Vice as a tourist attraction?

This week in North Philly Notes, Andrew Israel Ross, author of Public City/Public Sex, writes about the “problem” of public sex in cities. 

I recently visited Amsterdam for the first time and I could not help but be struck by how successfully the city marketed what once would have simply been considered “vice” as a tourist attraction. After making their pilgrimage to the Anne Frank House, for example, tourists can take advantage of the walking tours of the Red Light District. Meandering along the streets of the Dutch city, gawking through windows at nearly-naked women hawking sexual services, women, men, and children can tell themselves that they participated in a venal economy even if they did not actually purchase anything from the women. Indeed, the success of the Red Light District as tourist district has outstripped the imaginations of those who legalized it. The Dutch government has considered limiting how many people could enter the area and permitting sex workers to work elsewhere in the city. The legalization of sex work may or may not have actually made it safer for those engaged in the profession, but it definitely made it into an apparently appropriate experience to the millions of international tourists who flock every year to the Dutch capital. Inscribed in the city, but also cordoned off into its own zone, female sex work becomes a carefully curated experience of the urban center.

Public City Public SexTwenty-first century Amsterdam represents the height of trends I explore in my book Public City/Public Sex: Prostitution, Homosexuality, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris. The book traces the relationship between those who participated in and sought out a culture of public sex and those who sought to regulate, understand, and control that culture in Paris over the course of the nineteenth century. In doing so, the book shows some of the ways that public sex was more central to the nineteenth-century city than to the twenty-first. Public sex —primarily evidence of female prostitution and men seeking sex with other men — was not “marginal” to the life of the city. Rather, it was central. Indeed, I show how nineteenth-century urban culture relied upon a culture of public sex that could not be evaded. It was only with the rise of modern consumer culture in the latter decades of the century that public sex came to be a “safe” attraction for Parisians and tourists, sold by male entrepreneurs to a willing audience of middle-class men and women.

During the nineteenth century, state administrators, expert moralists, and private entrepreneurs collaborated in an effort to transform Paris in ways that would open the supposedly “medieval” city to control by the police, to business by capitalists, and to movement by residents. Coupled with new systems of regulation, urban development enabled greater surveillance of the city by the police, but it also offered opportunities for social practices the authorities had intended to prevent in the first place. In an effort to remove sex workers from the streets, the Prefecture of Police “tolerated” brothels that could and would be recognized by anyone passing one by. In an effort to clean the city’s filth, public hygienists advocated for the provision of public urinals that could and would be appropriated by men who sought sex with other men. The creation of new boulevards, parks, and commercial spaces such as cafés and dancehalls where people interacted and encountered one another all enabled public sexual interaction that could be viewed by anyone at any time. The existence and availability of public sexual activity became a key feature of the nineteenth-century city, as administrators, businessmen, prostitutes, men seeking sex with other men, and other Parisians all competed to define urban space in their own terms. The urban culture of the nineteenth century emerged through these tensions.

By arguing that the origins of “modern” urban culture rested on forms of public sexual activity recognized and recognizable by anyone and everyone, Public City/Public Sex historicizes efforts to manage the experience of urban environments, both those explicitly sexualized like the Red Light District and those meant to be asexual. Understanding our own responses to the sexualization of space depends on acknowledging the thin line between the two. Public City/Public Sex historicizes the experience of public sexual encounter by showing how female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men in deployed city space to locate sexual partners and assert their right to the city. The emergence of the Red Light District as a solution to the “problem” of public sex, therefore, was as much as way of taking power away from sex workers as it was an attempt to ensure their safety in the modern city and can only be fully understood as a direct response to the more fluid sexual culture of the nineteenth century.

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Exploring Public Art Worlds

This week in North Philly Notes, Caitlin Frances Bruce, author of Painting Publics, writes about the transnational graffiti art scenes she discovered. 

Those of us who live in the United States are experiencing the daily effects of a media and political sphere that is deeply polarized due to ideological but also algorithmic frameworks that make transformative dialogue difficult, if not impossible. As we are bombarded with images of white supremacist violence, environmental catastrophe, and warnings about social alienation, it is not surprising that many are drawn to histories of political intervention that are spectacular and dramatic. We need such interventions. But, I would argue, and many other public theory scholars have, such a focus on the drama of revolutionary praxis elides the ordinary labor and infrastructure maintenance that often goes on behind the scenes.

Painting Publics_SMWhile Painting Publics is focused on graffiti, a rich and engaging scene for scholarly study and creative practice, its insights go beyond legal graffiti worlds. It emerged out of homesickness. When I moved to Evanston, Illinois for undergraduate studies I was in a new suburban environment and acutely missed the density, heterogeneity, and intensity of New York City. When I went into Chicago it was a surprise to be met by gargantuan blocks and, in the downtown Loop, a distinct lack of the kind of dwelling and use of parks that was common in my native Inwood, Manhattan. I was lucky to take a course on Urban History from Gergeley Baics and Contemporary Art from Hannah Feldman where I learned about different philosophies of urban planning and development that helped to explain how and why cities like New York and Chicago evolved differently, producing different possibilities and models of encounters, and why different frameworks for artmaking and relationships to site and publics shifts the meaning of the work in public space. With some funding from Northwestern I conducted a survey of murals in Puerto Rican, Mexican, and other Latin American neighborhoods in Chicago: Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and Pilsen. This was in 2006 when intense debates about Tax Increment Funding and gentrification were going strong. It was after the displacements caused by UIC’s expansion, but before the creation of the 606 walking trail that seems to have cemented a new kind of dispossession in South and West Chicago. Though graffiti came up in my interview with Jon Pounds of the Chicago Public Art Group who framed it as a kind of evolution of muralism, I was unsure of how to meet or understand an art form that primarily seemed to be based on anonymity and illegality.

In 2009 a colleague in Art History, Angelina Lucento, invited me along for a mural tour led by Kymberly Pinder. On the tour, which largely focused on iconic murals from the Chicago Mural Movement and the Black Arts Movement Pinder mentioned a legal graffiti festival: the Meeting of Styles. I went to the Chicago iteration of the festival in September, 2010, and my whole definition of graffiti, of public art, and of site specificity changed. At the festival, I was met with boisterous publicity, racial heterogeneity, and a kind of deep connection to site by artists who practiced a form of public communication (graffiti writing) that was often condemned as thoughtless vandalism, empty words, visual pollution. After attending my first Meeting of Styles in Chicago, between 2010 to 2017 I attended different iterations of this festival in Mexico City/Ciudad Neza, Mexico, Chicago, Illinois, Perpignan, France, and Wiesbaden, Germany where I met and interviewed about 100 artists.

Through exploring public art worlds in Chicago, and then in Mexico, France, and Germany, I learned about global frameworks for mentorship, friendship, solidarity, and worldmaking. Following scholars like Lauren Berlant, Bonnie Honig, Jessica Greenberg, Éduoard Glissant, Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Rancière and Robert Hariman, this project seeks to explore how public intimacy, public objects, social practice and public visual cultures oriented towards abundance create more mid-level but important scenes of creativity and solidarity. Such spaces are crucial in creating a renewed sense of possibility in the wake of structural violence and the long shadow of the given.

The festival, part of a transnational network, reveals scenes of “spaces for encounter”: “spaces for encounters across difference” that might be “contact, convergence or conflict…routine, repeated, or rare. It is infused with contingency…a physical or virtual locale that is framed in such a way as to encourage transformative engagements, even when its initial purpose may have been very different.” Painting Publics, which explores scenes of publicity and public making through visual culture seeks to expand conversations in visual communication beyond a focus on official/vernacular, resistance/cooption, text/image, and icon/ordinary binaries to attend to the “grey areas” and social processes that are also part of the rhetorical warp and weave of public life. Encounters are crucial if we are to “meaningfully address social and political inequalities and forms of violence, micro and macro, because spaces for encounter function to reactivate the sense of the contingent in social and political space.”

 

 

New video showcases Philadelphia: The “Hidden City”

This week in North Philly Notes we premiere our new video for Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City, with authors Nathaniel Popkin and Peter Woodall, featuring photography by Joseph E. B. Elliott.

Philadelphia possesses an exceptionally large number of places that have almost disappeared—from workshops and factories to sporting clubs and societies, synagogues, churches, theaters, and railroad lines. In Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City, urban observers Nathaniel Popkin and Peter Woodall uncover the contemporary essence of one of America’s oldest cities. Working with accomplished architectural photographer Joseph Elliott, they explore secret places in familiar locations, such as the Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street, the Divine Lorraine Hotel, Reading Railroad, Disston Saw Works in Tacony, and mysterious parts of City Hall.

Much of the real Philadelphia is concealed behind facades. Philadelphia artfully reveals its urban secrets. Rather than a nostalgic elegy to loss and urban decline, Philadelphia exposes the city’s vivid layers and living ruins. The authors connect Philadelphia’s idiosyncratic history, culture, and people to develop an alternative theory of American urbanism, and place the city in American urban history. The journey here is as much visual as it is literary; Joseph Elliott’s sumptuous photographs reveal the city’s elemental beauty.

 

Temple University Press Holiday Sale

Temple University Press is preparing for the holidays with our Annual Holiday Book Sale! Visit us at Temple University’s Diamond Club Lobby (lower level of Mitten Hall) December 2-4 from 11:00 am-2:00 pm to get reduced prices on all our books!

Meet City in a Park authors Jim McClelland and Lynn Miller on December 3 from 12:00 pm-2:00 pm!

Meet The New Eagles Encyclopedia author Ray Didinger on December 4 from 11:00 am-12:30 pm!

TUP Holiday sale 2015

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