Vertigo & the Culture of Cities: An Exploration of Visual & Spatial Tactics
Symptoms of vertigo – and its associated forms such as motion sickness – are often caused by changing the position of the head in relation to gravity, making the body assume that it is moving when it is not, and can commonly cause a sensation of imbalance, spinning and even nausea. In simply medical terms, it can be explained as an irritation of our senses, caused by a conflict of information transmitted from our eyes and inner ear to the brain. Some of us will have experienced such symptoms when, for example, travelling in elevators or trains, or during intense computer gaming; activities which tend to change or even eliminate our perception of the horizon in relation to our own position in a space.
In the context of existentialist philosophy in Nausea (1938), Jean-Paul Sartre alludes to a visual sensory experience between the ‘perceived’ and ‘imagined’ which owes its ‘conceptual and stylistic debts to the visual arts’ (Rolls & Rechniewski 2005, p. 62). Yet, when it comes to architecture and urban spaces, it is perhaps more difficult to argue that certain kinds of spatial or aesthetic constituents cause such forceful impressions or even symptoms.
Nevertheless, there are examples surrounding the visual culture of cities which could cause a degree of vertigo, albeit in perhaps more subtle ways. This presentation will explore examples from visual art, advertising and film – such as Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) – that make use of vertigo as visual and spatial tactics in their representation of urban landscapes. But might these depictions, despite potentially causing an imbalance, also make insightful contributions by encouraging us to see our surrounding environment with different senses and, as such, with a realigned horizon?
Richard Koeck is Professor and Chair in Architecture and the Visual Arts at the University of Liverpool. He is also Director of the Centre for Architecture and the Visual Arts (CAVA) which provides a place for researchers who are interested in crossing disciplinary boundaries in the pursuit of rigorous research on the creative and visual culture of architecture and cities. He is editor and author of numerous books on film and visual culture of cities, including Cine|Scapes: Cinematic Spaces in Architecture and Cities (Routledge, 2013) and Cinematic Urban Geographies (Penz & Koeck, Palgrave, forthcoming 2015).