Speculative Animation: Digital Projections of Urban Past and Future
This article explores the growing presence of digital animation within the work of contemporary visual artists, architects and designers concerned with urban geography. While contemporary theorists such as Bernard Stiegler and Mark Hansen have emphasized the ways in which digital media technologies have colonized cultural memory and foreclosed access to a collectively envisioned future, socially engaged architects and artists have turned to animation as a medium that retains an important aesthetic potential. Digital animation has thus become a primary method for both envisioning alternative urban futures and reconstructing the traumatic past within politically engaged work. This article focuses on four examples, two past and two future-oriented. The conceptual artist Stan Douglas has recently, and uncharacteristically, adopted digital animation and gaming technologies in his Circa 1948 collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). The interactive app allows Douglas to re-activate a repressed period of Vancouver’s past, thereby questioning the narratives of progress and property speculation that dominate the contemporary city. The work of Eyal Weizman and the Forensic Architecture project has increasingly involved the use of digital animation techniques to both reconstruct and visualize key dates or events within moments of humanitarian crisis. In the Rafah: Black Friday case study, for example, digital animation and 3D modelling are used to reconstruct a particularly intense four days of bombing during the 2014 Israeli military offensive in Gaza. The artist Larissa Sansour merges live action and digital animation to visually depict bleak and disturbingly convincing Palestinian futures, and the ‘speculative architect’ Liam Young has been employing animation techniques to present urban scenarios that teeter between the technologically utopian and dystopian.