Reviews

Art and the City

 

I recently had the pleasure of reading N. K. Jemisin short story, “The Great City Born”. In her world, cities go through a life cycle. Some cities may gestate for a very long time without being born, but when a city is ready to be birthed, it chooses an avatar, a kind of midwife. The avatar is a human being who can hear the city breathing and feel what the city feels. The person eventually becomes the city in a kind of multiple state of being that is well-conveyed by Jemisin’s poetic fiction.

The story was fascinating, and especially appealed to me as a fan of the WildStorm comic The Authority (created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, and elaborated upon by subsequent creative teams). The Authority was a group of unlikely superheroes led by Jenny Sparks, the human embodiment of “the spirit of the 20th century”, and is probably most famous for including the gay couple Apollo and Midnighter, who were analogues of Superman and Batman. One of the other team members, Jack Hawksmoor, had the ability to talk to cities, but it was not a natural superpower, nor was it one that he agreed to acquiring. As a child, Jack was weaponized by 70th century humans who subjected him to painful body modifications that gave him the ability to fight a future monster by harnessing cities’ power. Jack–whose namesake is the English Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor–could communicate with cities, but they remained separate entities.

Jack Hawksmoor was built infrastructure, a human-engineered city utility meant to work with other human-engineered city utilities. In Jemisin’s world, cities and humans live  symbiotically in a natural ecosystem: humans build cities that contain humans; cities choose which humans can contain cities.

I like the way cities are presented in both works. They are technological and biological, engineered and natural. Cities are the work of humans and they work with humans. Cities and humans shape each other.

This is the type of work I want to explore in this blog. I’m  interested in the relationship between art and cities: how art portrays the city; how cities affect the making, presentation, and perception of art; and experiencing art and my city. Arts City is in its infancy. I’m looking forward to see what happens as we grow together.

“The City Born Great” is collected in Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction. It can also be read online at Tor.com or via Kindle.

Jack Hawksmoor starred in his own mini-series, Secret History of The Authority: Jack Hawksmoor, by writer Mike Costa and artist Fiona Staples. Here’s an interview I did with Fiona before Saga and soon after the Hawksmoor series wrapped up in 2009.

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