Janosch Delcker on Urban Oberservations
Mutual understanding is not just a topic to be examined by researchers. It is also a story to be told: The reality on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean has to be brought ‘over there’; it has to be reported, in order to reach a broad audience, and, more importantly, to be understood.
Personal stories ought to be told. As an aspiring video journalist, this is what I have done in my video series Urban Observation; this is how I am seeking to do my part in implementing mutual understanding between the United States and Europe.
While living in New York City as a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship, I often heard people tell me that New York and Berlin “are like sisters.” Comparing Berlin to New York – primarily to a nostalgic, idealized version of New York in the 1980s – seemed to be en vouge. This raised my interest: Does this statement stand up to closer scrutiny, or is it just a “hypochondria of the heart,” as literature scholar Svetlana Boym once called the longing for a long-passed epoch one never experienced himself or herself?
Researchers of various disciplines, such as sociology, geography, economics and political science, have collected and compared empirical data regarding New York and Berlin. Without question, those disciplines are rightly established and are endued with elaborate, effective methods. However, I would argue, they alone cannot grasp the Urban Question in total. In particular, the notion of an Urban Ideology of people living in cities is often times neglected by empirical research.
In a non-academic way, my video series Urban Observations was meant to contribute something to this academic void; less by answering questions – this can only be done by the “hard” academic disciplines – but by raising questions through documenting day-to-day experience of individuals within the cities. This
was my main motivation to produce this series featuring 12 artists who speak about their own urban reality; who speak not only about how they live in these cities, but also how they perceive them. By juxtaposing New York and Berlin, the series also automatically challenges and questions the previously mentioned notion of two “sister cities.”
Why artists, though? As a journalist, I strongly believe that the proverbial woman at the hotdog booth has just as many stories to tell as the world-famous opera singer. However, in this particular project, I wanted to work with visual artists for various reasons. I feel that by nature of their profession, visual artists are extraordinarily attentive to their surroundings and the society and place/space around them. The underlying concept for the twelve videos in
the series was to form a mosaic — portraits of the cities New York and Berlin. Documenting the observations of visual artists seemed to provide the most promising breeding ground for that.