Window commission sparks conversations about future cities

A large-scale, text-based artwork by Brisbane artist Sam Cranstoun spanning the façade of The University of Queensland Art Museum has been unveiled, providing a thought-provoking statement about how we occupy our cities.

Cranstoun came across the phrase ‘to speak of cities and present them only as buildings’ in a 1967 essay by Greek town planner, architect and engineer Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis.

“The essay outlined the trajectory for the cities of the future and the importance of their ‘human’ pathology,” Cranstoun said.

Doxiadis’s ideas provided a great source of inspiration to Cranstoun whose interest was further piqued when he discovered a Brisbane connection.

“Doxiadis came to Brisbane in the 1950s, and despite being a highly credentialed individual, Australia wouldn’t recognise his qualifications in town planning,” Cranstoun said.

“He turned to tomato farming in Rochedale in Brisbane’s south to support his family, but after three years, returned to Athens and immediately returned to his profession.

“Doxiadis’s skills were sought after around the world, and he went on to develop a system of town planning theory known as Ekistics, the science of human settlements and systems, before eventually founding his own university in Athens.

“Letting Doxiadis go without leveraging his expertise was a wasted opportunity, and I’d like to think that if he were here today in Australia, that the circumstances would be different, but I’m just not convinced they would be.”

Cranstoun said the statement he used for the window commission To Speak of Cities appealed to him not only as a poetic and romantic notion, but also as a provocation.

“I’m inviting the viewer to consider cities in terms of more than just buildings – to think more deeply about who inhabits those buildings and how, and what legacy we’re leaving as communities,” Cranstoun said.

“Situating this artwork in a prominent space on a university campus – a site for thinking, discussion and dialogue – will hopefully make it a starting point for conversations from a range of different angles and will encourage us all to question and put people at the centre of our thinking.”

Art Museum Senior Curator Peta Rake said that with projections by the United Nations estimating the global population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050, Cranstoun’s work prompted thinking around sustainability, organisation and human connection.

“Cities are aspirational, with the ‘individual’ considered through services such as waste, water, transport, and housing, but the spread of cities through these civic services, deprives us of the right to be connected to one another,” Rake said.

“Doxiadis calls for a closer study of the entire system of the city, which today is increasingly underscored by conversations of climate crisis and mass migration.

“Imbedded in Doxiadis’ story is the human impact and opportunity loss to the community when the value and qualifications of skilled migrants are overlooked or not legitimised.”

To Speak of Cities is rendered in bold, block coloured letters, referencing the colour and typography of tomato box packaging from the time the essay was published, and is a precursor to a Sam Cranstoun exhibition within the Art Museum opening on 22 February.

To Speak of Cities is generously supported by the assistance of Mrs Jane and Mr Michael Tynan (2020).

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