Overground is a three-channel media installation that explores issues affecting the contemporary American city: geography, infrastructure, housing, landscape, monuments, vernacular, and ultimately meaning. The project began in 1999 as a straightforward documentary about a grass roots mayoral campaign in San Francisco, California. After the election, the project evolved into an analysis of the interaction between the natural, built, and social environments of the city. The issues of the campaign became frames through which to examine a deeper narrative of urban spatial systems. The project is now a cinematic essay on the alignment, misalignment, and overlap of physical and social spaces. Although specifically about San Francisco, the project also alludes to a more general condition. Overground is the story of urban America.


As Overground evolved from a document into an urban investigation, it outgrew the documentary genre and the conventional screening room [installation images on page 61]. The intent of the installation is not to represent a city, but rather to project an evocation of its spatial grammar. Overground consists of two side-by-side video projections and one soundtrack. Text is occasionally overlaid onto the projections. The four media layers engage each other in varying degrees of coherence, and each layer distills a distinct narrative of the city. The projections display two distinct types of images: footage accumulated during derive-like excursions throughout the city and footage of the election. At times, both of the projections display the same type of image; at other times, each of the projections displays a different type of image. In rare instances, the two projections seem to form a single overall image. The dual projection format somewhat recalls the dual slide projector method of comparative analysis developed by art historian Henrich Wölfflin. The duality of the images in this case, however, is less about comparison than simultaneity and adjacency. The soundtrack is sometimes synchronized to one of the video images, but it more often derives from images that remain unseen, such as “talking head” interviews with politicians, activists, and urbanists. The text resonates with the images and the soundtrack, but it never acts as a mere caption or translation. Instead, it lends the project a silent voice of interpretation. Like Wölfflin‘s method, the layering of information is always analytical, and the analysis leads to an unexpected sense of cohesion. Overground is not a vehicle of post-modern ambiguity that accepts complexity and contradiction as the foundation of the contemporary city. Instead, it reveals the interdependence of seemingly disparate urban factions, as well as an intrinsic link between a city and the natural and social histories of its environment. Despite its embrace heterogeneity and inconsistency (or perhaps because of it), Overground operates under the assumption that, through accumulation and juxtaposition, cities are knowable.

This video installation was included in Videoville: comprendre la ville par le vidéo, an exhibition and round-table symposium held at La Maison de l’architecture du Québec, Montreal, March 9, 2011. It was also presented at the 13th National Conference on Planning History, Society for American City and Regional Planning History, Oakland, CA, October 2009. The installation has also been shown at: Roger Williams University (September 2010), Academy of Art, San Francisco (November 2009), University of California at Berkeley (October 2009), and other venues. More images and clips coming soon. DVD available upon request.



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