August 26, 2009
That reality often exceeds imagination is well known. What is less often discussed is how imagination can transform reality. The urban realm offers infinite possibilities, at least in the mind. But what happens when multiple minds connect and start focusing on an idea from various perspectives, with the firm intention of actualizing it? What if that idea is stretched across the world, powered by information technology and substantiated by localized action? This is how wars, religious congregations, political campaigns, real-estate projects, festivals, movie shoots, parties and all types of creative-destructive events get realized.
A dark illustration of this capacity to actualize wild ideas is the Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008. A small group of well-trained and hyper-determined youth navigated across the Arabian Sea and came ashore to Colaba, in South Mumbai. Equipped with state of the art killing machines, they put the whole city to a standstill for more than 3 days. They killed Mumbai’s top cops, hijacked police cars, twice and rampaged the city’s best hotels. Till the end they defied India’s best commandos. For a moment it seemed that the country’s entire army could not stop them. And the whole world was their audience.
The televised images of the attacks evoked a kind of senseless urban violence that had only been prefigured in Hollywood movies and video games like ‘Grand Theft Auto’ or emulated in US suburban school killings. The fact is that fantasies of radical transgression, including bombing and killing have always been part of a certain subversive imagination, which is particularly appealing to the youth. Especially those who have been brainwashed into negating their violent impulses, desires, drives, aspirations and ego-trips. Attraction to extreme violence, in fictional or actual form is often a response to an unbearable level of frustration caused by the repression of perfectly healthy impulses – impulses to do with expression of anger, creativity and active control of their lives.
It is unfair to expect any self-denial of these impulses from the youth. And it is even worse to lock them up in a world running on autopilot, where any sense of agency is deemed dangerous or impulsive. To them, such a world seems headed straight to a crash. So many youth across the world feel trapped in rigid urban and social structures; stuck in a reality that they are not allowed to reinvent. As a result they often respond passionately to fictionalized versions of reality, which are full of possibilities, including the most extreme and destructive ones. Most often these fictions remain in the realm of the imagination, but sometimes, when intent and determination are high enough, they do translate into reality.
All that is needed for this leap from fiction to reality to happen is an audacious idea, collective determination, a space for intervention and some special effects. That’s what we call the magic formula. It can be used in all kinds of ways. Not all of them as dramatic, psychopathic and morbid as the 26/11 attacks. In fact, it is so important to open avenues for creative-destructive expression and action in cities today. Otherwise youthful energy turns into frustration, alienation and violent expression of despair. We can use the magic formula to create a new reality, even when the odds are against us. The more we are able to do so, the less self-destructive we will be.
The space of youthful imagination is highly potent. It is like a fertile jungle continuously producing a million new audacious ideas. It is violent and exciting, destructive and creative, all at the same time. It is a space where one can get lost, discover, experiment and grow. A sacred grove of sorts, that one can come back to at any point in time to reconnect to a vital creative energy that helps accomplish wonders.
The workshops we organize draw on the radical aspirations of the youth to a different future. They open up a time and space for individual and collective expression through bold interventions in the urban realm. They break up existing social, cultural and political hierarchies and modes of subordination, at least for a moment. The workshops are intensive 3 to 5 days long events which bring together people from completely different linguistic, cultural and economic backgrounds. They exchange local and global knowledge in search of uniquely suited solutions for specific sets of issues. The result comes in the form of a multimedia explosion (interviews, videos, stories, music, drawings, architectural renderings, photoshopping, images, etc) that sends shockwaves throughout the system. Successful workshops lead to the creation or consolidation of local initiatives, which we continuously support by deploying Web-based networking and communication tools. These can help maintain the momentum of the workshop by keeping human connections alive and by giving global visibility to local projects.
Our next workshop will happen in Mumbai in the last week of November. In May, we are planning a workshop in Geneva in the neighborhood of Les Paquis, where residents are struggling with a new brand of street violence (yes, Switzerland has it too!). In June, we may be doing a workshop in the Bay Area in California with our friends from the Center for the Living City. After this we are hoping to do something in Amsterdam, Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires. Lots of explosive creative potential out there!
If you have a feeling that tells you to act now, to project yourself onto the world around, express your dreams, defeat your fears and realize your aspirations, please join any of our workshops. Better still, call us to your neighborhood… invoke the Urban Typhoon. Unleash the global imagination in your hillside favela, your suburban township, your artist hamlet, your satellite town, your generic city, your urbanizing village… They are all fascinating and full of potential. All they need is a little magical urbanism.