Fundación MOSIS-MOdelos y SIStemas; Arte y Ciudad









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Barcelona 2011

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"City Reservoir"

City Reservoir, Rethinking tourism, creating anonymous encounters, redrawing the function of the city’s cultural center.

The goal of City Reservoir is to enhance the intellectual and existential aspects of city life, while raising an awareness of ecologies of the immaterial. Using a combination of mapping, artist-led tours, archiving and the publication of a book, the project seeks to highlight the importance of those aspects of the city that are often overlooked by other contemporary forms of urban entertainment and cultural production, aspects of an immaterial ecology.

The project began in 2006 after conversations between Gabriel Park and Jana Leo on how to create an agency to control city gaps followed up with discussions with Adeola Enigbokan on changes taking place in New York City and on the meaning of preservation. Trips to the library and subsequent research on the origins of the US National Park system led to a hypothesis on the idea of the city center as a protected site, as a city reservoir with a status that had more in common with natural ecologies than with listed buildings or neighborhoods. This hypothesis was later tested in the Reserva Ciudad Matadero project for Madrid in 2009 where a number of the ideas and components of the current proposal were developed and conceived. The City Reservoir project seeks to extend these preliminary investigations on a more international scale in hopes of further articulating and understanding the meaning of cities now.

Concepts: reserva ciudad   mental city preserving a city  ecology of the immaterial  the image or the projection of the city   cultural tourism


Vehicles. carrying concepts into practice:
tours  maps

texts de Jana Leo;  ideas editing Sony Devabhaktuni


Project’s concepts: reserva ciudad
If a ‘National Park’ is a designated tract of land meant to preserve the landscape’s natural beauty by protecting nature from further exploitation, then the designation, City Reservoir, might be interpreted as meant to protect mental activity, to prevent ‘the civic’ from being subdued, and to prevent cities from becoming simply places for consumption: the city seen as an international civic plaza rather than a place that is just crowded; an intellectual park, containing the one and the other in all its chaos and its freedom!


Project’s concepts: mental city
What is accepted is that cities become desirable when they are viewed as being commercial and service centers for a broad population. But it is not recognized that mental and abstract activities also define the city. Besides, being places of opportunities (better jobs, education, better living conditions, education, access to all) and entertainment, cities are places for thinking, (humanism in its wide spectrum: memories of past events, records of achievements, the spread of new ideas, places for sharing experiences) and experiencing (encounters among individuals, being part of something big). Cities are also the ‘mental reservoir’ of a country and the world. Since these reservoirs are always at risk of extinction, they need to be preserved. This intellectual life can be understood as part of that which is immaterial or unseen within the urban landscape. This culture of experience cannot be commodified or sold through the packaging of tourism, but rather is a slow unfolding that becomes present through an awareness of the subtle shifts of a city’s daily changes that build upon each other and can only be measured and revealed as registers of difference. 

Project’s concepts: preserving a city
Two kinds of preservation come to mind: historical rehabilitation and the nature reserve. What remains are physical things: a forest, a building, a group of buildings, a tree as a natural monument, a waterfall, a beach. Yet where a nature preserve or reservoir seeks to maintain and propagate communities of species and their interactions (one could not imagine preserving a type of bird without also protecting its entire habitat) historical preservation is more often focused on singular objects. There are no models to maintain the existence of things that have no material, concrete existence such as participation in a square, the city environment, the degree of civility, those things that are linked to the architecture that supports them.

When the object of preservation is understood as something that has to be the same that was when firstly created -without taking into account the original situation, without translating the form of the object into present conditions- the object is frozen into the past, death. In addition, the generative force of production is left behind as that which is being preserved loses its use.

Cities are characterized by change, perhaps to preserve a city is not the right approach; the name reservoir implies the idea of change on its definition. A “reserve” of food, water or money keeps the idea of saving and growing without having as reference the “pre” existent condition. Urban implies complexity; rather than a homogeneous and passive center, rather that an image from the past, urban holds the desire of individuals exceeding their existence.

Project’s concepts: ecology of the immaterial
If we apply ecology to cities, the result is that cities, beyond being economical-socio-cultural centers, are site’s for an inquiry into the nature of civilization. Ecology has been applied to the material but not to the immaterial. Classifying trash to facilitate recycling or replacing plastic bags with longer lasting ones does not have its equivalent in an immaterial ecology: replacing fashion and trends with long lasting principles; argumentative thinking that takes away the residual. Thinking is classifying and deciding, paying attention to what is really crucial in human existence. It involves rejecting words that do not involve meaning and instead using an argumentative discourse.  Ecology is applied to reducing the use or creation of wasteful objects, but not to making thoughts that will clarify existence or bring progress. Ecology is not only about subtracting but adding. We try to reduce our trash but we trash others.

Project’s concepts: the image or the projection of the city
A city contains life, has a social structure and different communities. A city is comprised of both material elements (architecture, monuments, urban structure, landmarks and educational resources) as well as immaterial ones (atmosphere, stories, myths). Through books, movies, songs and images, a city is shared with others who don’t necessarily live there. What is shared is mainly the abstract element of a city: its projection. However, more effort goes into the development of the physical elements of a city than its projection. The consequence is to offer a reduced version, a stereotype of what a city is.  In order to think about the image that a city projects, it is necessary to support practices that offer a complex approach (arts, literature and architecture) rather than those that give a simple reading (publicity, TV, big production films). City Reservoir reflects on the destabilizing effect of tourism for the city: historical centers and monuments are preserved without putting the same attention to the daily rituals of place. This project includes the ethnological heritage and integrates residents with the tourists, avoiding the arrogant simultaneous contempt for the tourist and their exploitation. We are all tourists.

Project’s concepts: cultural tourism
When rethinking tourism, this project considers the tourist as an individual instead of treating tourism as simply an industry. Tourism as an industry shouldn’t imply industrialized tourism. Tourism should not exploit the tourist (who doesn’t come back) or/and the city (that stops being desirable). The principle is that if cities are rich on a cultural level, they will evolve into priority destinations. Tourism, considered an activity with cultural value in itself, in cities is often characterized as a visit to cultural locations, while forgetting about city life. It is necessary to rethink the meaning of “the cultural”. Cultural is the group of actions that overlay a form of living, and not simply a list of events and activities. From the economic point of view, to increase tourism in a city, it is necessary to invest in the city as a whole and not only in cultural activities; in addition, when considering the balance, the negative consequences that tourism imposes on a city need to be subtracted from the direct income it brings. If tourism is only about expending and not about generating, the city, as the object itself of tourism, will be extinguished and tourism will become unproductive. Tourism and art are two industries that depend on people; artists who once gave value to cities and attracted tourists, are pushed out through tourism’s consolidation.

Project Methodology

The concepts above articulate a problem about the relationship between city centers and their immaterial cultural aspects. Through the project, we hope to propose ways of thinking about the city that bring forward these unseen qualities while also providing tools for transforming tourism into an integral and productive part of the immaterial functioning and development of city life. We would like to propose a potential engagement between city centers and tourist, inhabitants and users who moves beyond the traditional ‘consumption’ based model of culture, instead promoting a relational and ecological understanding of interaction.

Rather than proposing to stop development, business or cultural operations, our approach is to insert actions that rethink production and activate the city as a mental entity intensifying an immaterial or urban ambiance. These actions can be described as vehicles; they are pragmatic steps that work together to describe a process that articulates the idea of a City Reservoir ultimately proposing a reframing of cultural activity within the city center that could go on to influence thinking about urbanism, urban preservation and cultural tourism.

Vehicles. carrying concepts into practice: tours with a photographer

The tours are a way to experience the city and an encounter with another person: an artist and a visitor. Tours also facilitate intercultural dialogue crossed with two categories, artists, and tourist. Last but not least, tours create the frame for intimate and safe encounters to happen (only two individuals unknown to each other, go on a tour). This is one example: “I will be your eyes” A photographer goes with a tourist or visitor and takes pictures of what the tourist requests. The act of photographing is broken into two: the mind (the tourist); the eyes, and the hand, the machine (the photographer).The photographer needs to make an image that fits the tourist desire but also that questions the practice of a tourist taking pictures like sweeping the floor. The photographer, often using a digital camera, might shoot many versions of the same image following instructions from the tourist. This “tour” is a remembrance of the custom among the rich to travel with a photographer who would take pictures for you. Tours are individuals, one photographer and one visitor.

Photos are archived in City Photo Archive

The meaning of the walks for tourists. A walk is the frame for two strangers and two categories (artists and tourist; visitors and residents) to share a certain intensity of exchange between photos and a city. Among the things that one remembers from a trip is the personal relations; in this case those are held in a photo series, ‘an author souvenir’.  Relations happen by need; a self-sufficient city center visitor, or anonymous resident doesn’t ask for anything, nor does he or she give. Visitors and residents don’t relate in a way that could potentially strengthen both local and global communities, ultimately threatening the very ecologies that make city center’s historically vibrant and cacophonous places.

The meaning of the walks for residents. Without relations, a life where people do not relate to one another, there are no memories of experience (because there are no experiences) but just the proof of ‘being there’. The way one lives right now in a city, (detached) follows the pattern of a transaction and not of a relation; this is true not only for tourists but also for residents. Residents exclude themselves from engagement with the place they live and the people they live with. Residents often accept the role of watching just as tourists do. Denying the possibility of being able to have a real experience and provoke a change, the position of the resident today it is post-existential. This project tries to illustrate the difference between transactions and relation.

Vehicles: jacket for two

As a symbolic illustration of the walk and of the city reservoir, Barcelona, we designed: “jacket for two”. This “jacket for two” is a way to appropriate the city while visiting it (these two take space from the city for themselves). A little bit of science fiction and a little bit monastic: to put the jacket on is an entrance into

another dimension. The jacket is a vehicle that one wears to change her/his mood. Primarily though, the jacket is intended to help facilitate an encounter

 between two unknown people in a city that is mainly known by one. The jacket serves as protection, not only from the weather but from judgment; when it is used for walking, it marks a bubble to walk in; used to publicize the project, it gives respect to the task of m postcards in the street. The white without logos or brand names contrasts with the highly charged advertising of city landscapes. “jacket for two” is an art piece, a form of publicity, and a manifesto about the

relationship of one person with another and with the city.

 “Jacket for two”

Idea Jana Leo ©

Making Jimena González



The ‘city reservoir’ will works with a local cultural institution to house and publicize the project. The institution will serve as the point of departure for the tours and will also provide space for a small exhibition that introduces the goals of the project and the available tours. This is the virtual interpretation center about the city and enhancing the urban environment and the information center on the protocols of City Reservoir.

Vehículos. maps

Mapping is a tool for reflection and generation. We treat the city as a work in progress. We start by drawing maps of the possible and potential cities in our city. We made maps of what is there (maps of the possible cities inside the city) and maps of what a city could be, (the different visions of a city). We cannot change city policies, but we can draw the one we envision. We set ourselves in the future, we act as if the change has already happen: the city is a place of excellence, where tourist and residents go to recreations and mental recharge. To imagine a new life is much harder than to wish for it.

We will visit the maps. Here the projected vision of the city encounters the real, showing the gaps and potentials. Visiting the maps is another step for the maps makers and a learning experience of the visitors, who will be educated in the translation of real and the envisioned. The visits are in the sense “detours”, because switch trajectories and drawing methods from what is expected.

Example 1  . The city that a tourist walks versus the city that a resident walks.  “Madrid”. Project: “City Reservoir Madrid” 2009. Following a straight line through the center of Madrid from Bilbao to Legazpi, a tourist will continue on without encountering any of the traditional urban and cultural monuments. “City-Reservoir” is a lagoon within the middle of the city. The monuments stay on the two sides of the reservoir: on the left-hand side, the “Palacio Real”;on the right-hand side, the “Paseo del Prado” and the “Retiro.” This line connects all the popular ‘plazas’ within the area: “Plaza Dos de Mayo,” the “Plaza de Chueca,” “The Sevilla Plaza,” the “Plaza de Santa Ana,” “Plaza Lavapies,” and reaches to “Plaza de Lepazpi.” “Madrid Matadero” in Legazpi –once the ‘meatpacking’ district of Madrid, is now an art center.



Rarely does the government commission pictures of a city. The goal of the tourist is not to have an archive but to take a trip. However, most of what happens during this journey is record keeping. But the archive, the tangible thing that remains, is the only thing to hold on to and also that which makes the life of a tourist different from the life of a local. The tourist has an unsaid mission.  The private tourist’s archive becomes fresh testimony of a culture by default via Google. This tour considers the meaning of photography and the function of the photographer today. The transfer from analogical to digital has made the figure of the amateur photographer (involved with techniques) and the documentary photographer (a professional reporter) disappear.

These tours feed the ethnographic patrimony (people) and the monumental patrimony with the photos and video clips generated by the experience uploaded to the internet. Each tour is complete in and of itself but also part of the archive of the city. Links through social networking to the archive and physical maps brought home by participants spontaneously spread the work of the artists and the life of the cities.