Buffalo Voids

If the first project addressed issues of spatial displacement, resulting from the quantum experiential quality of contemporary location-based digital media, Buffalo Voids creates moments of temporal displacement in an urban environment.  This was done by reinserting the audio environment from one timeline (here represented by the distant past), into the spatial and visual context another timeline (here represented by the present).

In early site visits to downtown Buffalo, Lisa Naumann and I discovered what we labeled “pregnant voids” in the urban core.  Voids that were created by the demolition of buildings throughout the city’s history; but where a trace of the previous building was still visible on the exterior walls of extant buildings.  We located numerous sites where this system of historical inscription occurred.

Once a series of sites had been established, we mapped their locations to a 1952 property usage map of downtown Buffalo.  The property map was old enough that it pre-dated the second major wave of redevelopment that occurred in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and that mostly involved the demolition of buildings, in the interest of establishing sufficient parking for the city’s burgeoning motorist community.  As a result, we were able to map the original uses of the sites to their current conditions.

The project then took on two forms.  The first was an installation, in which a reclaimed dressing table served as the focus of attention.  The drawers of the dressing table were modified with switches and speakers.  On opening a drawer, the switch sent a signal to a computer running PureData, triggering the contemporary audio environment of the locations that served as the focus for the project.  Each drawer also housed a translucent blue plexiglass tray, which was bottom lit with LEDs.  On top of these trays, we placed family and historical photographs of the site, and newspaper clippings covering the history of Buffalo’s post 1950 redevelopment.

Sound Sample – Mohawk & Washington

In the center of the dressing table, we placed an arc lamp with an amber bulb; the light cast by this bulb created a warm center that mimicked in shape the circular void of the dressing table.  The dressing table was situated at the far end of a darkly-lit room, its amber bulb beckoning participants to engage with the table.  Opening the drawers, the participants would hear the contemporary soundscape of the sites.  Engaging with the material in the drawers, participants would remove the articles and images from the cold light of historical discourse and place them into the warm light of its contemporary context, represented here by the void, which echoed the kinds of sites with which we were dealing.

On the opposite side of the room, we had set up a table with official “Buffalo Voids” tour bags, guides and an iPAQ on which an MScape map was loaded, complete with historical audio based on the programs once housed at the sites on which we focused for the project.

The second part of the project involved going downtown, to engage with the sites using the guidebook and iPAQ already described.  The guidebook was designed to emphasize the condition of temporal dislocation upon which the project focused.  To this end, it was based on the 1952 property usage map used throughout the project, and was organized in a nonlinear way, prompting participants to explore the downtown region.  Categories, like “Restaurants” and “Entertainment” included both historical and contemporary locations, moving the participant through the alternate timeline that was the basis of the project, and (more often than not) frustrating the participant’s expectations, as he/she was led to stores, cafes and theaters that no longer existed.

Tour Book

On arriving at one of the four specific sites dealt with for the project, the participant would suddenly hear the historical soundscape loaded onto the MScape map, and housed on the iPAQ – it would be a sudden and unique interruption, a discovery of the past embedded in the present; a gift, in a way, of time travel, and re-immersion in a world that, for the most part, no longer exists in downtown Buffalo, a loss more often than not mourned by the city’s contemporary population.

Sound Sample – Main & Niagara


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