the transfinite by Ryoji Ikeda at the Park Avenue Armory (top) and Rainbow City by Friends With You near the High Line (bottom).
In part because Travel + Leisure asked me to figure out what the term “city of the future” might mean at this juncture (see the upcoming October issue) and in part because Metropolis asked me to review Talk to Me at MoMA (in the September issue, online now) , I’ve been thinking a lot in recent months about how the world we think of as “real” and the world we used to think of as “virtual” have merged.
Most interesting to me are the meeting places between old and new, and between real and unreal. For example, at this spring’s monumental installation by Ryoji Ikeda, inside the cavernous Park Avenue Armory, viewers entered the space, removed their shoes and sprawled out in front of a hypnotic, changing wall of electronic signal. People stayed for hours, spellbound, and it was an unexpectedly lovely, relaxed environment, like an electronic beach. Or at the north end of the High Line, in July, a Miami art collective called Friends With You installed Rainbow City, a goofy collection of giant inflatables that made a forgotten corner of Manhattan look like the inside of a Nintendo game.
Both were temporary changes to the texture of the city but they illustrate the ways that old, familiar places can be altered and renewed. And the ways that technologically generated environments now insinuate themselves into the so-called real world.
It’s not so much that we’re building new, high-tech physical environments, although sometimes we are. Or that we’re living more of our lives online, although we surely are. It’s that our lives in the physical world and our lives in the digital world have become increasingly interchangeable. The screen is still there, but it’s permeable. We’re already living in the city of the future, and it’s a retrofit of the city of the past.