources are even more present in the visions of Hiedanranta. Hiedanranta is portrayed in the structure plan (City of Tampere 2017c) as “the new, sustainable urban centre of the city of Tampere.” The car parks will be used as local energy and waste collection hubs and the developers are aiming for energy self-sufficiency. The objective for the redevelopment of Hiedanranta aims “to support the commercial and industrial progress, as well as the competitive strength, of the whole region, with emphasis on implementing a smart, adaptable and resource-effective city, based on a circular economy.”

The present temporary use of the areas is only used to illustrate how quickly the areas are being developed into something better. The graffiti storyline does not have a place in this narrative, but if it is on rare occasions mentioned, it is done in a passive and condemning way in news texts. For example, one article focusing on the future of Hiedanranta mentions the area’s current state in 2015 in the very end: “The old industrial district […] has been fenced off and it is inaccessible without a proper permit. However, there have been visits to the area to do, among other things, illegal graffiti” (Taponen 2015b).[3] In another Hiedanranta article (Högmander 2013b) the author mentions that “some of the buildings have tenants and Metsä Board premises. Others mainly collect graffiti.”

This narrative always needs a foundation to which the progress and innovations are compared. The key narratives linked to these foundations are The Old with the New narrative, where the industrial history is seen as a resource, and the Ruin and Despair narrative, which is used as a contrast to a better future.

2) The Old with the New (future-oriented)

The Old with the New is the second most used narrative in all the text types of both areas. It utilizes the past uses of Santalahti and Hiedanranta as a resource in building something new alongside the history. It focuses to the future instead of the past and especially emphasizes how the old buildings attached to industrial history are respectfully given a new life.

The guidelines for blocks in Santalahti (Seppänen and Villanen 2014) state that the identifiable, modern building ensemble will honor the heritage of industrial building practice and will be based on the protected match factory. On their official websites, all the major property owners in Santalahti are promoting the protected buildings as a symbol of industrial history and as a quality part of the cityscape. Otherwise, and importantly, all else is new. The same message is visible on the flyer of New Santalahti, where the match factory is described as a natural combination of colorful industrial history and modern urban life, as seen in Image 5.

Image 5. A section concerning the match factory area from the New Santalahti flyer. The chosen photograph also shows pieces of graffiti as an effect of mixing history with recent urbanity.

In Hiedanranta, historical elements are also considered an essential part of the identity of the future district. In these visions, the old factory buildings are upgraded and renewed. The old industrial buildings are given a new purpose as “restaurants, exercise centers, and culture hubs” (Kalliosaari 2016). The designs, such as those shown in Image 6, show the historical factory buildings as “the heart of the city centre” and “[t]he development anchor of the area” (City of Tampere 2017c).

Image 6. A visualization of the heart of the city center showcasing the shopping street and the future tram line among the industrial past. City of Tampere 2017.

In one news article (Uusitalo 2017b) the protected buildings of Santalahti are all presented separately with pictures – both their past and their future primary uses are described. An old cardboard factory, for example, will likely be turned into loft apartments and the graffiti-blooming match factory might become a daycare center. The article depicts the future district in a very positive light: “The residential district being built in Santalahti will have both old red brick buildings and new buildings of different heights, and the idyllic area can be walked through by foot. The industrial buildings will have an essential role in creating the look for the new Santalahti.” The news texts concentrating on Santalahti agree that some old buildings must be saved in one way or another, but that the area is also in desperate need of redevelopment.

The graffiti is again mentioned in passing and only in the context of Santalahti – it may or may not remain in the area in some capacity. For example, the guidelines for blocks (Seppänen and Villanen 2014) mention that graffiti pieces can be removed from the protected industrial buildings by soda blasting. On the contrary, the Pirkanmaa Provincial Museum notes that there is a remarkable collection of graffiti on the walls of the match factory and that the graffiti should be included in the discussion of the protection of the building (“Lausuntokoonti” 2013). In one of the news articles (Manninen 2017a), the repurposing of the old industrial buildings is lamented, even though it is also seen as an inevitable step. The issue is seen through the eyes of the entrepreneurs remaining in Santalahti during the state of temporary use: “Similar spaces are nonexistent in Tampere, because most of the older factories have been either torn down or renovated for a new purpose.”

3) The Warm, Welcoming Home (future-oriented)

This narrative dominates the marketing texts and emphasizes the pleasantness of the future neighborhood, completely set in the future time dimension. The future homes are described as warm and welcoming, and the residents can enjoy the parks, the lake, and jogging paths in the natural environments. The Warm, Welcoming Home is a typical narrative, especially in Santalahti. The graffiti storyline is absent.

The convenience of location is important to this narrative. On New Santalahti’s webpages, it is told that you as a future resident will be “living conveniently near the services of the city center and moving quickly between the work, errands, and leisure.” It also reminds us that the residents will be on favorable position in regard to the future tramline. The location is also highly visible on the websites of all the major property owners, as well as on the billboards and the flyers of New Santalahti. On the flyer, as seen in Image 7, the residents can enjoy the peace of their own secluded home in the immediate neighborhood of the cardboard factory but may also conveniently go wherever they like – even by tram.

Image 7. A section concerning the area of the cardboard factory from the New Santalahti flyer. Nature, the family life, and different activities are well presented.

The New Santalahti website also allows its visitors and possible new residents to participate in a survey concentrating on what the Santalahti of their dreams is like. The website emphasizes that everyone is welcome: “[Santalahti] holds thousands of stories, ambiences, and hopes. Come and make your own stories true.” In Image 8, the future residents are urged to find a home in Santalahti.

Image 8. “Find Home”. A screenshot of the header banner on the front page of the New Santalahti website.

As marketing the new apartments is not yet topical for Hiedanranta, The Warm, Welcoming Home narrative is less present in its materials. In planning texts, Hiedanranta is described as having potential to house thousands of homes with a direct view of the lake, making activities such as boating and tour skating possible for the future residents. The closeness to the lake is further emphasized: “versatile housing will connect naturally with the recreational opportunities and other functions offered by the lake and its shoreline” (City of Tampere 2017c). The versatility is depicted with common saunas, shared gardens and working spaces, playgrounds, and restaurants, all making the life in Hiedanranta appear communal. This sense of community has been one of the main interests in the planning of Hiedanranta and it is also highly visible in the next key narrative. In the news texts, The Warm, Welcoming Home is not a key narrative.

4) Together with Communities (future-oriented)

This future-based narrative focuses on the stories of communities. It emphasizes the new way of developing a neighborhood: through openness, co-operation, and creating together. The planning of Hiedanranta relies a lot on participatory and storytelling methods. From the beginning, there have been several events allowing participation in the redevelopment process, such as walking tours, workshops, and garden and planning parties to find out what kind of Hiedanranta people would fall in love with. A booklet about the people of Hiedanranta was published with an aim to give everyone an opportunity to hear what has already been said about the area. The author of the booklet notes that “we have also attempted to give room to diverging views.” The communal themes in the booklet included, for example, nature, preservation and use, an everyman’s shore, and permission to act. The graffiti is also mentioned and present in the booklet, as seen in Image 9. One participator hopes that “there will be activities in the area that are spontaneously spurred [on] by the residents themselves. It doesn’t always need input from the City, just room and permission to act. […] It doesn’t even have to be a big deal; a flower bed, a graffiti wall, a wood workshop or simply permission to be somewhere may be enough” (Kuowi 2016). Many events and activities held in Temporary Hiedanranta have been organized, keeping an eye on the future, and life during the temporary use of the area is utilized as a marketing method for that future.

Image 9. “Many have asked for a graffiti wall”. A part of the page 21 from the People of Hiedanranta booklet. Kuowi 2016.

This narrative is almost non-existent with the texts concerning Santalahti, excluding the cases in which the lack of community involvement is criticized, usually from the perspective of stakeholders or a disappearing underground culture. For example, the planners were criticized for “not truly listening to stakeholders but only to the landowners” who ordered the plan and claimed that the “municipal democracy or share had no standing in the plan at all.” In a compilation document of opinions and answers regarding the Santalahti draft plan, the planner answered the criticism by denying the accusation and explaining how the targets of both landowners and stakeholders were mapped out in events and authoritative negotiations. They also reminded people that the officially delivered comments have served the use of the planner and the planning consult (“Asemakaavaluonnosten 8048 vaihtoehtoja A ja B koskevat lausunnot / vastaukset” 2013).

In a positive light, the community involvement in Santalahti is only mentioned in news texts that focus on the rare occasion of the legal activity in the area. These articles draw a clear line between welcome and unwelcome activity. For example, one article (Koskenniemi 2014) tells a story of airsoft being played in the area with the permission of the landowner. The article describes how the players also keep the area clean, but bemoans the illegal activity and trespassing. The property owner is quoted as saying that his aim is to “weed out the criminal activity” from the lot, thus making room for a key narrative of Ruin and Despair.

5) Ruin and Despair (present-oriented)

The Ruin and Despair narrative is based on the present time and is highly more recurrent in the texts of Santalahti. The narrative depicts the idle industrial environment as a run-down center of lawlessness. For example, in a news article about homelessness (Ala-Heikkilä 2017) a man is photographed in the Santalahti area amongst graffiti, as the area was one of the places in which he used to spend nights when he was homeless. The author begins by describing colorfully the match factory area: “Jari Virtanen sits on a couch, pulls a blanket over himself and lies down. Next to his pillow there are used condoms, white goo, and an empty carton of juice. On the floor of the factory there are countless empty beer cans and plastic utensils. The walls are covered in graffiti.” The author uses plenty of details to describe how run-down and desperate the old factory is in order to illustrate the ruinous state in which the homeless man lived in contrast to his current apartment.

In this narrative, the graffiti and the people doing it are regarded as having a disorderly nature and as a symbol for ruin, lawlessness, and despair. The narrative is also completely cast away from the future. It is one of the foundations that the Progress and Innovations narrative uses: a shameful past to which the glorious future is compared. The narrative is barely visible in the planning texts of Santalahti and used only once in the texts of Hiedanranta. In these texts the focus is always on progress and improvement in order to move the attention away from Ruin and Despair. Thus, in the marketing texts, this narrative is non-existent.

The news texts, however, almost feast on the narrative. In a question posed for readers of Moro, the author takes a clear stand by asking: “Would you be happy if the mess that is Santalahti would be built on soon?” The editorial in the same issue urges people not to make any official complaints about the area’s planning process so that it would finally be built into something better (Manninen 2015b). The narrative is also present in the news articles about arson and accidents that happened in the area during its state of temporary use. One of those news items describes a man dying after he fell from the roof of the roofing felt factory in Santalahti (Koskinen 2016). In another article it was said that “young people spend their time in the area and paint graffiti. […] The industrial area of Santalahti has suffered from vandalism and fires.” According to the interviewed property owner, both the police and the property owners in the area have been powerless in the face of the vandalism. “It can be said that we have been looking on from the side while our properties have been raped, and I speak for all the owners of Santalahti properties,” the property owner is quoted as saying, and he adds that the owners “haven’t complained but gritted [their] teeth” (Haakana 2013b).

6) Graffiti as Art and a Pastime (present-oriented)

In this present-oriented narrative, graffiti is viewed as a legitimate art form and as a way of spending time. It only focuses on acceptable forms of producing graffiti art. Illicit graffiti is rarely mentioned and, if it is, it is considered a problem that can be fixed by setting up more legal walls for painting.

The narrative is completely missing from the planning and marketing texts concerning Santalahti. In Hiedanranta the legal graffiti, street art, and mural art are celebrated. In the Hiedanranta flyer, as seen in Image 10, the authors have used a photograph taken at the graffiti and street art event Spraycankontrol ’16 to advertise the area with a mention of having a thousand square meters of urban street art.

Image 10. A page from the Hiedanranta flyer.

In a short news article (“Hiedanrannassa maalattiin seiniä” 2016) about the same Spraycankontrol event held in Hiedanranta, graffiti and street art are depicted as a positive force. Those who have done the graffiti are described as artists, and a city official “rejoices” about the fact that Hiedanranta is now a “significant street art destination nationwide.” The event was organized with the support of the City of Tampere.

In another article, the spokesperson for the Spraycankontrol organization was interviewed about legal graffiti walls. The article also includes a critical viewpoint of the destruction of the Santalahti graffiti: “It’s a shame that the city [of Tampere] did not think much of the young people when developing the area of the match factory,” the spokesperson says. He notes that the area of Santalahti had the potential to be redeveloped into a place for youth culture. He also mentions Hiedanranta as a potential replacement for the Santalahti area, thus linking the two areas together. In this article, graffiti is seen mostly as a hobby that needs legal outlets, especially for young people. The spokesperson also describes graffiti as an art form, hoping that city officials would see how graffiti could enliven the cityscape (Oikari 2017).

7) The Underground (present-oriented)

The last key narrative illustrates the underground culture in the two areas in a positive, approving, and slightly romanticized manner. The narrative is completely missing from both the planning and marketing texts of Santalahti but is present in the planning texts of Hiedanranta as one layer of the Together with Communities narrative that focuses on communal activity.

The Underground narrative is the most visible in the news texts concerning both areas. The articles concerning Santalahti include criticism towards the redevelopment of the area, as it will inevitably destroy the famous graffiti center, often referenced by the name the Pispala Gallery. In an interview of a fiction author, she is set against the backdrop of Santalahti as it was one of the places she frequented during the writing process of her book. The author writes that “[t]he area has been planned as a residential area but rounds of official complaints have kept the houses under the reign of underground cultures. For the graffiti enthusiasts, the Pispala Gallery has been a semi-legal place to do their art” (Lehtinen, N. 2017).

This criticism is also offered in a large article that trails the development of Tampere from the past to the future, detailing its major milestones and projects. A researcher from Museum Center Vapriikki raises concern about the Santalahti area. “If the old buildings could remain as a place for graffiti, they could be a huge attraction for young people in the future,” he suggests, “We could ask the young people what they want” (Roth 2016d). In another article (Roth 2016a) by the same author, graffiti artists operating unauthorized in Santalahti are interviewed. This article depicts the area as a rare, culturally rich meeting point of underground cultures. The author details the difficulties of sustaining or protecting the wide underground graffiti culture in Santalahti.

Additionally, one article suggests that because of the redevelopment in Santalahti, half of the famous historical working-class district of Pispala, to the south of Santalahti, is on the verge of disappearing. The author has interviewed anonymous graffiti artists, explaining how the area comes to life at night and how it is visited by people from all over the country. “This is a very nice place,” one visitor is described as saying about the two eastern factory blocks covered in graffiti in Santalahti. The point of view is very clearly about the preservation of the area, emphasizing the quality of the graffiti pieces and the sense of community in the area (“Puolet Pispalaa uhkaa kadota” 2014).

Whereas news texts featuring Santalahti use this narrative as a form of criticism towards the lack of interest in acknowledging the subcultures of Santalahti during the planning process, the Hiedanranta articles use it to illustrate the identity of Temporary Hiedanranta. For example, in one article (Jokelin 2017) Hiedanranta is depicted as rough but beautiful and as a place with “some deliberate bleakness and a sense of abandoned buildings, but in a cool, hipster sort of way.” In this narrative, the Hiedanranta area is described as a culture hub, celebrating the urban subcultures.


Of the seven key narratives, the graffiti storyline is absent in one (The Warm, Welcoming Home), passive in two (Progress and Innovations, The Old with the New), and active in four (Together with the Communities, Ruin and Despair, Graffiti as Art and a Pastime, The Underground), of which only one is future-oriented. The other three concentrate on the criticism (Santalahti) or celebration (Hiedanranta) of the present day relations of planning and graffiti storyline. None of the narratives promise that after the two areas’ transition from their temporary use to their future residential use the graffiti storyline would still continue – although the incomplete planning story of Hiedanranta seems to be flirting with the idea.

The most critical of the narratives, the Underground, can also be seen weaved through as an undertone in the whole of my study. This is because I have chosen to focus on the graffiti storyline, which manifests itself most clearly in the criticism towards the disinterest in acknowledging the heritage of graffiti culture in the planning process of Santalahti and in the prospect of developing Hiedanranta. However, even though the dominant narratives of Hiedanranta speak of the high involvement of urban subcultures, this might be just due to the incompleteness of the case. The planning process is not immune to possible pitfalls in the future, such as gentrification through arts uses which usually concerns districts definable by some form of specific appropriation or characteristics (Miles 1997, 107) and there seems to be a need to develop this kind of strong identity for Hiedanranta.

In addition to the previously mentioned three main differences between the two areas, Hiedanranta does not have a history of graffiti like Santalahti does. This means that the planners did not need to make decisions regarding the future of said culture. Instead, the City of Tampere has been able to create something temporary with which to carefully experiment during the planning process. This is partly due to the city’s increasing interest in redeveloping vacant and indeterminate sites in the Tampere region. For example, in the Urban Fallows research project originated in Tampere University of Technology and initiated under Creative Tampere (a City of Tampere business development programme for the years 2006–2011), researchers developed methods for mapping indeterminate spaces as resources in response “to the demands of cultural actors searching for spaces in which to pursue their activities” (Ylä-Anttila 2010, 13). The researchers were also involved in various planning and development processes in order to create alternative redevelopment models for the reuse of vacant spaces (Ylä-Anttila 2010, 13). Hiedanranta has been subject to this type of interest.

The graffiti storyline connected to Santalahti and Hiedanranta is a common one. The same questions and problems concerning the stories and heritage of graffiti culture have been discussed all over the world. In the Nordic countries recent urban development projects – such as the ongoing redevelopment of an idle parking hall in Bergsjö (Gothenburg, Sweden), the former coal depot in Sydhavnen (Copenhagen, Denmark), or the now-demolished Hjartagarðurinn park in the center of Reykjavík (Iceland) – have all had to deal with these narratives of urban planning concerning the active graffiti culture operating in the area.

Selecting the perspective of urban planning is always a crucial decision. It is important to discern what is included in the narrative fabric of the area under planning as it may be something as unexpected as a graffiti storyline. Acknowledging the existence of these types of storylines is required at the very least for planners to be able to decide between the inclusion and exclusion of that specific storyline: Should this storyline continue at this specific place in the future? Through what kind of narrative should it be represented to the public? And even more importantly, what happens if it is decided that the storyline should be cut here? The decision of inclusion or exclusion should always be conscious and justifiable as it is not only targeting phenomena per se but communities behind them.

All the made decisions, as well as the possible absence of some, are visible in the planning stories and, therefore, as Throgmorton writes, the materials produced in planning as narrative objects “shape meaning and tell readers (and listeners) what is important and what is not, what counts and what does not, what matters and what does not” (Throgmorton 2003, 128). Storytelling is always selective, and narratives always have consequences.


In this study, I have approached two post-industrial case areas undergoing planning in the city of Tampere: Santalahti and Hiedanranta. Both areas are currently in temporary use: a state between their former industrial use and redevelopment for the new residential use. I have approached storytelling as a model for and of planning and analyzed seven interwoven key narratives identified in planning, marketing, and news texts, by which the present and the future of the two areas have been communicated to the public from 2013 to 2017. The narratives were analyzed from the perspective of storylines that involves the graffiti culture operating in both areas in recent years, completely unauthorized in Santalahti but supported by the City of Tampere in Temporary Hiedanranta.

The most dominant narratives of both areas concentrate on the future by illustrating the progress and the change through sustainability and innovations and by emphasizing the use of historical buildings as a resource of redevelopment. The graffiti storyline is most clearly visible in three narratives, in one of which it is under scrutiny as a symbol for disorderly lawlessness in the Santalahti area. The two other narratives focus on graffiti as a legitimate art form and culture, and maintain that graffiti itself has inherent value. Even though these two minor narratives focus only on the present state of the areas, they nevertheless include the stories from within the graffiti culture.

This study exemplifies the complexity of the narrative fabric in urban planning, but lacks being able to offer insight into how to include graffiti storylines as a part of the future and especially into how the possible value in them could be better identified. Therefore, the vital question of recognizing and acknowledging the stories and heritage of graffiti culture in spaces of temporary use remains for future studies.


All links verified 4 June 2018.


The planning documents of Santalahti

  1. A-Insinöörit Suunnittelu Oy. ”Voimalinjakaapelisovitus.” 2 June 2014.
  2. Arkkitehdit LSV. ”Aluejulkisivu.” 25 September 2013a.
  3. Arkkitehdit LSV. ”Havainnekuva.” 3 June 2014b.
  4. Arkkitehdit LSV. ”Paikoituskaavio.” 20 January 2013c.
  5. Arkkitehdit LSV. ”Pelastustiekaavio.” 17 September 2013d.
  6. Arkkitehdit LSV. ”Varjoanalyysi.” 23 September 2013e.
  7. ”Asemakaavaluonnosten 8048 vaihtoehtoja A ja B koskevat lausunnot / vastaukset.” 8 February 2013.
  8. ”Asemakaavaluonnosten 8048 vaihtoehtoja A ja B koskevat mielipiteet / vastaukset.” 8 February 2013.
  9. ”Asemakaavan seurantalomake.” 18 December 2015.
  10. FCG Finnish Consulting Group Oy. ”Hulevesiselvityksen liite.” 11 October 2013a.
  11. FCG Finnish Consulting Group Oy. ”Santalahden asemakaava-alueen hulevesiselvitys.” 11 October 2013b.
  12. FCG Suunnittelu ja tekniikka Oy. ”Yhteenveto Santalahden alueen pilaantuneisuudesta.” 08 July 2013.
  13. ”Hyväksyttävä asemakaava.” 10 June 2014.
  14. ”Lausuntokoonti.” 2013.
  15. ”Pirkanmaan rataverkon kehittämisen liikenteellinen tarveselvitys.” 2013.
  16. ”Muistutuskoonti.” 2013.
  17. ”Poistettava asemakaava.” 15 December 2014.
  18. Ramboll Finland Oy. ”Santalahden asemakaavan meluselvitys, päivitys.” 30 May 2014.
  19. Ramboll Finland Oy. ”Viheryleissuunnitelma.” 1 October 2013.
  20. ”Santalahden asemakaavaehdotusta 8048 koskevat lausunnot.” 3 June 2014.
  21. ”Santalahden asemakaavaehdotusta 8048 koskevat muistutukset ja vastaukset.” 3 June 2014.
  22. ”Santalahden asemakaavan liikenneselvityksen 8/2013 liitteet”. August 2013.
  23. Seppänen, Jouko. ”Asemakaavaehdotuksen selostus.” 10 June 2014a.
  24. Seppänen, Jouko. ”Asemakaavaehdotuksen selostus: kaava nro 8048.” 15 December 2014b.
  25. Seppänen, Jouko. ”Santalahden asemakaavatyön näkymätarkasteluiden kooste.” 14 November 2013.
  26. Seppänen, Jouko, and Maija Villanen. ”Kortteliohje.” 10 June 2014.
  27. SITO Tampere Oy. ”Santalahden asemakaavan liikenneselvitys.” August 2013.
  28. Tampereen kaupunkikuvatoimikunta. ”Lausunto Santalahden asemakaavaehdotuksesta.” 11 March 2014.
  29. ”Viranomaisneuvottelun muistio.” 6 March 2014.
  30. YIT Rakennus Oy, BST-Arkkitehdit Oy, and Cederqvist & Jäntti Arkkitehdit. ”Havainnekuvat.”

The planning documents of Hiedanranta

  1. City of Tampere. ”Arvostelupöytäkirja: Tampereen Hiedanrannan kaupunginosan kansainvälinen ideakilpailu.” 2016a.
  2. City of Tampere. ”Hiedanrannan työpajataulut.” 2017a.
  3. City of Tampere. ”Hiedanrannan yleissuunitelman runko.” 2017b.
  4. City of Tampere. “Hiedanranta Landscape Survey.” 2016b.
  5. City of Tampere. ”Hiedanranta: rakennesuunnitelma.”
  6. City of Tampere. ”Kantakaupungin yleiskaava: Lielahden rannan kehittämisvisio.”
  7. City of Tampere. “The Objectives for the local master plan for the inner city 2040.” 2015.
  8. City of Tampere. ”Kilpailuohjelma. Tampereen Hiedanrannan kaupunginosan kansainvälinen ideakilpailu.” 2016c.
  9. City of Tampere, Uusi kaupunki, and Kuowi. ”Hiedanranta Brainstorming Workshop.”
  10. Heiskanen, Jari, and Kirsi Niukko. ”Hiedanrannan rakennetun ympäristön selvitys: Harjun ja veden maisema, Lielahden tehdasalueen historialliset kerrostumat, rakennukset ja kulttuuriarvot.” 2015.
  11. ”Hiedanrannan rakennetun ympäristön selvitys: rakennuskortit.”
  12. ”Hiedanranta arkkitehtikilpailua varten Raitiotien suunnitteluperusteita.” 2016.
  13. Hukkanen, Heikki and Matti Holopainen. ”Technical Area Description Of Hiedanranta.” 2016.
  14. ”People of Hiedanranta.” 2016.
  15. Lehtovuori, Panu et al. ”Development Vision for Hiedanranta: Densely-built and Intensively Green Tampere City West.” 2016.
  16. Pirkanmaa Provincial Museum. ”Arkeologinen inventointi.” 2015.
  17. Rahkonen, Riikka, and Jouko Seppänen. ”Rakennetun ympäristön selvitys.” 2016.
  18. ”Yhteenveto suunnitelma-alueen luonnonarvoista.”
  19. ”Vaitinaron liikenne- ja liittymäselvitys, yhteenveto.” 2016.

The marketing materials

  1. Billboard of Hiedanranta.
  2. Billboard of the New Santalahti [a].
  3. Billboard of the New Santalahti [b].
  4. City of Tampere. http://valiaikainenhiedanranta.fi/.
  5. Flyer of Hiedanranta.
  6. Flyer of Hiedanrannan kesä.
  7. Flyer of the New Santalahti.
  8. Lemminkäinen. ”Santalahdessa kotisi on keskustassa järvinäkymin.” http://www.lemminkainen.fi/asunnot/asuntohaku/tampereen-santalahti.
  9. Map of the New Santalahti.
  10. Pohjola Rakennus. “Uusia koteja suunnitteilla Santalahteen”. http://www.pohjolarak.fi/kohteet.
  11. Pohjola Rakennus, and YH Kodit. http://www.uusisantalahti.fi.
  12. ”Tulevaisuuden kohteita yhdistävät hyvät sijainnit.” Arvoa asiakkaalle: Pohjola Rakennus Oy:n asiakaslehti, 1/2014. Tampere: Pohjola Rakennus Oy. https://issuu.com/mainio/docs/arvoaasiakkaalle_netti_31d86f7548d738.
  13. ”Uusi toimisto ja mittavia hankkeita.” Arvoa asiakkaalle: Pohjola Rakennuksen asiakaslehti, 2017. Tampere: Pohjola Rakennus Group PRG Oy. https://issuu.com/mainio/docs/arvoa_asiakkalle_2017_issuu.
  14. YH Kodit [a]. “Tampereen Santalahti.” https://www.yhkodit.fi/kotia-etsivalle/suunnitteilla-olevat-kohteet/santalahti.
  15. YH Kodit [b]. ”YH Kodit ja Pohjola Rakennus rakentavat Tampereen Santalahteen 500 asuntoa.” https://www.yhkodit.fi/uncategorized/yh-kodit-pohjola-rakennus-rakentavat-tampereen-santalahteen-500-asuntoa.

The newspaper articles

  1. ”2 300 asukkaan asemakaava Santalahteen.” Aamulehti. June 11, 2014.
  2. Airaksinen, Annastiina. ”Hiedanrannan pioneerit luovat uutta kaupunginosaa.” Aamulehti. June 17, 2016.
  3. Airo, Tatu. ”Hiedanrantaan jopa 25 000 asukkaan kaupunginosa.” Aamulehti. October 13, 2016.
  4. Airo, Tatu. ”Ratikka jatkoon.” Aamulehti. August 6, 2017a.
  5. Airo, Tatu. ”Valtava alue Näsijärvestä täytetään.” Aamulehti. July 14, 2017b.
  6. Ala-Heikkilä, Minna. “Vihdoin kotona.” Aamulehti. July 16, 2017.
  7. Haakana, Tuomas. “Hylätyssä tehtaassa paloi taas kokko Pispalassa.” Aamulehti. July 9, 2013a.
  8. Haakana, Tuomas. ”Tikkutehtaan omistaja: rötisköt ovat kaavoitusbyrokratian tuote.” Aamulehti. December 28, 2013b.
  9. Heinänen, Liisa. ”Palo tuhosi teollisuushistoriaa.” Aamulehti. November 12, 2014.
  10. ”Hiedanrannan suunnittelukisan voitosta 110 000.” Aamulehti. April 25, 2016.
  11. ”Hiedanrannan voitto jaettiin kahdelle työlle.” Tamperelainen. January 11, 2017.
  12. ”Hiedanrannan yleissuunnittelu on alkanut.” Tamperelainen. June 3, 2017.
  13. ”Hiedanrannassa maalattiin seiniä.” Tamperelainen. August 24, 2016.
  14. ”Hiedanranta hurmasi kävijät.” Aamulehti. August 16, 2015.
  15. ”Hiedanrantaa ideoidaan avoimissa työpajoissa.” Tamperelainen. April 8, 2017.
  16. ”Hiedanrantaan tulossa kelluva sauna.” Tamperelainen. May 17, 2017.
  17. ”Hiedanrantaan tutustui yli 7 000 vierasta.” Aamulehti. August 18, 2015.
  18. ”Huimat graffitimaalaukset koristavat Hiedanrantaa.” Aamulehti. August 25, 2016.
  19. Huovinen, Jorma. ”Palaneen tehtaan ydinosa säästynee.” Aamulehti. November 13, 2014.
  20. Husa, Mikko. ”Tukku uusia festareita ja Kuivaamo.” Aamulehti. May 24, 2016a.
  21. Husa, Mikko. ”Uusi Kuivaamo pääsee tositestiin.” Aamulehti. June 15, 2016b.
  22. Högmander, Jutta. ”Lielahteen voisi joskus nousta tornitaloja ja Tampereen Riviera.” Aamulehti. July 19, 2013a.
  23. Högmander, Jutta. ”Suljettu tehdasalue odottaa uutta elämää.” Aamulehti. July 14, 2013b.
  24. Högmander, Jutta. ”Tehtaiden kaupungin tarina jatkuu.” Aamulehti. February 25, 2016a.
  25. Högmander, Jutta. ”Villit visiot.” Aamulehti. April 3, 2016b.
  26. Jokelin, Jantso. ”Uusi Tampere kajahti käyntiin betonin keskellä.” Aamulehti. July 16, 2017.
  27. Kalliosaari, Kati. ”Hiedanrannassa toimistotkin voivat kellua.” Aamulehti. March 12, 2016.
  28. Kalliosaari, Kati. ”Raitiovaunu ajaa tehtaan läpi Hiedanrannassa.” Aamulehti. January 11, 2017a.
  29. Kalliosaari, Kati. ”Tampereen Hiedanrannan ideakilpailu ratkeaa tänään.” Aamulehti. January 10, 2017b.
  30. Kangasvieri, Fanni. ”Skeittaava koira Rambo hurmaa etenkin lapsiyleisön.” August 5, 2017.
  31. ”Kauneus kohtaa rumuuden.” Aamulehti. July 18, 2014.
  32. Koivu, Viivi. ”Santalahti on yhä vailla kaavaa.” Moro. May 29, 2014.
  33. Koskenniemi, Aila. ”Softaajat siivoavat tikkutehtaan tonttia.” Aamulehti. April 23, 2014.
  34. Koskinen, Anu Leena. ”Mies putosi katolta ja kuoli.” Aamulehti. June 1, 2016.
  35. Kuusela, Matti. ”Kaikkien aikojen romanttisin kosinta.” Aamulehti. May 20, 2017.
  36. Lehtinen, Juha. ”Purkutöihin päästäneen ensi kesänä.” Aamulehti. November 11, 2014.
  37. Lehtinen, Nina. ”Mieli liikkuu.” Aamulehti. February 5, 2017.
  38. ”Lielahden piippu uhkaa sortua.” Moro. July 16, 2015.
  39. ”Lielahden vanha tehdasalue valaistaan.” Tamperelainen. December 12, 2015.
  40. ”Lielahti kasvussa.” Tamperelainen. August 24, 2016.
  41. “Liki 40 tahoa kilpailee Hiedanrannan ideoinnista.” Tamperelainen. October 15, 2017.
  42. Manninen, Jukka. ”Onneksi Santalahteen on luvassa rantaparatiisi.” Moro. March 26, 2015a.
  43. Manninen, Jukka. ”Pienyrittäjät joutuvat pois pahvitehtaasta.” Moro. August 3, 2017a.
  44. Manninen, Jukka. ”Santalahdessa asuu kohta 2 300 tamperelaista.” Moro. April 20, 2017b.
  45. Manninen, Jukka. “Santalahteen voisi rakentaa 8-kerroksisia asuintaloja.” Moro. October 31, 2013.
  46. Manninen, Jukka. ”Tervetullut parannus.” Moro. April 20, 2017c.
  47. Manninen, Jukka. ”Älä valita Santalahdesta.” Moro. March 26, 2015b.
  48. Metsähalme, Freija. ”’Lielahti olisi kuin Dubai.” June 14, 2014.
  49. Mylläri, Jari. ”Pahvitehtaan firmoille saatava tilat.” Moro. August 3, 2017.
  50. Mäkinen, Petteri. ”Hervannallinen uusia asukkaita Lielahteen.” Tamperelainen. February 7, 2015.
  51. Mäkinen, Petteri. ”Uittotunneli jäämässä kauaksi rannasta.” Tamperelainen. July 12, 2017.
  52. Mäkinen, Petteri. ”Uusille asuinalueille pyörätie.” Tamperelainen. March 30, 2016.
  53. Määttänen, Markus. ”Tulevaisuus avautuu.” Aamulehti. November 15, 2017.
  54. Nieminen, Iida. ”Kivulias laji vaatii paljon harjoittelua.” Aamulehti. August 8, 2017.
  55. Nyman, Juhana. ”Tehtaan piippu uhkaa sortua Lielahdessa.” Aamulehti. June 30, 2015.
  56. Oikari, Joel. ”Spray-maalausta harrastaa moni, mutta missä..?” Tamperelainen. August 5, 2017.
  57. ”Olisitko iloinen, jos Santalahden rytöpesän rakentaminen alkaisi nopeasti?” Moro. March 26, 2015.
  58. Pelkonen, Roosa. ”Kiva, että tikkutehdasta käytetään luvalla.” Tamperelainen. May 10, 2014.
  59. Pesonen, Heidi. ”Lielahden uusi asutus voi tulla tekosaarille.” Aamulehti. June 13, 2014.
  60. Pesonen, Heidi. ”Pala tukkilaiskulttuuria tuhoutui Tampereella.” Aamulehti. April 23, 2015.
  61. ”Pirkanmaan pulssi.” Aamulehti. April 26, 2015.
  62. ”Pirkanmaan pulssi.” Aamulehti. December 12, 2014.
  63. Pokkinen, Jorma. ”Kaavoihin kangistuneet.” Aamulehti. July 28, 2013.
  64. ”Puolet Pispalaa uhkaa kadota.” Aamuleht July 18, 2014.
  65. Roth, Raili. ”Graffitien mestarit.” Aamulehti. August 15, 2016a.
  66. Roth, Raili. ”Hiedanranta kehittyy Tanskan tyyliin.” Aamulehti. May 11, 2017.
  67. Roth, Raili. ”Lielahti sai puita ja kanaaleita.” Aamulehti. April 30, 2016b.
  68. Roth, Raili. ”Matka Suomen Dubaiksi.” Aamulehti. December 4, 2016c.
  69. Roth, Raili. ”Puoliksi luvallista taidetta.” Aamulehti. September 11, 2016d.
  70. Rouvinen, Talvi. ”Pispalan feimi katoaa uuden asuinalueen tieltä.” Moro. August 6, 2015.
  71. Ruissalo, Pekka. ”Hiedanrannan alueella menee nyt lujaa.” Tamperelainen. May 31, 2017.
  72. Ruissalo, Pekka. ”Hiedanranta vakuutti tamperelaiset.” June 6, 2016.
  73. Rämö, Marjo. ”Lielahden tehdasalue avautuu yleisölle.” Tamperelainen. June 29, 2016.
  74. Saarinen, Jussi. ”Lielahden pimeydestä löytyi helmi.” Aamulehti. November 21, 2016a.
  75. Saarinen, Jussi. ”Mansen Suvilahti.” Aamulehti. June 16, 2016b.
  76. Saarinen, Jussi. ”Vapaa kulttuuri jäi valtatien alle.” October 11, 2016c.
  77. ”Santalahteen esillä 2 300 asukkaan kerrostalot.” Aamulehti. November 6, 2013.
  78. Särkiniemi, Emilia. ”Lielahti, harmaa autoilijoiden kaupunginosa.” Aamulehti. February 13, 2016.
  79. ”Tampereen Hiedanrannassa pidetään juhlat.” Aamulehti. August 14, 2015.
  80. Tanner, Suvi. ”Lielahden tehdasalueelle asuntoja ja työpaikkoja.” Aamulehti. January 31, 2014.
  81. Taponen, Aki. ”Tampereen Santalahteen tulee yli 2 000 asukkaan kaupunginosa.” Aamulehti. December 15, 2015a.
  82. Taponen, Aki. ”Tehdasalue sai uuden nimen.” Aamulehti. May 28, 2015b.
  83. Taponen, Aki. ”Tulitikkutehtaan kortteliin päiväkoti ja kerrostaloja.” Aamulehti. May 4, 2014.
  84. ”Teollisuusalueella Tampereella paloi tällä kertaa sohva.” Aamulehti. December 3, 2014.
  85. Tolonen, Anni. ”Olympiatason skeittihalli avautuu pian Tampereelle.” Aamulehti. May 12, 2017.
  86. ”Tulitikkutehtaalla syttyi tulipalo sunnuntaiyönä.” Aamulehti. April 22, 2014.
  87. Tunturi, Saara. ”Meidän rantamme.” Aamulehti. April 17, 2016.
  88. Tuominen, Nette. ”Ylväs ja ronski Hiedanranta avaa porttinsa.” Aamulehti. August 15, 2015.
  89. Uusitalo, Kaisa. ”Kuivaamo on uusi kulttuuritila tehdasmiljöössä.” Aamulehti. June 17, 2017a.
  90. Uusitalo, Kaisa. ”Suojellulle Santalahdelle on suuria suunnitelmia.” Aamulehti. July 3, 2017b.
  91. Välinoro, Anne. ”Hiedan tulevaisuus.” Aamulehti. June 11, 2016.

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[1] According to the email sent to the author on 22 August 2017 by Harri Kiviranta, a Project Development Manager of Pohjola Rakennus Oy, more marketing materials of New Santalahti should be available later in Autumn 2017 as the development proceeds. Since this article has been written before that, the future materials unfortunately could not be analyzed.

[2] Aamulehti is a paid daily newspaper owned by Alma Media Oyj, published in Tampere, and serving mostly the Pirkanmaa region. Moro is a weekly supplement of Aamulehti, distributed free of charge on Thurdays. Tamperelainen is a free local newspaper issued twice a week and owned by Etelä-Suomen Media Oy, a part of media concern Keskisuomalainen Oyj.

[3] Quotes translated from Finnish to English by the author Kai Ylinen.

1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

Kick the Dead Rabbit: Tuxedos, Movies, and Cosmopolitan Urban Imaginaries in Macao

Casinos, China, Cosmopolitan, Film Studies, Macao, Urban Imaginary

Benjamin Kidder Hodges
bhodges [a] umac.mo
Department of Communication
University of Macau

Viittaaminen / How to cite: Kidder Hodges, Benjamin. 2018. ”Kick the Dead Rabbit: Tuxedos, Movies, and Cosmopolitan Urban Imaginaries in Macao”. WiderScreen 21 (1-2). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2018-1-2/kick-dead-rabbit-tuxedos-movies-cosmopolitan-urban-imaginaries-macao/

Printable PDF version

This article explores ways in which a cosmopolitan, urbane subject is on display in Macao’s gaming, tourism and leisure industries. Much like the fin-de-siècle flâneur studied by Walter Benjamin, the cosmopolitan tourist and gambler portrayed in the visual culture of Macao witness the city as both an aesthetic object and as a set of new experiences to be seen and felt. In asking for whom and to what end this subject and the urban imaginary of Macao is created, it is necessary to examine how a cosmopolitan space and subject have historically been represented. This article borrows from Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas and Thom Anderson’s video essay, Los Angeles Plays Itself the use of a comparative approach to scenes and images. While Warburg’s early 20th century approach to art history and Anderson’s later film criticism arose from different eras and disciplines, they both point to the value of juxtaposing images as a form of analysis. The contention in this case is that through the comparison of specific details in movies set in Macao one might construct a visually mediated genealogy of the cosmopolitan. In other words, to better understand the urban imaginary of contemporary Macao it is helpful to look back at cinematic images of leisure and nightlife from the past. To this end, the tuxedo, as well as other luxury goods, so often seen in films about Macao can be explored as a visual through-line linking tropes of success and leisure to the construction of a new vision of cosmopolitanism that is marketed to predominately Chinese tourists.

Branding Macao as cosmopolitan

Image 1. Taxi in front of Galaxy Macau, Macao. Copyright 2014 Author’s own.

Macao is a place built around arrivals and departures with the average visit lasting little more than 24 hours. Thousands of tourists come across the border daily to enjoy the legal gambling that is available in this special administrative region of China. Macao, a city with roughly 650,000 permanent residents was visited in 2016 alone by 30 million visitors. The vast majority of these visitors come from mainland China, but the numbers include visitors from Hong Kong, South Korea, and other parts of Asia. Gaming was a large part of the economy of Macao well before its return to China during the 1999 handover from Portugal and remains so today. Its special administrative status makes it an ideal testbed for the mainland Chinese government to experiment with introducing and regulating the availability of legal gaming for its citizens with the flow of tourists effectively managed by changes to visa schemes (Simpson 2011). Nonetheless, central government officials have routinely encouraged Macao to diversify its economy to provide alternative attractions for tourism and leisure. So while the predominate industry remains gaming there is an active effort to rebrand Macao as a site for other forms of leisure.

Leading up to the handover, the Chinese and Portuguese governments worked together to define and promote a continuous image and history of multicultural cohabitation in Macao (Clayton 2010). Every year, since 2011 the date of the handover, December 20th, has been celebrated through a campaign called “Parade through Macao, Latin City.” In addition to marking the anniversary of the handover, the campaign promotes a vision of multicultural harmony. With costumed dancers, musicians, and elaborate pageantry Macao’s Portuguese heritage is linked with a broader notion of Latin culture. The city itself becomes an example of a multicultural ideal meant to be seen both by local residents and through its television broadcast seen by the millions of potential tourists that may one day come to experience it in person. This is just one example of the active effort to brand Macao as a safe controlled cosmopolitan experience of different cultures.

Outside of the typical heritage tourist sites and such occasional festivals celebrating cultural heritage and diversity, the casino industry that drives most of the economy also offers its own vision of cosmopolitanism. In one continuous air-conditioned space, tourists can walk from the Venetian to the Parisian or cross the street to a wide variety of large scale casino resort complexes. With names like Studio City, City of Dreams, and the Galaxy they suggest their ambition to offer a whole world of leisure and gaming services. For the potential tourist, the suggestion is that it is possible to take in the world in just one destination.

A whole host of cultural criticism has rightly been levied at the notion of a singular universal vision of cosmopolitanism. James Clifford’s notion of discrepant cosmopolitanism highlights the wide variety of mobility around the globe in contrast to traditional narrative tropes of discovery that inform European colonial literature (Clifford 1997). In Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality Aihwa Ong studies a Hong Kong Chinese diaspora that has expanded beyond a traditional notion of a bounded national culture (Ong 1999). Given the new mobilities of transnationality and the wide variety of economic and cultural imperatives to move, ranging across a spectrum from tourists to refugees, is it still viable to describe oneself, as the Greek philosopher Diogenes did, as a “citizen of the world?” To answer this we need to ask alongside Ulf Hannerz, “[a]re tourists, exiles, and expatriates cosmopolitans and when not, why not?” (Hannerz 1990, 241). He answers himself in theorizing that cosmopolitanism “is an intellectual and aesthetic stance of openness toward divergent cultural experiences a search for contrasts rather than uniformity” (1990, 239).

Studying the image of cosmopolitanism on display in Macao does not have to involve questioning the authenticity of the resorts and cultural experiences on offer. The more relevant question is what kind of experiences and differences tourists can encounter and how they might be construed as part of a cosmopolitan experience. Tim Simpson has theorized that Macao offers an “interiorized and encapsulated urbanity” (Simpson 2014, 824). Given that Macao’s casino resorts promote themselves as cities in miniature, we can ask what kind of encapsulated cosmopolitan do they deliver. Do the amenities, services, and experiences they provide to tourists looking to temporarily participate in new cultures and cities result in a new form of cosmopolitanism?

Dressing Cosmopolitan: the tuxedo and Macao

As with other cities designed around tourism, Macao is a place first seen ahead of time. It is seen in official promotional materials as well as in vlogs, travelogues, and other such material shared online. In a media landscape dominated by the gaming industry, a particular vision of cosmopolitanism is on display. Images of nightlife, leisure, and luxury are regularly depicted. These also often take the form of a cosmopolitan male subject decked out in black tie who is there to witness the city as a set of new aesthetic experiences. Deniro, Decaprio, and Beckham have all appeared in advertising campaigns for local casinos which show them in formal attire ready to explore the night life of Macao. Similarly, stars from Korea to India come to Macao to walk red carpets at film festivals, concerts, and enjoy Macao as a tourism and lifestyle destination.

“Tek sei tou” (踢死兔) is the phonetic version of “tuxedo” in Cantonese. It directly translates as “kick the dead rabbit.” This playful, seemingly nonsensical mnemonic helps Cantonese speakers remember this English word. One might also construe that it has some class based significance, perhaps implying a criticism of the upper class; but I have not encountered any literature or references to directly support this interpretation. In contrast to this speculation about the etymology of the Cantonese phrase, it is clear that tuxedo, in fact is an Algonquian word, as it has its origins in the dinner jackets worn by wealthy New Yorkers visiting the resort town of Tuxedo Park, New York in the later part of the 19th century. This formal evening wear has remained a symbol of affluence. Worn to weddings, film premieres, and state dinners, it has become synonymous with wealth, success, and leisure. More than just a sartorial history, the iconic character of the tuxedo signals the associated affects of aspiration and accomplishment. In New York’s Chinatown, from 1897 to the 1920s, the “Chinese Tuxedo” operated as a popular restaurant; and in 2017 a new restaurant opened with the same name. This genealogy from Tuxedo Park through to Chinatown is slim anecdotal proof of anything; but it does show a legacy of trading on black tie as a persistent marker of success and cosmopolitanism. It is a concept that travels. The forms of luxury and leisure change and evolve like fashion but the desire and aspiration for such forms persists. What does this mean for a city like Macao attempting to brand itself as a place for leisure and luxury? The tuxedo may be more or less relevant depending on the whims of fashion, but the desire to differentiate and create markers of success remain.

For most, to wear a tuxedo is a rare occurrence, something just rented for the day, unless it is a part of one’s uniform. Many of the dealers and hospitality staff that populate Macao’s casino resorts wear some variation of the tuxedo or formal evening wear. I know the only time I wore a tuxedo was to my high school prom, so I can not profess to be an expert in the particulars of high-society fashion. I did, however, grow up seeing a certain kind of male cosmopolitan subject decked out in tuxedos. I watched James Bond and countless other espionage themed films portray a world of international travel, danger, and leisure. When I first came to Macao in 2008 to teach film-making at the University of Macau I was uncertain what might be the appropriate attire. I knew very little about Macao; only later did I learn more about the city, about its Portuguese colonial past and its history as a port, one that predated Hong Kong’s later role as the region’s center for trade. I also learned that even though I did not know about Macao directly, I had unwittingly grown up with it. As a child in the 1980s and 90s in the U.S. making the usual pilgrimage to see movies on the weekends, I had unwittingly seen a version of Macao appear on screen. Macao regularly stood in for Shanghai during years when commercial production in the mainland was not possible. It was there, when Indiana Jones in a white tuxedo replete with a red carnation escaped from a bar in the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). And it was there again in the Kung Fu films of the 1970s. Hong Kong based studios like Golden Harvest and the Shaw Brothers used the streets of Macao as a stand in when they were unable to shoot in Shanghai or elsewhere in Mainland China. Perhaps most notably, in Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (1972), Macao again played the part of Shanghai.

Sean Penn and Madonna’s Shanghai Surprise (1986) also used Macao to stand in for Shanghai. During the shooting, Penn notoriously fled Macao after being arrested for attempted murder of a paparazzi caught in his hotel room (South China Morning Post 2004). This gossip cements the cliché of Macao as a place to which, and from which, one escapes under the cover of night. In the French film Largo Winch (2008), based on the Belgian comic by the same name, Macao plays Brazil; with the village of Coloane dressed up to play the part of the state of Mato Grosso. Locals were easy enough to cast as extras given the Portuguese connection. The James Bond film, Skyfall (2012), also shows an invented Macao, a virtual Macao that was produced by an animation studio in Shanghai. The computer rendered establishing shot shows a fantasy version of the floating Casino Macau Palace that once famously operated in Macao. In the scene, James Bond appears in a dark blue tuxedo, enters the lantern lit casino and narrowly escapes equally computer rendered Komodo dragons and other prototypical bad guys.

Macao plays itself

In Thom Anderson’s video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), Anderson shows how the city has been seen in films throughout the many years of filmmaking produced along its streets. The changes in the city are revealed in the background of films that never had such a documentary intention. He also highlights ways in which the city itself has played as a character in films. Los Angeles became a good guy and a bad guy, a pivotal part that could be relied on to support one’s plot. Macao has also played itself and continues to play itself in films meant for the burgeoning mainland Chinese market and for international audiences still apparently keen to see James Bond walk into a exotic bar and ask for a drink.

Anderson’s approach to Los Angeles as seen through film, echoes the Mnemosyne Atlas of Aby Warburg. Warburg sought to trace and explain the persistence of iconography in Western art. There has been a resurgence of efforts to link Warburg’s visual approach to art history to contemporary theories of the archive and curatorial practices (Latsis 2013). In the Mnemosyne Atlas, Warburg constructed panels with photos of different works of arts on a black background. Whether or not the central iconography of Warburg’s panels are legitimate underlying engines of art history, the form of his approach is still relevant. These black panels grouped artwork from different time periods and cultures, much like Anderson looks to draw links by putting movie scenes from different eras side by side in his film collage in order to draw out the iconography of Los Angeles.

Warburg looked for the Pathosformel or “emotionally charged visual tropes” expressed through elements in western art (Becker 2013, 1). He focused on specific details and ornaments what he called bewegtes Beiwerk” or animated accessories.” For Warburg, the flowing hair and dresses in the Birth of Venus and Primavera paintings by Sandro Botticelli and work by Domenico Ghirlandaio hinted at some underlying motion and energy (Russell 2007). In Macao, tuxedos, nightlife and other such images of success and luxury hint at some underlying possibility of financial power and mobility. To see cosmopolitan figures in movies and advertising campaigns is to see the potential of a cosmopolitan subject. The goals of diversifying Macao’s economy and creating more family friendly tourism activities arrive into a visual landscape that is already populated by figures of cosmopolitan subjects from earlier eras.

The popularity of Anderson’s video essay and the renewed interest in Warburg may have something to do with the ways in which we are regularly tasked with negotiating a landscape of multiple images, genres, and media content. To see and experience Macao as a city is to negotiate these links, to sift through a wide array of user-generated content, social media feeds, and popular media. Historical images of it and emergent visions of what it may soon become can be thought together at the same time. The origins of a particular Macao modern or urban imaginary may not be so clear but the persistent details and images of success and luxury remain. There may not be a continuous genealogy of luxury that we can trace. We may, however, find parallels in the depictions of a fictional Macao on display in movies from a wide variety of eras and genres.

Film noir and precode films from Hollywood and Europe imagined Macao as a place to escape to and from, a liminal port city on the physical edge of China and the discursive edge of morality and legality. The city’s appeal was that it worked as an escape from the rest of the world. These story-lines primarily appealed to western fantasies of travel to exotic locales with heroic male leads saving troubled women from the dangers of a dubious other. In movies and in reality, however, it was a place to hide, a place like Casablanca from which to flee the fronts of World War II. In the nineteen forties it served as a nearby escape from the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and mainland China. Then governed by a neutral Portugal, Macao was a place to wait out the war. It was also a place to hide and move money into and out of China. This was aided by the fact that it was not a signatory to the international gold standard so it served as a financial intermediary between otherwise warring sides (Gunn 2016). And later it was a refuge for those fleeing from the Cultural Revolution in mainland China. This trend continued in the 1960s and 70s, when numbers of overseas Chinese from Myanmar and Indonesia escaped to Macao. Later on Cambodian and Vietnamese additionally sought out refuge in Macao. The exceptional status of Macao, made it attractive to a wide variety of interests and a perfect location for the gaming industry to grow and eventually eclipse Las Vegas.

Image 2. Poster Macao, l’enfer du jeu (Gambling Hell 1942). Demo Films.

The earliest western film set in Macao was the French film Macao, l’enfer du jeu (1942) or as it is known by its English title Gambling Hell directed by Jean Delannoy. It was based on a book of the same name by Maurice Dekobra and tells the story of a lounge singer in peril in Macao only to be saved by a ship captain. In Josef von Sternberg’s Macao (1952) another lounge singer, played by Jane Russell also finds herself in danger in Macao only to be saved again by the male lead played by Robert Mitchum. In both of these films, Macao is depicted as a place of peril, an existential milieu that must simply be survived. In Josef von Sternberg’s earlier film Morocco (1930), staring Marlene Dietrich, the character of the endangered lounge singer already appears. In one scene, Dietrich’s character famously appears wearing a tuxedo, replete with white tie and top hat. This scene has since been interpreted as a positive emblem of female empowerment and gender play. Years later, in Macao (1952) Russell’s character does not don a suit but she occupies the same position as a lounge singer surrounded by a backing band as she soundtracks the gaming of the casino’s patrons. Both these films set in Macao were notably not shot in Macao outside of some exterior pickups for the later film. This meant that both literally had to reconstruct Macao on a sound stage in France and Hollywood respectively. These constructed visions of the city offer an imaginary urban space that may never actually be visited but remains visible.

Cosmopolitan for whom?

Image 3. The Cotai Strip, Macao. Copyright 2018 Author’s own.

Since the opening of the casino licenses in 2002, a number of large scale casino-resort complexes have been built in a stretch of reclaimed land between the previously separate islands of Taipa and Coloane. Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Venetian, branded it the “Cotai Strip” in a clear move to both rival and mimic the Las Vegas Strip. From the Venetian to the City of Dreams, from Studio City to the Galaxy, each resort offers a different themed space combining hotels, retail, and gaming tables. The urban on offer in these themed spaces is a particular kind of enclosed or encapsulated luxury. Promotional material for these venues and the venues themselves present a vision of the city that is regularly swept clean and free as possible from everyday concerns. The mundane and the cosmopolitan are etymologically related, they are both of the world. The distinction is which world. The mundane suggests a world, from which to escape, and the cosmopolitan suggests another world, to which to aspire. By comparing images of a cosmopolitan subject in movies set in and shot in Macao, we can see changes in the world of leisure that is on offer. Through these images we can consider for whom and to what end this vision of a luxury city is created. These contemporary media, when combined with historical images of the city, form an ever evolving picture about what Macao was, is and will be.

As Venturi, Brown and Izenour show in Learning from Las Vegas, there is much to be learned from the vernacular architecture and aesthetics that arise in support of and alongside the gaming industry. The compressed confines of Macao and its status as a special administrative region of China, make it the most densely populated region in the world, with 21,340 people per square kilometre (DSEC 2017). At first glance Macau’s casino architecture appears to have little to do with the expanses of highway and roadside signs that these scholars studied in Nevada. The architectures and aesthetics of Macao, nonetheless, address visitors directly as iconic images. Visitors to Macao crowd to take in the ever-present Grand Lisboa, with its pineapple shape and mirrored base. Shuttle buses unload masses of tourists at the internationally themed casino resorts of the Cotai Strip. The buildings themselves serve as giant LED displays delivering images of success and leisure. These themed architectures and spaces are designed to be iconic, to be seen and photographed, to lure in patrons and stand in as a backdrop for photos to be taken back home and shown around to friends and family, first hand proof for having been there. Whatever a visitors’ wins or losses at the gaming tables, this experience of the themed architecture confirms participation in a cosmopolitan space.

Image 4. Grand Lisboa Macao. Copyright 2018 Author’s own.

The video content on the giant LED billboards on display inside the shopping arcades of the casino resorts also narrate an experience of the city that focuses on escape, luxury, and new aesthetic experiences. Tuxedoed celebrities, brand ambassadors, and movie stars stand in as proxy representatives of what it is like to visit a world of luxury and success. The reality of travel is, of course, not always as glamorous as that being portrayed in films and promotional videos. Masses of tourists must negotiate lines at the border and lines at the shuttle buses. Public transportation and the streets themselves can become overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of visitors. This can lead to tension between locals and tourists. Similarly construction projects to improve the existing infrastructure have become symbols of the difference between the needs of a tourist only in town for a day or two and a local resident troubled by the additional traffic and delays in construction. Such a gap between promotional images used to market a city to tourists and the reality of mass market tourism is not, of course, unique to Macao. What is specific is the relationship between the scale of the mass market tourism and the recurrent images of high-rolling vip gaming.

The foil to the commonly portrayed urbane subject jetting into Macao for a round of VIP gaming, is the figure of the nouveau riche or in Cantonese touhou (土豪). This term suggests provincial Chinese who have come into new money without an associated cultural background or frame of reference for the luxury items that they now have the economic power to purchase. As in the familiar shift in Western popular culture from the flâneur to the dandy to the swell, the image of a wealthy mainland Chinese visitor to Macao runs a continuum from a positive vision of a modern cosmopolitanism to that of a naive person from the countryside.

Hong Kong director Wong Jing’s series of gaming themed films, starting with God of Gamblers (1989) show Andy Lau as a debonair, suave gambler who is able to win high stakes games involving international rivals. These films, while less commonly the subject of film studies criticism, do express popular anxieties and attitudes of film audiences that have had to negotiate the changing political landscape of Hong Kong (Chan 2011). In the most recent film from the series, From Vegas to Macau III (2016), Lau remains a worldly character even able to best K-Pop star Psy who makes a cameo in the film. This figure of the cunning and witty gambler contrasts with mainland produced films that have focused on using Macao as a setting for romantic travel genre films. In director Xue Xiaolu’s Finding Mr. Right II (2016) a casino worker who is the daughter of a gambler who moved to Macao from mainland China, finds love through becoming anonymous pen-pals with a similarly second generation Chinese realtor living in Los Angeles. In the end, they find love not in success at the gaming table, but rather in a bookshop in London. These two films, both catering to the large mainland Chinese audience, provide a chance to see how Macao has evolved as a constructed cinematic space. A vision of the city is built in much the same way that scale models are used in architectural previsualization to present what will be. In other words, these new visions of Macao speak to an imagined future.

Cosmopolitanism as world building

Image 5. Grand Lisboa Macao. Copyright 2018 Author’s own.

Macao is simultaneously different worlds. It is sometimes a cosmopolitan world of luxury. At other times it is a mundane world of 24 hour shift work and labor in support of the large scale of mass market tourism. The intent of this article has been to consider if the image of the cosmopolitan can be used to make sense of these different worlds. By focusing on the details that represent success in films set in Macao, can one contribute to the existing literature on cosmopolitanism? Questions about the relationship between globalization, tourism, and cosmpolitanism, as explored in work by Ulf Hannerz, James Clifford, Aihwa Ong and others, can also be brought to bear in Macao. While scholars might debate the utility of the cosmopolitan as a concept in theorizing global mobility, it is clear that the cosmopolitanism on display in films set in Macao is a kind of costume that is tailored and worn for different audiences and purposes. Particular forms like the tuxedo give shape to the otherwise fleeting affects of aspiration, ecstasy, and interest. Like the animated accessories Warburg noted in Renaissance painting, the forms of fashion indicate that there are some otherwise unseen forces at play. At different times, these cinematic details may be more or less significant, represent different symbolic or cultural capital, but their presence is a sure sign that there is something at stake.

The cosmopolitan subject on display in Macao, and in films about Macao, is an urbane subject whose very being is connected to and of the city. The tuxedo provides the corporeal form for this subjectivity, and promises that there is somewhere to go, some party, event or other special occasion that necessitates such formal evening wear. So the brand ambassadors, movie stars, and other such besuited subjects confirm that there is something happening. There is a place to which we may or may not be invited, rarefied exclusive spaces to which Macao offers access or, at least, of which it offers glimpses. The theme spaces of each mega-resort casino complex offer visions of the city. The city is confirmed in the faux facades that line the outside of the Venetian and the avenues and shopping arcades of its interior. The existence of these cities in miniature is also confirmed in the details of luxury that serve as a guarantee that there are still more exclusive VIP spaces that may not be seen but whose existence is confirmation of the scale of the city. The tuxedoed subject is proof that there is still more to see and experience just out of sight. In this way, depictions of a cosmopolitan subject help build the city as a new world to be discovered.

Themed spaces and built environments are not the sole domain of Macao. The window shops of turn of the century Paris juxtaposed luxury goods and products sourced from around the world long before the Cotai Strip. Through a simple stroll one could take in the world, browse what it had to offer. To walk in the enclosed canal promenade of the Venetian Macao with its painted sky ceiling and swimming pool blue canal water is to similarly experience a commercial world of products. The relevant question here may be if this version of the Venetian is doing something different than the one that came before it in Las Vegas. Is this copy of a copy producing something new? So too the newly unveiled half scale version of the Eiffel Tower at the Parisian Macao is not the first to try and trade on this vision of modernity and European cosmopolitanism. As casino companies look to new markets from Japan to the Philippines, Macao’s unique advantage as a nearby region to China where gaming is permitted is drawn into question. Promotional videos and marketing teams from these new projects are also after the same VIP gambler and Chinese tourist. So Macao must regularly offer up new visions of luxury and new urban experiences to compete for their attention and interest.

In K-Pop star PSY‘s shoot for his 2017 music video “New face,” shot in the resorts of the Cotai Strip, he plays a variety of parts, from the bellhop to the masseuse to the cosmopolitan tourist. PSY wears the attire appropriate to each, from the staff uniform to the tuxedo. His ecstatic enthusiasm for the potential of “new face,” new people and new affects suggests exactly the kind of appeal that the local gaming companies want to attract. This music video, with its tightly choreographed dance numbers set in and around the city, greets visitors on the Turbojet ferries that shuttle tourists to and from Hong Kong and Macao. It plays together in a loop alongside promotional videos from the casinos and Macao tourism office. The combined effect is designed to promote Macao as a place of visual pleasures and leisure. However they are dressed, the tourist, pop star and the movie hero alike want to imagine themselves as cosmopolitan, part of a world that includes them and is full of new possibilities.

Video 1. PSY’s music video New Face.

For those studying cosmopolitanism, tourism and urban studies, we might ask if the comparative visual approaches of Warburg and Anderson, not to mention PSY, offer a relevant method to better understand how the urban imaginary that precedes a visitor’s arrival to a city inform their experience of it? Does such imagery do more than simply create interest? In the specific case of Macao, cinematic images and details of nightlife persist as traces of an earlier era of colonialism and gaming. New mass market tourists may never dress up in these fashions, but they are still met with these images. They are seen ahead of time, on arrival, and in memories shared after the trip. They appear in advertisements, films, and even in the background of their own tourist photos. The changing symbolic implications of luxury and black tie attire across various contexts are up for debate but the persistence of these images is undeniable. Brands and companies trade in these details while the government-organized Parade through Latin city does not. They are two different approaches to the multicultural and cosmopolitan. Both revolve around the optics of seeing the world, experiencing it as a different set of affects and aesthetic pleasures. The government’s aim to promote Macao as a family friendly destination and to diversify the economy away from its reliance on the gaming industry compete with the legacy of the cosmopolitan subject that has historically been a predominant figure in narratives and films about Macao. At face value, many of the films set in Macao are comprised of the same film tropes and clichés that inform many other genre movies. From action adventure chase scenes, troubled femme fatales, and scenes of high stakes gambling, the actions of these films appear to have little to do with the current industry of mass market tourism.

The clean, safe urbanism and interior spaces of the Cotai Strip with its all-encompassing mega resorts appears counter to the allusions to criminality and noir that informed earlier representations of Macao in film. What they have in common is the offer of an encounter with another world of new and different experiences. When transitioning from one casino to the next, from the Venetian to the Parisian, from the Galaxy to the City of Dreams, these border crossings between different themed spaces and cities in miniature are a positive advantage of Macao. The difference on offer is important. Macao’s cultural and urban heritage is just one other city in miniature offered to be seen and experienced. If we accept that these casino resorts are miniature cities or even worlds, we might describe the movement between them as a kind of encapsulated cosmopolitan. They provide a safe form of travel across different spaces without the dangers or anxieties that accompany so many border crossings. The question to be posed, then, is whether the amenities, services, and experiences they provide to tourists looking to temporarily participate in new cultures and cities constitute a new form of cosmopolitanism.

To answer this question of whether or not a new form of cosmopolitanism is on display in Macao involves deciding where to look for the answer. In addition to the built environments of the Cotai Strip and the earlier fantastical casino architecture of Macao, one can also find the image of the city in visual culture. This entails not just images from movies and advertisements but also the self-generated content produced by the tourists and residents of a city. Like Warburg and Anderson, so many of us now regularly make archives and share collections of images online. On social media and in the consumption of visual culture, we curate our desires and interests. The resulting collections made up of material from different influences and cultural traditions draw into question the utility or necessity of the cosmopolitan as a particularly distinct or rarefied figure or subject. In other words, browsing and collecting worldly images and experiences is no longer just the domain of international spys and well financed scholars. Nonetheless, there is still a need to name this aspiration that drives tourists and flâneurs alike to take in differences between worlds and chronicle the encounter. Casino designers, filmmakers, and content creators design new worlds of images to be seen and visited. In the case of Macao, the visions they offer trade in certain recurrent icons of success and leisure, tuxedos and other markers of achievement. In order to make sense of these new visions of cosmopolitanism and success I suggest that it is helpful to put them alongside the images that preceded them, to construct a local, miniature Mnemosyne Atlas; or in the case of Macao, to think “kick the dead rabbit” alongside “Macao, l’enfer du jeu” and the all the films and visions of Macao still to come.


All links verified 11.5.2018.


Los Angeles plays itself. Directed and written by Thom Anderson, starring Encke King, Ben Alexander, Jim Backus. Los Angeles: Submarine Entertainment, 2003. 169 min.

Macao, l’enfer du jeu. Directed by Jean Delannoy, written by Maurice Dekobra (novel), Pierre-Gilles Veber, Roger Vitrac, starring Sessue Hayakawa, Mireille Balin, Henri Guisol. Demo Films, 1942. 90 min.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz and George Lucas, starring Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures, 1984. 118 min.

Shanghai Surprise. Directed by Jim Goddard, written by John Kohn and Robert Bentley, starring Sean Penn, Madonna, Paul Freeman. Los Angeles: MGM, 1986. 97 min.

Macao. Directed by Josef von Sternberg and Nicholas Ray, written by Bernard C. Shoenfeld and Stanley Rubin, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Russel, William Bendix. Los Angeles: RKO Pictures, 1952. 81 min.

Fist of Fury (Jing wu men). Directed and written by Wei Lo, starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, James Tien. Hong Kong: Golden Harvest, 1972. 106 min.

God of Gamblers (Dou san). Directedand written by Jing Wong, starring Yun-Fat Chow, Andy Lau, Joey Wang. Hong Kong: Win’s Movie Productions Ltd, 1989. 126 min.

From Vegas to Macau III (Du cheng feng yun III). Directed by Andrew Lau and Jing Wong, written by Jing Wong, starring Sally Victoria Benson, Chun-Tung Chan, Jacky Cheung. Hong Kong: Gala Film Distribution Intercontinental Film Distributors, 2016. 113 min.

Finding Mr. Right 2 (Beijing yu shang: Xiyatu 2). Directed by Xue Xiaolu, written by Miao Jiao and Xue Xiaolu, starring Wei Tang, Xiubo Wu, Zhihong Liu. Beijing: EDKO Distribution, 2016. 132 min.

Online videos

officialpsy. “PSY – ‘New Face’ M/V”. Filmed [May 2017]. YouTube video, 3:21. Posted [May 2017] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwJPPaEyqhI.

Online resources

DESC (The Statistics and Census Service) (2017, May 5) “Detailed Results of 2016 Population By-Census” http://www.dsec.gov.mo/Statistic/Demographic/GlobalResultsOfBy-Census/2016%E4%B8%AD%E6%9C%9F%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3%E7%B5%B1%E8%A8%88.aspx?lang=en-US.

News articles

South China Morning Post, December 26, 2004. “Penn tells of Macau arrest for murder attempt” scmp.com http://www.scmp.com/article/483396/penn-tells-macau-arrest-murder-attempt.


Chan, Brenda. 2011. “Identity and politics in Hong Kong gambling films of the 1990s: God of Gamblers III and God of Gambler’s Return” in New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film, 9 (1):35–48.

Becker, Colleen (2013). “Aby Warburg’s Pathosformel as methodological paradigm” in Aby Warburg’s Pathosformel as methodological paradigm” in Journal of Art Historiography (9).

Clayton, Cathryn H. 2010. Sovereignty at the edge: Macau and the question of Chineseness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Clifford, James. 1997. Routes: Travel and Translation In the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gunn, Geoffrey C. 2016. Wartime Macau: Under the Japanese Shadow. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Hannerz, Ulf. 1990. “Cosmopolitans and Locals in World Culture” in “Theory, Culture & Society 7(2): 237–251.

Latsis, Dimitrios S. 2013. “Geneaology of the Image in Histoire(s) du Cinéma: Godard, Warburg and the Iconology of the Interstice” in Third Text, 27(6): 774–785.

Ong, Ahiwa. 1999. Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Russell, Mark A. 2007. Between Tradition and Modernity: Aby Warburg and the Public Purposes of Art in Hamburg 1896–1918. New York: Berghahn Books.

Simpson, Timothy. 2011. “Macao Noir: Criminal Brotherhoods, Casino Capitalism, and the Case of the Post-Socialist Chinese Consumer,” Fast Capitalism 8(1). Special issue on Global Noir,” ed. By Gray Kochharr-Lindgren (With photographs by Adam Lampton).

Simpson, Timothy. 2014. “Macau Metropolis and Mental Life: Interior Urbanism and the Chinese Imaginary”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38(3): 823–842.

Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. 1977. Learning from Las Vegas: the forgotten symbolism of architectural form. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

Constructing the Moral Landscape of a City: The Narrative Exclusion of Delhi’s “Floating Populations”

floating population, landless poor, migrant labour, moral landscape, New Delhi, slums, urban landscape, urban underclass

Somdatta Bhattacharya
jijabh [a] gmail.com
DR, Assistant Professor
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur
West Bengal, India

Viittaaminen / How to cite: Bhattacharya, Somdatta. 2018. ”Constructing the Moral Landscape of a City: The Narrative Exclusion of Delhi’s ’Floating Populations’”. WiderScreen 21 (1-2). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2018-1-2/constructing-moral-landscape-city-narrative-exclusion-delhis-floating-populations/

Printable PDF version

This essay uses as an illustrative example the infamous Nirbhaya Case, the brutal case of gang-rape and murder in New Delhi, India, and a set of politico-legal, governmental, moral, socio-economic and journalistic narratives that ensued in its wake, to analyse a broader discourse on the urban landscape of Delhi as a morally pristine space threatened and invaded by “urban floating populations”. The author looks into the narrative construction of the (threatening) floating populations of migrant labourers and the (threatened) urban landscape within an ethical-politico-legal-cultural discourse that constructs – and imagines – the city as a moral landscape conducive to the manoeuvres of Big Capital, and simultaneously uses, abuses and erases the migrant labour feeding the city’s upper and middle classes. The discussion draws upon a range of materials – from journalistic writings, opinion pieces and media interviews, to court verdicts and government reports – to locate a perception of insecurity that structures the narrative rendering of the city as a cluster of middle- and upper-class residential areas (sharif mohallas, as a Delhiwallah, a citizen of Delhi, would put it). This narrated insecurity touches upon issues that range from sexual violence and murder to urban cleanliness and littering of the urban landscape.


In the winter of 2012, New Delhi, the National Capital of India, was rocked by the brutal gang-rape of a paramedical student in a moving bus. As the victim battled for her life in a hospital bed, there was an explosion of narratives – politico-legal, governmental, moral, socio-economic, journalistic, among others – that covered the (in)security questions haunting the Capital. A major issue arising out of these narratives was that insecurity is created by “landless” poor, of “migrant” workers, i.e. by people who circulate between rural hinterlands and urban centres in search of livelihood. This “floating population” was variously traced back to the economic liberalization of India in the early 1990s and the real-estate boom that transformed urban-rural borderlands.

In this essay I explore the more general ethical-politico-legal-cultural discourse that seeks to construct the city of New Delhi as a pristine moral landscape by simultaneously representing, using, abusing and erasing the migrant labour that feeds the city’s upper and middle classes. I will look closer at narratives that “imagine” the city as a cluster of middle- and upper-class residential areas (sharif mohallas, as a Delhiwallah would put it) threatened by the “floating populations” of migrant labourers. The Delhi gang-rape (the Nirbhaya Case) serves as an example of how a city and its underclass are publicly imagined in the Indian context. I use diverse discursive materials (journalistic writings, media representations, etc.) to illustrate the popular narratives emerging in the wake of the gang-rape as parts of a broader discourse articulating the city’s response to its perceived Other. I use the term “discourse” in the essay to mean, borrowing from Foucault, “the general domain of all statements . . . and a regulated practice that accounts for a number of statements” (1972, 80), as a body of utterances in various media. With the term “narrative”, in turn, I refer to the mediated telling and retelling of events and ideas that comply with the rules and structures of a particular discourse.

Nirbhaya’s Killers: Specimens of a “Floating Population”

The news broke on 17 December 2012. New Delhi, and in fact the country as a whole, was shocked by the heinous gang-rape of a twenty-three-year-old female physiotherapy intern the previous night. The incident would be later termed the “Nirbhaya Case”; the word “Nirbhaya” is a Hindi equivalent of “fearless”, the adjective that will go on to represent the victim’s fight for survival and her strong resolve to see the rapists punished. She was brutally raped, tortured and fatally beaten up in a private bus which she had boarded with her male friend, Awindra Pratap Pandey. She fought for her life in hospital beds and intensive care units. As a nation took to streets in outrage, she was taken to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital on 23 December, where she died on 29 December (Press Trust of India 2013).

The timeline and details of the case are only too well-known to warrant an exhaustive recounting.[1] The six joyriders on the bus – the bus driver Ram Singh, his brother Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur, and a juvenile who could not be named for legal reasons – who brutalised the girl and her companion were quickly identified and apprehended by Delhi Police. As the case unfolded and details were revealed, an alarming pattern became visible in the profiles of the accused: Ram Singh (33) and Mukesh Singh (in his early 20s) were members of an immigrant family from Rajasthan, a desert state neighbouring Delhi; Vinay Sharma (20) was an assistant gym instructor who lived in the same slum area, Ravi Das Slum, where Ram and Mukesh had their two-room shanty; Akshay Thakur (28) was a helper on the bus and hailed from the eastern Indian state of Bihar, and had moved to Delhi in 2011, looking for a livelihood; Pawan Gupta (19) was a fruit-seller; the juvenile accused (who was 17 at the time) had come to Delhi from a “village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh at the age of 11, and lived his formative years alone, doing menial jobs in Delhi” (“Profiles: Delhi Gang Rapists” 2015). Their class profile was immediately evident as was the fact that the majority of them were immigrant labourers living on the fringes of the urban landscape of Delhi. It seemed to fit a pattern, as the “threatening urban fringe” has been a refrain in narratives that had constantly been warning the city of the dangers posed by the rural interloper (as we will see below in the essay).

As the case unfolded in the investigation and the extent of the brutality became known through incessant reporting on national media, commentators were quick to point out the class-angle in explaining the misogyny implicit in the act. For instance, Kishwar Desai, a well-known Indian journalist and writer, wrote:

. . . there are some who feel that a certain class of men is deeply uncomfortable with women displaying their independence, receiving education and joining the workforce. The gangrape becomes a form of subduing the women, collectively, and establishing their male superiority.

The frightening fact is that many of these alienated young men have reached their twenties with a bizarre attitude towards women, and little affection towards them. […]

As a society with a skewed gender ratio, we need to be extremely vigilant about the delivery of justice in crimes against women and in trying to bring disaffected family members, especially alienated and marginalised young men, back into a civilised discourse. (Desai 2013)

Soon the fact that the convicts formed part of the “floating population” inhabiting the fringes of the city entered public discourse, and a number of commentators pointed out that these “faceless multitudes” of people, who enter the city from rural hinterlands looking for work, were a clear threat to the security of the city. In an interview with the New York Times, published just five days after the gang-rape, Suman Nalwa, then the head of Delhi Police’s Unit for Women, directly pointed to the link between the crime and the city’s insecurity as the influx of the floating population” changes its demographics:

Q: The number of reported rapes in Delhi is higher this year than before. If the police are doing their job, why is it that cases of sexual harassment and rape are increasing?

A: It’s not just this year, it’s been happening for several years now, ever since economic liberalization. There is a lot of floating population in Delhi. We have a lot of people who are not residents of Delhi, but are just coming for work.

Plus we have a lot of immigrants in Delhi, so social alienation is high. A lot of people have made it big, but they don’t know their neighbors. So social corrective mechanisms are not in place. Earlier, people would hesitate to commit a crime because they were worried: What will people think of me? That doesn’t exist anymore.

Also, because of economic liberalization, many people in the national capital region have made good money through land deals. But they haven’t changed their values. For years, they have treated women as second-class citizens or maybe worse than that. Delhi is different from Mumbai, which exists almost as an island. Delhi has such porous borders. It’s very difficult for Delhi to control its floating population. (Mandhana and Sreedharan 2012)

The essay will revisit these assertions, by Desai and Nalwa, in the course of the discussion below.

Delhi’s Floating Populations: The Indispensable “Undesirable”

For the purpose of this essay, I use the term “floating population” as a term denoting a group of people “whose normal place of residence is different from where he [or she] is ‘temporarily’ present” (Canales 1993, 69). In the context of Delhi, this includes the migrants (especially rural labourers) who arrive at the city everyday in overcrowded trains and buses and become part of the city’s shifting, unaccounted shanty/slum population. A short discussion of the location of this floating population” within the urban power matrix of Delhi and NCR (National Capital Region, a metropolitan area that includes the National Capital Territory – NCT – of New Delhi and surrounding urban areas of states such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan) may better inform this analysis.

Delhi, the national capital of India, has always been a destination for the rural poor, especially of the country’s northern belt, who had dreams of transcending the shackles of a stagnant agrarian economy steeped in feudalism.[2] However, a veritable explosion in this exodus takes place, as Nalwa rightly points out, in the wake of the economic liberalization of early- and mid-90s, as the federal government, facing defaults on its foreign debt, was forced to introduce marked economic reforms. Within the next decade, the urban population of the city pushed outwards to the fringes and, in the case of Delhi, ancillary cities took shape in Gurgaon and Noida where large townships developed around industrial and IT hubs. The other side of this apparent glitz and wealth was the arrival of herds” of migrant workers, who tended to the needs of the urban sprawl. One estimate in 2011 reported the number of migrant workers in Gurgaon alone to be 200,000 (Yardley 2011). This was inevitable as the agrarian economy of the rural heartland plummeted further in the wake of the withdrawal of many subsidies and state support,[3] as much was it essential for the new urban landscape which was underserved by a state unprepared for the rapid expansion of the urban landscape.

Jim Yardley’s reportage on Gurgaon (referred to above), although indirectly, proves how central the migrant” had been to this new urban”. As Yardley describes: Gurgaon (…) would seem to have everything, except consider what it does not have: a functioning citywide sewer or drainage system; reliable electricity or water; and public sidewalks, adequate parking, decent roads or any citywide system of public transportation. Garbage is still regularly tossed in empty lots by the side of the road” (Yardley 2011). The new city, rapidly growing despite the much-needed infrastructure that should have been provided by the state, largely provided for itself: In Gurgaon, economic growth is often the product of a private sector improvising to overcome the inadequacies of the government” (Yardley 2011). The floating populations of migrant labourers are the cogs of this growth engine: they provide the scavengers, water-carriers, chauffeurs, domestic labourers, courier boys, and (in an ironic twist to the insecurity narrative) private security guards that “man” the city.[4]

This veritable army of urban underclass is massed around in the slums that dot the city, especially around affluent townships that they serve. A 2015 survey conducted by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi said that “about 6343 slums with approximately 10.20 lakh households were estimated to be in existence in urban Delhi in 2012,” and defined a “slum” as “an urban phenomenon which comes into existence on account of industrialization in and around cities thereby attracting in-migration of population from country side” (Directorate of Economics and Statistics 2015). It is this context of reliance and dependence that makes the discourse around the security threat posed by the floating population seem a subterfuge. I peg the central argument of this paper on this context, to ask whether the narrative of insecurity that attempts to erase the “slum” from the sharif mohalla masks an economic necessity. The discussion below seeks to analyse the various coordinates of this narrative and its attempt to characterise and qualify, simultaneously using and erasing, deploying and spatially containing, an economically essential and socio-culturally undesirable” population.

Moral Parables and the Migrant Other

The commentaries by Desai and Nalwa, which are representative of the many pronouncements that came out of the protests around the Nirbhaya case, are unequivocal in their construction of an urban moral landscape. A conflation of the two statements will easily bring out the contours of this inherently spatial narrative. Spatial metaphors abound especially in Nalwa’s characterization of the city as having porous” borders, as (regrettably) not being an island” like Mumbai, and as being under threat from the floating population” and immigrants”; the atrocity happens when the police/state fails to secure this landscape against the invasion. The narrative clearly constructs a moral landscape which is, in itself, pristine and innocent, before it is invaded by the immoral Other – the landless, rootless, floating migrant laborer. This Edenic landscape reflects certain moral codes: it is (apparently) at ease with its women being educated, independent and being part of the “workforce”; it is rooted and socially connected”, and values societal approval and fears social censure. However, this landscape is invaded by alienated” men and rootless groups that have come into a lot of money. They are brazen enough not to think of societal sanctions. The interlopers’ communities uphold values that treat “women as second-class citizens or maybe worse than that”. Urban space is vulnerable because “they haven’t changed their values” although they partake of urban economic prosperity in the wake of “economic liberalization” (emphasis added). This separation between “them” and “us” is inscribed on the moral landscape of the city. In what follows I explore and try to understand the discursive production of this moral landscape through its various markers.

The urban woman (and her body) is located at the centre of this discourse. Like any other morality tale, this one too hinges itself on the woman’s inviolate body and its moral ambience. The observations made by both Nalwa and Desai paint a picture of the alienated immigrant male who is cut off from his roots and family left behind in his native village, and often frustrated in his libidinal lures in the city-space. His unchecked sexual drive then becomes a threat to the city-space, as it is often directed at women who have imbibed the values promoted by the modern city and are liberated and defiant of patriarchy (while retaining their rootedness in the moral landscape of the city). As Krupa Shandilya has shown in her analysis of the nationalist and patriarchal discourses surrounding the Nirbhaya Case, the victim was often framed as a “chaste Hindu woman” (Shandilya 2015, 472). The doublespeak that proclaims the immorality of retrogressive patriarchy while denying the female body both agency and sexuality, is an important marker of the them vs. us” narrative. Mukesh Singh’s statements that blame the victim for the rape and murder – A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy” (Udwin 2015) – have often been cited in these narratives. Children are equally vulnerable to the invading predators. Commenting on the increase of sex crimes directed at children in India, Samar Halarnkar writes that the perpetrators are mostly semi-educated, male migrants in their 20s, unmarried and living away from a social structure.” The criminals worked as fruit sellers, itinerant labourers, gym cleaners, wood-cutters, private-bus drivers and other dead-end marginal jobs on India’s urban edges.” (Halarnkar 2013.) The narratives here, as Halarnkar explicitly admits, resonate with the argument of “Bare Branches” made by Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea den Boer (2002).[5] The “Bare Branch” theory endows the rural immigrant male with anti-social, anti-urban, and immoral tendencies that are reiterated in most of the commentaries connecting urban crime (especially sex crimes) to the immigrant problem in Delhi.

The discourse that posits the urban female as the symbol of vulnerable urban landscape, and the rustic immigrant as its immoral Other, subtly glosses over the class moorings of the narrative. While Desai, in her analysis” of the anatomy of gangrape”, discusses “a certain class of men” which “is deeply uncomfortable with women displaying their independence”, she does not elaborate on some who feel” and perceive them to be predators, or profile the victim. Shandilya, in her analysis of the discursive production of ’Nirbhaya’, has shown how the debates around the Delhi gang-rape framed the victim, while she remained anonymous as stipulated by courts, as everywoman”, which helped rally disparate activist groups as well as citizens from all walks of life to the protest”. However, even after the victim’s identity was revealed, she remained everywoman”, because of her very specific identity as a middle-class, urban woman” (Shandilya 2015, 469-70). I argue that, at this point, the urban moral landscape develops into a landscape of exclusion. It seeks to exclude the floating populations as aggressors, while also excluding women who have no access to the class privileges that this narrative presumes in its central subject. As David Sibley has shown, such exclusions are informed by ideas of the “self” and the “other”, where, in spatial conflicts, one “community represents itself as normal, a part of the mainstream, and feels threatened by the presence of others who are perceived to be different and ‘other’” (Sibley 1995, 28-29). Dominant space discourse defines members of the subordinate groups as dirty, defiled or diseased. Boundaries are set up and “violated” through border-crossings, which are a punishable offence. Boundaries “provide security and comfort” to some people, while they are the cause of deprivation to others (Sibley 1995, 32).

The narrative of exclusion, while accounting for the many cases reported around the national capital and reinforcing the mainstream perception of the immigrant laborer as morally suspect, obscures the fact that misogyny is not class-specific or the result of the libidinal urges of the uprooted bachelor in exile. Misogyny pervades all classes of India; it is embedded in highly patriarchal cultural traditions which span from religious rituals excluding women (for instance, the Hindu practice of forbidding menstruating women from entering places of worship) to hyper-masculine popular cultures (the male-centric Bollywood film being one of the most visible examples)[6]. As Leeza Mangaldas has pointed out, in the context of the Nirbhaya Case, Misogyny has long permeated our textbooks, our pedagogy and our parenting. In fact, it runs so deep that it reflects itself even in our linguistics.” (Mangaldas 2013) It would be fatuous to apportion this cultural trait along class divides. The fact that misogyny is not a class-specific malaise brought into the city by itinerant laborers is borne out by the statements made by the defence lawyers appearing for the accused in the Nirbhaya Case, in the same interview which saw Mukesh Singh making derogatory comments about the victim. One of the lawyers, M. L. Sharma, went on to say, “If you keep sweets on the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did Nirbhaya’s parents send her with anyone that late at night? He was not her boyfriend. Is it not the parents’ responsibility to keep an eye on where she goes and with whom?” (Garg 2015) The comments made by a lawyer (neither a “low status” immigrant nor a “Bare Branch”) that objectify the woman and the female body should be read along with the analysis of the security question posed by the immigrant; the canine metaphor employed above underlines the mainstream view of the “fringes” of the city.

Pristine City/Squalid Slum

Sibley has discussed how the morality of cleanliness” (Sibley 1995, 64) can be pivotal in constructing geographies of exclusion. The morally upright is often equated with the “clean” and the “orderly”. “The virtue of cleanliness can be suggested by associations of people and places” (64) and the “immoral” to be excluded/erased could also be suggested in much the same way. In much of the journalistic discourse following the Nirbhaya Case, the space of Ravi Das Camp, the slum housing three of the six accused, was constructed as the city’s “underbelly”, the Other that bred the criminals running riot in its streets. Many of the reports juxtaposed Ravi Das Camp with the neighbouring R. K. Puram, one of the “swankiest” parts of urban Delhi.

The visual representation of Ravi Das Camp would further underscore this exclusion: the slum was repeatedly represented for its squalidness and cramped, dirty spaces. On 19 December 2012, three days after the gang-rape, India Today carried a piece on Ravi Das Camp, headlined “Dens of Rapists: Delhi’s Underbelly is a Fertile Breeding Grounds for Criminals”. The article, framed as an “investigation” that “brings out a first-hand account of Delhi’s seamy underbelly”, gives a sweeping account of the slum: The accused all lived within 30 meters of each other, in the camp’s narrow by-lanes, clogged sewers and makeshift hutments that turn into breeding grounds for some of the Capital’s worst headlines” (Bagga 2012). The narrative is supported by a composite image that brings together three inter-connected visual representations of the slum (see Image 1).

Image 1. A composite image of Ravi Das Camp slum, which underscores the spatial narratives of squalor and immorality.

Here, the resident covering her face in apparent shame, the squalid interior of the home of one of the accused rapists, and the closed and clogged lane that leads nowhere, come together in a ‘spatial’ narrative that reinforces the stereotypes that Nalwa and Desai point to, while at the same time asserting that this site falls out of the moral landscape of the city.

This morality of cleanliness and the need to exclude/erase the “dirt space” is a recurring theme in narratives that posit the floating populations as the Other. The outcry against JJ (jhuggi jhopris, the Hindi term for slums) colonies is a case in point. The ethos of cleanliness and order that govern the moral landscape of the city demand that these be erased. For instance, in 1995, the Pritampura Sudhar Samiti and Okhla Factory Owners Association filed a petition demanding the removal of slums from their neighbourhood because:

JJ dwellers defecate in neighborhood parks causing “untold miseries to the residents” . . . [are] a health hazard to the locality and has [sic] transgressed their right to decent living. Besides young girls do not come to their own balconies throughout the day as obnoxious smell pollute the atmosphere and the entire environment. (qtd. in Batra and Mehra 2008, 401-02)

Sanjay Srivastava, in his study of the Akshardham Temple complex in Delhi, has pointed to a socio-spatial transformation that is currently underway in Delhi and a number of other Indian cities:

. . . the making of “clean spaces” . . . proceeds apace with the removal of “unclean spaces” such as jj colonies. . . . The “cleared land” is to be put to various uses, including new leisure and commercial activities. . . . Akshardham sits just across the river from the erstwhile jj colony of Nangla Machi, demolished in 2006. There is a telling relationship that each of these sites has to discourses of legality and illegality. (Srivastava 2009, 241)

The morality discourse here coexists with politico-legal discourses that seek to remake the city in the image of a global city conducive to the manoeuvres of Big Capital. The demolition of Nangla Machi to make way for a temple complex that projects the commercial side of religion is not an isolated case. For instance, the Pritampura Sudhar Samiti petitioners who demanded the removal of slum dwellers because they were unclean, also pointed out that the slum should be removed to “prevent the spread of any dangerous disease, [due to which] . . . foreigners [have] stopped (coming) to India [and] that has . . . affected foreign trade resulting into [the] loss of crores in foreign exchange” (qtd. in Batra and Mehra 2008, 402). And the legal authority seemed to agree:

Delhi being the capital city of the country is a show window to the world of our culture, heritage, traditions and way of life. A city like Delhi must act as a catalyst for building of modern India. It cannot be allowed to degenerate and decay. The slums that have been created . . . [are] the cause of nuisance and breeding ground of so many ills. The welfare, health, maintenance of law and order, safety and sanitation of these residents cannot be sacrificed and their rights under Article 21 is violated in the name of social justice to the slum dwellers. (402)

The verdict is rather stark in its expressions of how the city is to be imagined. The geography of the “show window” has no place for slums that are a “nuisance” and “breeding grounds of so many ills”. This geography will “degenerate and decay” if the slums invade its pristine precincts. It is also interesting how the court verdict chooses to cast the city in a narrative that stresses the duality of its landscape: it is, simultaneously, a symbol of our culture, heritage, traditions”, and a catalyst for the building of modern [read, commercially vibrant and market-oriented] India”. This is exactly where I locate an important moment in the discursive production of the moral landscape of exclusion – in the collusion between right wing political activism (that stresses on the conservation of a certain way of life”) and Big Capital (that needs the city to be cleansed of the undesirables to attract investment).

The Political Economy of the Urban Moral Landscape

Implicit in the middle- and upper-class assertion of the moral landscape of the city is, as Leela Fernandes points out, “a new civic culture for the middle classes in liberalising India” (Fernandes 2004, 85). The drive to “beautify” the city, to make it a global metropolis that attracts “foreign exchange”, is in effect an effort to purge the city of its migrant poor, or to imagine the landscape of the urban as purged of the floating populations. Fernandes sees a new form of class-based socio-spatial segregation” in this re-fashioning of the urban.

This drive to demolish the urban refuges of immigrant labor needs to be read in the context of new coalitions between the state and Big Capital, formed and nurtured in the wake of economic liberalization and the arrival of private investments in urban development. To attract capital flows from multinational corporations and other developed markets, Delhi is forced to become a “smart city” shorn of its “underbelly”. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), launched in 2005, is one example of this project of urban transformation. JNNURM aims to “encourage reforms and fast track planned development of identified cities”. Focus is to be on efficiency in urban infrastructure and service delivery mechanisms, community participation, and accountability of ULBs/Parastatal agencies towards citizens. While one of the goals of the mission was to “take up a comprehensive programme of urban renewal and expansion of social housing in towns and cities, paying attention to the needs of slum dwellers” (Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India 2017), as analysts have shown, the Mission in fact asked urban administration to do away with their pro-poor schemes and to work on further commercializing the urban space (Chatterjee et al 2012).

The politico-legal sanction for this process of exclusion and erasure is further brought out by the numerous evictions sanctioned and carried out in favour of “development”. For instance, in December 2015, the government agencies demolished Shakur Basti in North-West Delhi to make way for a railway project, leaving the slum inhabitants, largely migrant daily-wage labourers from north Indian hinterlands, to live in the open in the biting cold of the Delhi winter. In the melee of the demolition, Mohammad Anwar and Safeena Khatoon, whose families had moved to Delhi from Khagaria in Bihar, lost their six-month-old daughter Rukaiyya, who was crushed by falling debris (Iqbal 2015).

Liberalizing India was also the India were right-wing majoritarian identity politics gained ground as a political force. Within a decade of the economic reforms, right-wing parties would come to rule the federal government. In this context, the crystallization of the “Hindu” identity as the Indian identity has had a role to play in the spatial purification of the city – or in the effort to imagine the moral landscape of the city as an exclusively Hindu middle/upper-class space. In the wake of the Nirbhaya case, Mohan Bhagwat, the supreme leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an ideological mentor to right-wing politics in India, commented that “such crimes [read, rape and sexual crimes against women] hardly take place in Bharat, but they frequently occur in India” (qtd. in Shandilya 2015, 472). Here the space of “Bharat” (an ideological space which privileges Hindu traditions, customs and ways of life, and a mythological space of Hindu domination) is pitted against the actual, everyday space of “India” where teaming millions, including the underclass and the minorities and the marginal, defy ideological regimentation and domination. Also, note that the statement refers to “Bharat” in the present tense (and not in nostalgic past tense), thereby claiming the simultaneous existence of two parallel landscapes – one that lays claims to a moral high ground derived from Hindu traditions; and another one that is invaded by the Other and thereby, in immoral chaos. It is no coincidence that, as shown by Shandilya, right-wing political activists and organisations were active in consolidating a nationalist campaign around the Nirbhaya case, where the victim was elevated to the status of a martyr and the incident was seen as a reminder about the need to “save” Indian culture and tradition.

The right-wing discourse often works on the fear that floating populations, who often fall outside state surveillance, can be a threat to national security. Fernandes has read these fears alongside right-wing political narratives that have dominated the Indian landscape since the late 1990s, to analyze the production of “a form of purified Hindu citizenship that converges with the dynamics of spatial purification” (Fernandes 2004, 98). The question of visibility/invisibility in relation to state surveillance forms an important crux of this discourse – the haunting fear that anti-India, terrorist, and foreign elements use floating populations as a cover to infiltrate Indian cities. For instance, one of the major complaints against Ravi Das Camp, which emerged in the reportage of the Nirbhaya Case, was that this site was clearly not well-policed or administered, unlike the rest of the city (Bagga 2012). Another ubiquitous example is the narrative of “Bangladeshi illegal immigrants” and the grave threat they pose to Indian urban spaces, which is often played out in mainstream media.[7] In these narratives, the illegal immigrant” dissolves into the larger multitude of immigrant laborers inhabiting the slums of the city and uses the invisibility of the group to make his inroads into the city.

The threat of terrorism further complicates this discourse: as one news report claims, “[t]he fear that, along with innocuous ‘economic refugees’, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and Al-Qaida-linked terrorists may also be crossing over is all too real” (Chakravarty 2012). This narrative heightens and feeds the paranoia surrounding the “invading Other” and drives the desire to cleanse the city of such elements, as Sujata Ramachandran (2003) has noted in her analysis of Operation Pushback (the action plan implemented by the Indian central government in 1992 to oust “illegal”, “undocumented” Bangladeshi immigrants); such operations are situated in a political-bureaucratic collusion with the sanction of centrist political movements. The implementation of this “operation” brought out the processes of othering implicit in the characterization, identification, and description of the spaces that the floating populations of the city inhabit. As Ramachandran points out, “all of the ’Bangladeshi prone areas’ recognised by the government and reported widely through the press were also insignificant and marginal spaces occupied by the urban poor”. And the way they were categorized brought out the insignificance that bureaucracy assigned to these spaces, “in relation to the rich mohallas they abut”:

Some slums were catalogued primarily through nearby landmarks like police station or monument and prominent land use features like ’shamshan ghat’ (cremation ground), ’ganda nala’ (open sewers), ’bara pul’ (big bridge) near or on which they were situated. (…) A non-Bangladeshi resident of a slum interviewed during the course of fieldwork pithily uncovered this link. ’Log garibi ko nahi, garibon ko hatana chahaten hain (People do not want to eliminate poverty; they want to eliminate the poor). (Ramachandran 2003, 639-40)

Here, a narrative of marginality encompasses the space of the slums, its inhabitant community and their insignificance. The cataloguing here is a clear indicator of a strategy of exclusion where the city locates, constructs, reads and rejects the “slum” along with the pollutants it rejects and expels from its landscape – dead bodies and sewage.

The Politics of “Relocating” the Migrant Other

The metaphors of the moral landscape find their physical spatial dimensions in the actual “removal” and forced “relocation” of the floating populations and communities of migrant laborers. The physical realization and consolidation of the moral landscape of the city is complete when you ghettoize the floating populations on the fringes of the city. The convergence of the narratives of right-wing paranoiac nationalism and Big Capital seeks the erasure of the floating populations from the landscape of the city. However, the city cannot do without its scavengers, watermen, and “maid-servants”. Hence, you install them in the ghettoes you assign – (reassuringly) away from your gated communities, while they (conveniently) still service your apartments. Kavita Ramakrishnan has written on one such ghetto – the Bawana resettlement colony. Hers is a testimony of lives uprooted and displaced:

Mostly rural migrants to Delhi, those who live in the resettlement colony express sadness at the stalling of what they formerly perceived as an incremental migrant journey to relative financial security in the city. Now displaced to the semi-rural periphery, people bitterly speak of Delhi’s ‘world-class’ city ambitions that mainly served to exclude the poor. Though nostalgia permeates narratives of basti life in the city, at times glossing over the hardships faced, they make a sharp contrast between the bastis of the past and the current situation. (Ramakrishnan 2014)

Their erasure from the imagined moral landscape of the city and the attendant “demolition drives”, and their forced relocations to the fringes and semi-urban landscapes farther away from the city, often prove hazardous. Their health and safety are endangered, while the movement away from the city centre curtails the economic ambitions that had originally driven the migrations. Moreover, As Ramakrishnan points out, “in these in-between spaces . . . women face sexual violence on an everyday basis, adding an extra layer of marginality to the already bleak lived realities” (2014). However, these are never reported, discussed or protested.

The dominant discourses on the security threats seemingly posed by floating populations often mask these stories of urban apathy, and elide questions of how urban spaces themselves threaten these marginal populations. Although cases such as the Nirbhaya Case have brought the issue of women’s safety in public spaces to the forefront, the lived realities of women (and children) who have to relocate to the margins are often kept out of these “mainstream” dialogues on women’s safety. As one of the women in the Bawana resettlement colony tells Ramakrishnan, “[t]he girls here are treated like insects, as if they have no dignity.” Here, the urban subterfuge, which seeks to hide away the economic necessity of floating labour and to project a moral landscape that excludes the perceived Other, also becomes a cover for sexual predators who raid these resettlement colonies. Settlements like Bawana live in fear of drunken men driving out of their city enclaves or from neighbouring villages. None of these stories are reported and no candles burn for these victims.

The narrative politics of the spatially contested city

The insecurity threat that the city perceives in the “flotsam” that arrives at its shores is often based on a contestation over space and the product of a discourse that legitimizes certain classes of the city over others. In this sense, this question of (in)security hinges on the “hospitality” that the modern city seeks to deny. In the narrative representations of the floating populations of Delhi, the idea of hospitality” moves from the ethical or moral realm of inter-individual relationships to the economic, political and legal realms of the city’s precarious relationship with a class of migrant laborers, played out as a conflict over urban space.

It may be fruitful to read these narratives against the backdrop of the present state and local government’s attempt to restructure the city (as a populated and polluted space) into a “functional” and “efficient” one. The decades following the economic liberalization have seen a new official vision of the city taking shape in the form of government projects to remake it as a global city. Politicians and planners aim to overhaul crumbling urban infrastructure and demolish its slums teeming with migrant laborers, to “reimagine” the city. And yet, inherent to such cosmopolitan” initiatives is a class-based sensibility and politics that attempt to flatten out contests over the different meanings and visions of the city.


All links verified 15 May 2018.

News articles

Bagga, Bhuvan. 2012. “Dens of Rapists: Delhi’s Underbelly is a Fertile Breeding Grounds for Criminals.” India Today, December 19. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/delhi-gangrape-unsafe-delhi-crime-grounds/1/238440.html.

“Bangladeshi criminal gangs new challenge for Delhi Police.” 2013. Yahoo News, July 22. https://in.news.yahoo.com/bangladeshi-criminal-gangs-challenge-delhi-police-103908012.html.

Chakravarty, Sayantan. 2012. “The Bangladeshi Immigrants are Everywhere. They Even Have Crime Syndicates in Delhi.” India Today, February 6. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/bangladeshi-immigrants-are-everywhere-even-have-crime-syndicates-in-delhi-ib-report/1/207062.html.

Desai, Kishwar. 2013. “Skimming the Surfaces of Sexism isn’t Enough.” The Indian Express, January 3. http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/skimming-the-surfaces-of-sexism-isn-t-enough/1053547/0

Directorate of Economics and Statistics. 2015. “Urban Slums in Delhi: Based on NSS 69th Round Survey.” February. http://www.delhi.gov.in/wps/wcm/connect/adcd1f0047a86473ab46ffbdc775c0fb/pdf+report+69th+round+slum+final.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&lmod=538772215&CACHEID=adcd1f0047a86473ab46ffbdc775c0fb.

Garg, Abhinav. 2015. “Defence Lawyers Blame Nirbhaya for Rape.” The Times of India, March 4. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Defence-lawyers-blame-Nirbhaya-for-rape/articleshow/46451407.cms.

Ghildiyal, Subodh. 2015. “Landlessness key to rural deprivation, census says.” Times of India, Jul 13. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Landlessness-key-to-rural-deprivation-census-says/articleshow/48047026.cms.

Halarnkar, Samar. 2013. “India’s Bare Branches.” Hindustan Times, April 24. http://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/india-s-bare-branches/story-CSEhacsxs3l2pQCncM4l2M.html.

Iqbal, Naveed. 2015. “Shakur Basti Demolition Drive: In Debris, a Birth Follows Death, Barely 50m Away.” The Indian Express, December 15. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/shakur-basti-demolition-drive-in-debris-a-birth-follows-death-barely-50-m-away/#sthash.0kgKW3Fz.dpuf.

Mandhana, Niharika, and Anjani Trivedi. 2012. “Indians Outraged over Rape on Moving Bus in New Delhi.” International New York Times, December 18. http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/outrage-in-delhi-after-latest-gang-rape-case/

Mandhana, Niharika, and Gayatri Sreedharan. 2012. “A Conversation with Suman Nalwa, Head of Delhi Police’s Unit for Women.” International New York Times, December 21. http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/a-conversation-with-suman-nalwa-head-of-delhi-polices-unit-for-women/

Mangaldas, Leeza. 2013. “Misogyny in India: We Are All Guilty.” CNN, January 3. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/30/world/asia/misogyny-india/.

Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India. 2017. “Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission: Overview.” http://jnnurm.nic.in/.

Press Trust of India. 2013. “Delhi Gang Rape: Chronology of Events.” The Hindu, August 31. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/delhi-gangrape-chronology-of-events/article5079321.ece.

“Profiles: Delhi Gang Rapists.” 2015. BBC, December 20. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-23434888

Ramakrishnan, Kavita. 2014. “Sexual Violence on the Margins of Delhi.” Open Security: Conflict and Peace Building, April 15. https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/kavita-ramakrishnan/sexual-violence-on-margins-of-delhi.

Udwin, Leslee. 2015. “Delhi Rapist Says Victim Shouldn’t Have Fought Back.” BBC, March 3. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31698154.

Yardley, Jim. 2011. “The Gurgaon story: A mirror to India’s growth,” NDTV, June 9. http://www.ndtv.com/gurgaon-news/the-gurgaon-story-a-mirror-to-indias-growth-458043.


Balaji, Murali. 2013. “Competing South Asian Mas(k)ulinities: Bollywood Icons versus ‘Tech-n-Talk’.” In Communicating Marginalized Masculinities: Identity Politics in TV, Film and New Media, edited by Ronald L. Jackson II and Jamie E. Moshin, 49–66. New York: Routledge.

Batra, Lalit, and Diya Mehra. 2008. “The Demolition of Slums and the Production of Neoliberal Space in Delhi.” In Inside Transforming Urban Asia: Processes, Politics and Public Actions, edited by Darshini Mahadevia, 391–414. Delhi: Concept.

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Dutta, Debolina, and Oishik Sircar. 2013. “India’s Winter of Discontent: Some Feminist Dilemmas in the Wake of a Rape.” Feminist Studies 39. 1: 293–306.

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Ramachandran, Sujata. 2003. “’Operation Pushback’: Sangh Parivar, State, Slums, and Surreptitious Bangladeshis in New Delhi.” Economic and Political Weekly 38.7 (Feb. 15–21): 637–47.

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[1] Debolina Dutta and Oishik Sircar give an overview of the amount of journalistic and opinion-page commentaries that came out on the case: “There has been a surfeit of writing on the incident and the protests on blogs and social media. There was widespread international attention, with statements from the United Nations and international human rights organizations. Media from across the world covered the protests and provided regular updates, many of them recreating the colonial imagery of premodern victimhood.” (Dutta and Sircar 2013, 295) For an instance of international coverage of the incident, see Mandhana and Trivedi (2012).

[2]. As recently as in 2015, the Indian federal government estimated that 48.5 per cent of all rural households [in India] are saddled with at least one deprivation indicator” that the study focused on (the indicators ranging from lack of proper housing to illiteracy to landlessness) (Ghildiyal 2015).

[3]. G. S. Bhalla and Gurmail Singh have studied the visible deceleration” shown by the Indian agricultural economy in the post-liberalization period (Bhalla and Singh 2010, 34–44).

[4]. Yardley (2011) reports that Gurgaon has almost four times as many private security guards as police officers”.

[5]. Hudson and den Boer (2002, 11) take the term from a Chinese word, guang gun-er, “indicating those male branches of a family tree that would never bear fruit because no marriage partner might be found for them”, and the term is used in a study that draws a causal relationship among the gendered dynamics of Asian (especially Chinese and Indian) societies where male children are preferred over female, the disproportionate numbers of bachelor men and the increase in the security threats in those societies. Rural–urban migration brings these gender imbalances to the fore as there develops a “a large floating population”, “full of the poor, the unemployed, and the vagrant, all of whom were noted to be prone to violence” (ibid., 30). These “transient workers find bewildering differences when they first come to cities, often experiencing disdain or exclusion from urbanites” (ibid., 29–30).

[6] The mainstream Bollywood musicals, comedies, dramas, romances and action-thriller genres are commonly centred on the male “hero” who exemplifies heteronormative masculine ideals. As Kush Varia (2012, 99) puts it, “characters that are symbols of rebelliousness and ideals of hypermasculinity – these are men of action, not words”. As Murali Balaji (2013, 56) has noted, Bollywood has increasingly projected a “hegemonic masculinity” to promote “an ideal masculine image while marginalizing the Indian Other—the supposedly undesirable Indian masculinities that fall outside the hypermasculine heteronormative ideals”. Also see Roy (2010) for an analysis of the stereotyped imaginary of the hypermasculine Punjabi in Bollywood.

[7]. For instance, see the following report: “In a new challenge for Delhi Police, some Bangladeshi criminals have turned to committing big time robberies in the national capital and fleeing by road or rail back to their country for a few months – before they strike again. According to police, these Bangladeshis take rooms on rent in slum colonies. The women members of the gang work as maids in nearby neighbourhoods. The men, during the daytime, conduct recces of these colonies disguised as garbage collectors or scrap dealers.” (Quoted from “Bangladeshi criminal gangs new challenge for Delhi Police,” Yahoo News, July 22, 2013)

1–2/2018 WiderScreen 21 (1–2)

‘Loitering’ in Urban Public Space – Wandering with a Street Poet in Berlin

ethnographic-artistic research, performance, public space, street vending, tactic

Julia Weber
julia.weber [a] zhdk.ch
PhD-Student, joint PhD
Institute for Contemporary Art Research
Zurich University of the Arts – Art University Linz

Viittaaminen / How to cite: Weber, Julia. 2018. ”‘Loitering’ in Urban Public Space – Wandering with a Street Poet in Berlin”. WiderScreen 21 (1-2). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2018-1-2/loitering-urban-public-space-wandering-street-poet-berlin/

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