© Danny Willems

City dramaturge Gerardo Salinas on New Urbanity

We are living in very special times, in my view the most exciting period in the history of mankind. In the face of migration surges, urban sprawl and new technologies, the world has become a multifaceted village. Just a few years back it would have been unthinkable to live with so many different cultures under the sky of one and the same city and to be connected in real time with exit countries. There was no technology to make it possible. Now more than ever, migration is a network. A network with unlimited potential.

Art and culture can assume many functions in a city. In this fast-changing society i think artists can be our Voyager probes, using their unique sensitivity to detect the future in the present and from there help to create that future. They have the tools to make that happen. Artists, after all, transcend the economic principle in order to communicate as unambiguously and clearly as possible and produce a maximum amount of meaning with a minimum number of words. They can stop time by zooming in on a particular situation or a specific feeling. They don’t even have to respect physical laws. They are an oracle that shows who we were, are and who we could be.

Our artistic spectrum is immensely enriched because of this urbanisation and the migration surges and new technologies. 

As a consequence, new artistic practices emerge, from, among others, people who were moulded into artists in another country and from the self-taught who often experiment with new forms and artistic languages. they keep their finger on the pulse of the changing city. The lion’s share of this fresh artistic talent is, however, not in contact with our strong artistic sector. This means that in many cases these new practices are invisible to them, illegible. And in the same way, the established arts sector is invisible to artists from the as yet virgin artistic territories. It isn’t easy to bring the two artistic realities together. and yet both have so much to learn from and share with each other.

All of these practices – the well documented and the not so well documented – i call the “art of the new urbanity”. In recent years i have come up with an explanation as to why this coming together is so difficult. It goes something like this: our eyes can register colours, from white to black and everything in- between. Nevertheless, there are certain other colours that we can’t see, such as ultraviolet. Red mixed with ultraviolet is a totally different colour, but if we can’t see this, the result is still just red. In the same way there is a stripe in our artistic spectrum that we call the arts sector: we can detect and read it without too much trouble. It doesn’t mean that this stripe is a homogeneous whole, but we have an idea of the associated practices and we can recognise and interpret them.

In addition, we have the less documented artistic practices which have grown organically from the new urban contexts: small-scale initiatives by individuals who have worked – so far – as the offshoots of the nervous system that is our society. Armed with their artistic feelers they find themselves at the epicentre of new art forms and artistic languages. Governments or institutions sometimes find it impossible to embrace them without then quickly changing them. After all, it’s impossible for an elephant to stroke an ant.

We are fascinated by the beauty and power emerging from new urban productions. We try to create glasses to help us read ultraviolet. But in order to be able to read, learn or interpret it you have to experience it. We therefore warmly invite you to MAPping Brussels, WIPCOOP and SLOW – artistic devices that help us to read the city and to find its artistic potential. Like the ancient Kabbalists who analysed the mystical texts, so together we will go through the unlimited text that is the city. There could be no better adventure!