Thursday, 17 March 2011

Hyperreality Update. Taxidermy for Aberdeen.

As part of our ongoing occasional series "The A to Z of Aberdeen" we most recently posted "H is for Hyperreality". In that post, we gave the opinion that one of the dangers which confront our town as we face the future is our collective condition of hyperreality, which ill-equips us for the challenges ahead. It ill-equips us, because, by definition, it is a way of avoiding confronting reality and the implications which flow from realism.

Hyperreality can be thought of as the way in which modern life can cause us to seek and experience satisfaction through a "simulated version of reality". A sort of reality by proxy - where the real world or experience has been replaced by a simulation at surface level only: a "real fake" which is thought of as "even better than the real thing". By finding (or believing to have found) satisfaction in simulation, the boundary between the "real" and the "fake" becomes blurred to the point where we cannot perceive the difference. The substitution of the simulacrum for the authentic article or experience is no longer noticed, and, indeed the substituted item (the simulation) is sometimes considered to be superior to that which it has replaced (the original). In this way the artifacts and experiences of our lives become authentic simulations, "real fakes"; "hyperreal".

So it came as no surprise to us when we read the following words on the website which promotes the proposed redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens as The City Square Gardens Project:
Imagine ... coming up onto street-level to be faced with displays showcasing physical pieces of our history and telling the story of our rich heritage.
Em. Isn't that just kind of all around us, all the time and everywhere? We do not require special permission or a roped-off display area with a 'look at this' sign which tells us what to think; dioramas are redundant for the story of our town is always and everywhere evident by the lives we live in it - we exist within the heritage, we are it and we have no choice but to participate in it. Attempts to put it in a box are futile. Anything in a box is already dead. What is being proposed here is a sort of taxidermy for Aberdeen.

By promoting this type of hyperreality integral to their scheme - this boxed, displayed and pre-interpreted version of 'heritage' - those who are intent on the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens via this project are demonstrating that, while they may reside in Aberdeen, they do not know what it is to live here.

(With thanks to Mike Shepherd for pointing us to the web-page in question).


Fraser Denholm said...

In another outlet, Other Aberdeen roving correspondent, Alan Gatt look us on a month long journey through the issues of "what is wrong with Aberdeen" and he made very interesting insightful comments which fell under the headings of Flexicurity, Dutch Disease, Affluenza, Hyperreality, General Well Being and the Reality Distortion Field

On ACSEF's website they have a rather neat document called the Economic Action Plan which outlines their Key Sectors which are vital for ensuring future prosperity for the North East City-Region that is Aberdeen. These Key Sectors are Energy, Food and Drink, Life Sciences and Tourism an ealier version of the document gave Golf its own subcategory, however that has been subsumed within Tourism (What this says about the strategic priority of Donald Trump's Greatest Golf Show in the Cosmos at Menie is anyone's guess) However bathed in rhetoric backed up with flagship and key projects for the Key Sectors, they all basically boil down to the aforementioned Flexicurity, Dutch Disease, Affluenza, Hyperreality, General Well Being and the Reality Distortion Field

ACSEF is a body which is born from these categories which are used to describe what is "wrong" with the city. Its board mostly comprised of private sector interests which depend on the proliferation of Flexicurity, Dutch Disease, Affluenza, Hyperreality, General Well Being and the Reality Distortion Field, they are the sort of people who lap up "a 190% surge in oil prices" because it directly benefits their oil supply business and support their own affluenza. Tom Smith, ACSEF's chair was so sure of the flexicurity of the oil industry that at his own business, NESSCO, "We want to focus all our resources and energy in oil and gas."


Fraser Denholm said...

The City Square project is just a glorified example of this. ACSEF have spent two years moving goalposts, dodging questions, ignoring experts and crying 'misinformation' to those using ACSEF own commissioned and taxpayer payrolled documents. Their reactions and consideration for public concern is absurd:

- to those concerned with the excavation of an existing gardens: "We'll put a garden on top! In fact we'll change the very name of the project from Square to Garden!"
- to those concerned with the loss of heritage in covering up Union Bridge, Union Terrace Gardens, Denburn Viaduct and 80% of the back of Belmont Street: "This is about making new heritage" (Sir Ian Wood's actual words) "In fact lets grab heritage, rip it out and put it in a nice glass case which you can look at/ignore on the escalators up to the shops."
- to those concerned with the loss of a fully planned and 3/4 funded Contemporary Art Centre "A major name in the arts world secured here in Aberdeen."

Unfortunately those behind these plans have no idea that you can't really have a heritage or cultural version of Starbucks, Yo Sushi, Hobbycraft or any of the number of global chains which are consuming the retail and food and drink markets. (although can helpfully take care of ACSEF's Key Strategy of Food and Drink) Culture and heritage cannot be 'bought in', they are unique to a locale, they take years to grow and are defined by the people who become part of it. And given the way ACSEF have treated we can only wonder how they will be tempted underground into this "global arts brand" and, given the ethical core of most artists practice and being, would they really be too happy to stand in a space that was created by excavating a city-centre green space?

Although it is not that these people driving these schemes are in any way stupid, I just don't think they care. Dave Blackwood, who was in charge of the City Square Project for ACSEF in the lead up to the public consultation admitted that he wasn't passionate about the project, and when someone offered to show him documents disproving some of the rhetoric he said "I won't read it." They don't care about heritage or culture, or the public, or due process, or democracy - most of them probably don't even care about the City Square they are just chasing the money and trying to keep the benefactor happy.

The strange irony is that they are chasing money which is just an illusion. Not an illusion in the metaphysical way that all money is technically an illusion, but they are chasing a hyperreal and entirely hypothetical sum. Fifty business leaders, including all the business leaders from the board of ACSEF spelled this out in a letter to ACC Chief Executive expressing a worry about "very real damage that rejection of this £140m investment will cause to Aberdeen City's already tarnished reputation." However there isn't £140 Million worth of investment to reject, there is currently a supposed £55 Million a massive shortfall and a condition that the public pay half of it.

It seems that ACSEF are exemplars of the attitudes and actions which can be contributed to "what is wrong with Aberdeen." You can't help but worry as ACSEF have been given a position of those who should drive the development of the City-Region. In chasing a paltry £50 Million, ACSEF have already driven a horse and cart through Aberdeen's external credibility, due process and fundamentally undermined the relationship between the local authority and the general public.