Yasser Elsheshtawy, 2013, Mapping behind Marks and Spencers and Airport Road
This is a research project undertaken by Professor Elsheshtawy for New York University, to discover how migrant communities inhabit formal city spaces. He used architectural plans, motion capture photography and video to record an urban space over a period of time. Abu Dhabi seems car-centric with 6 lane highways and 10 inch kerbs, but behind the skyscrapers, life goes on. The study shows the Bangladeshi community congregating around a supermarket hub and a single tree in the middle of the square. They are one of the poorer communities and so don't frequent the shopping malls. Elsheshtawy's work examines the way this community circumvents city planning and make the space their own. He coined the term 'transcienceis' to describe this phenomenon (Elsheshtawy, 2008). His blog Dubaization records the process of his research both here and in Dubai.
Observe the street from time to time, with some concern for system perhaps.
Apply yourself. Take your time.
Note down the place: The terrace of a cafe near the junction of
The Rue de Bac and the Boulevarde
The Time: Seven o'clock in the evening
The Date: 15th May 1973
The weather: Set fair
Note down what you can see. Anything worthy of note going on.
Do you know how to see what's worthy of note? Is there anything
that strikes you?
Nothing strikes you. You don't know how to see.
Georges Perec, Species of Spaces, 1974
I mapped as I walked, marking the building sites, businesses and people I met. The thing about Abu Dhabi addresses is that names can be a bit fluid. Some roads have three names, and a number, and these change now and again. It's on a grid, so you won't get lost, but you usually have to wayfind by landmarks - especially with packages and cabs. Memory maps are important here, addresses can be described by things which don't exist any more. The Tanker Mai area to the east of the city is named for the water tank which used to stand here, and often an address will finish with a landmark, 'behind the pink building, or 'by the green souk'' for example.
Airport Road cuts through the city. As far as I can tell, It's also called,'Sultan Bin Zayed the first', 'East Road, and 4th Street.
The 'East coast road', or 'Eastern ring road', is also called, Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan Street (don't confuse it with 'Sultan Bin Zayed"),'8th Street, or 'Al Salam street'
'Al Bateen street' is now 'Sultan Bin Zayed Street' (don't confuse it with the others), and 32nd Street.
It's actually quite an organic way to locate places and makes for a lot of conversations on the way.
See http://www.dubaifaqs.com/street-names-abu-dhabi.php for more information
One of the reasons for beginning this project was the realisation that, for many people, there is a genuine misconception about life in this part of the world.This is in part due to western media and a portrayal of an intolerant middle east, war torn and Sharia law scary. I collected some comments from a public forum social media site which highlight some of the questions that expats get asked:
Do you have any electricity dear?
How do you cope with not being able to drive?
Do they have normal toilets or a hole in the ground?
You can't drink or wear a bikini?
You must be very rich?
No one speaks English?
What are you going to eat?
Can you go out without your husband?
Do you have to wear a headscarfe?
Where's chop chop square?
Aren't you scared?
The idea is to record 'normal' life, not the glamorous, elitism of the tourist adverts, but real life on the streets. I began with mapping and walking the city.
I have been reading about chance and serendipity in relation to wandering about and drawing, but it has occurred to me that one of the things I am learning about this city, is how to read and write a bit of Arabic. My first attempts didn't always make sense, and this was pointed out to me, and so I'm looking carefully, recognising letter shapes and the corresponding english. Today I delighted the Arabic men in the market with my attempts.
I would just love this 1961 book, but it costs between 60 and 258 American dollars. 50 taxonomic tales - this is an excerpt about cats....
"When street traffic dwindles and most people are sleeping, some New York neighborhoods begin to crawl with cats. They move quickly through the shadows of building; night watchmen, policemen, garbage collectors and other nocturnal wanderers see them — but never for very long. A majority of them hang around the fish markets, in Greenwich Village and in the East and West Side neighborhoods where garbage can abound. No part of the city is without its strays, however, and all-night garage attendants in such busy neighborhood as Fifty-fourth Street have counted as many as twenty of then around the Ziegfeld Theatre early in the morning. Troops of cats patrol the waterfront piers at night searching for rats. Subway trackwalkers have discovered cats living in the darkness. They seem never to get hit by trains, though some are occasionally liquidated by the third Rail. About twenty-five cats live 75 feet below the west end of Grand Central Terminal, are fed by the underground workers, and never wander up into the daylight."
Gay Talese 1961
Serendipity hasn't always meant 'luck and good chance'. In 1754, Horace Walpole was reading a fairy tale about three Persian princes from the Island of Serendip who were constantly making surprise discoveries through their wisdom and observation. In a letter to Horace Mann he coined the term Serendipity to describe this 'accidental sagacity'.
" fieldwork notebooks produce a knowing that is largely the result of stories and chance embedded in what could be called 'the stranger effect', whereby the anthropologist observer is credited with mysterious power no less than with childlike ignorance and vulnerability"
Michael Taussig (2011) I swear I saw this: Drawings in fieldwork notebooks. page 144
Shop signage in Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi
In 2013, the government set a standard for all the shop signs in the city. The aim - to make the city more beautiful. Signs aren't allowed to conflict with the architecture of the building. Signs aren't allowed to cover integral architectural features, or carry too much information, and all of them have to be 3D.
Signage regulations source
" A town is no longer a series of fixed perspective views, but is abstract sculpture"
Robert Weaver, The Vogelman diary, 1982
Saul Leiter, Haircut, 1956
Saul Leiter, Harlem, 1960
Saul Leiter, To all Trains, date unknown
All Images: Howard Greenberg collection.
Robert Weaver, A pedestrian view, the Vogelman diary, 1982
'A pedestrian view is full of metaphor. Celebrated 18th century flaneur, Edward Cave always signed himself as 'Sylvanns Urban', - 'the urban jungle' in his work for 'The Gentleman's magazine'.Multiple stories are told through the equal partnership of text/image/text.
Image: Robert Weaver, A pedestrian view, 1982. The Robert Weaver Estate
"the casual eradication of distinctive places and the deliberate making of standardized landscapes and the weakening of the identity of places to the point where they both look alike and offer the same bland possibilities for experience"
Monthly archives January 2016: http://www.placeness.com/2016/01/
Old Abu Dhabi
"The emphasis on courtyard in Islamic architecture gave it the name of the "architecture of the veil', because it focuses on the inner spaces (courtyards and rooms) which are not visible from the outside. Courtyard housing is an architectural device with a long history first appearing in the buildings of Syria and Iraq three millennia ago. Arab nomads first made use of the concept of a courtyard during their travels and stay in the desert.They set up their tents around a central space, which provided shelter and security to their cattle."
Mahmoud Zein Alabidin
Image: Old Abu Dhabi http://www.abudhabi2.com/history/
I am going to use this space for anything I find interesting whilst researching my major project.