an honest to god silo; troubling quayside developments
Welcome to Digestable, your mouthful of things happening in the world.
Let’s play a game today!
It’s called “is that actually what that word means?”
“Here at this nonprofit, we have a big problem. Everyone is just working in their own rickety metal and wooden shafts with domed tops!”
I recently started working in a place with an actual, honest to god silo, and boy is it hilarious to think about urban folks in front of macbooks at home slacking each other about silos. Let’s do another:
“I just introduced a bunch of new information. Is it tending to reinforce or prolong sounds, especially by synchronous vibration?”
Music people: please call me out on my failure to properly understand this word. Other people: I looked up the definition of resonant, and I still don’t feel like I really know what it means. Words are what they mean to the people who use them, and what they mean to the people who hear/read them, and as they are defined in the dictionary (urban or otherwise).
Along those lines, I heard a sentence that landed like this in my brain yesterday:
“Let’s create a communal floating wooden platform where we can all put our boats, so we can work on our feedback about the DEI statement.”
Who knew a shared doc could sounds so nice.
Perhaps this is just a symptom of a long-brewing allergy to nonprofit jargon, but I can no longer not hear the unspoken alt-text behind these words that seem to have lost their meaning.
Then again: if we were to take a poll, would more people say “a silo is a vertical shed for storing grain or missiles,” or “a silo is a bit of work needlessly disconnected from other related work”? I have no idea, and as but one opinionated arbiter of what’s up with language and how we use it, I am in no position to say.
An admission: last week, I was writing about singularism, in my mind the opposite of generalism. I went back to the article I read about generalism, and found that the article actually used the word singularism. I’d missed it in my first read, but came to the word on my own; the opposite of everything is one thing, in this case, and thusly we have singularism. So, as a person who makes up words all the time, it was gratifying to find that a word I thought I made up was actually the word other people might use to describe the same thing.
But if words cause harm if used in one way, but not in another, or cause harm at one time and not another, it seems that those words deserve a warning label: USE WITH CAUTION. Words like “queer” and “dyke” used to mean only bad stuff, and still can be used as insults, but have pretty effectively been reclaimed by the people those words were used as insults against. This neutralizes them, when used by those people, but the origin and intention matters. There are countless other potential slurs for which this is also the case. If used by the people they were intended to hurt in an act of defiance and reclamation, that’s ok, and powerful, but these same words can still be damaging when coming from the wrong person in the wrong way.
At my new job with the aforementioned silo, the personnel policy used “he or she” when they meant “an employee.” I asked them to change the language, and wondered if something happened to me in a place governed by documents that didn’t use words that included me, if I’d be able to access those protections. I don’t really anticipate this being an issue, here, but it brings to mind a much more serious case.
Janelle Monae’s song Crazy, Classic Life includes a voice-over that rewrites the text of the Declaration of Independence to say “that all men and women are created equal.” This is cool, but it’s never been more evident that this country is run by a bunch of people who are adhering to the original text, in which only all men are created equal (and obviously that isn’t totally true). I suppose that brings us to a fourth dimension of what words mean: words mean what people in power who use them decide they mean.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
IPUT, the Irish Property Unit Trust, is the largest owner of office space in Dublin and one of the wealthiest real estate developers in the nation. Walking around the south side of the city where I live, you see the name everywhere on new high-rise office buildings and construction sites for future offices. Dublin is suffering from a housing crisis, rents are impossibly high, and taking out a mortgage is just a fantasy for all but the wealthiest of buyers, so building more luxury office space as people find comfort in working from home is a poor choice. But this hasn’t put IPUT off or caused them to slink into the shadows of other nameless landlords. Instead the company declares their presence in Dublin in the loudest way possible: by wrapping these luxury developments in a decorative veil of visual arts.
Walking along the Grand Canal, just past the statue of poet and fellow canal-walker Patrick Kavanagh, you run into a curious urban assemblage known as Wilton Park. A small coffee cart is parked in the small triangular park, bordered on two sides by construction fencing emblazoned with IPUT’s slogan “Shaping Our City.” The park itself is owned and operated by the real estate company and contractors busy themselves around a shiny building on the park’s south side, the first of four new office buildings which is nearing completion. The most arresting part of the complex is the Living Canvas, €1m curved LED screen fixed to the construction fencing that displays a pulsing red animation. Wilton Park’s Living Canvas and its twin on IPUT’s quayside “Tropical Fruit Warehouse” development are what the company calls “placemaking,” using its real estate holdings as urban gallery spaces while they’re unoccupied.
This is seen as a charitable move by the company. The Irish Times describes the Living Canvas as “supporting the work of 16 Irish and international artists” by putting them on this screen for people to glance at as they drive or walk past. Uber, which operates as a taxi company in Dublin, held a competition for undergraduate art students to design prints for some of its cars, using their art to increase its visibility in the city. This placemaking supposedly benefits Dublin’s urban fabric as well. IPUT partnered with the Royal Hibernian Academy to display sculptural art in the windows of the former Topshop location on St. Stephen’s Green, adding color and culture to otherwise vacant (but not derelict) storefronts. But I don’t see real estate placemaking as meaningfully benefiting anyone but the real estate company.
Take for example the recent exhibition by Barbara Knežević, Deep Time Empaths, which was displayed in the unoccupied storefront on Chatham Street. The exhibition is a partnership between Temple Bar Gallery + Studios and Hines, the real estate company that owns the building. The sculptures of Deep Time Empaths sprawl through the space and attach to its support beams, they mimic the raw construction material of an unoccupied building but draped in snakeskin and glazed green look to be almost organic, alive. But unlike a gallery show, you can’t walk around the sculptures or interact with them in the way the exhibition wants. You just stare at them through the shop window. Viewed through the window the piece loses its organic nature, its narrative effort, becoming instead a showpiece, reminding you that the space, not the art, is the object for sale. Temple Bar Gallery gets some exposure and Barbara hopefully gets paid, but the true beneficiary is Hines.
One last example to wrap up: There’s a new mural on an old building on Pearse Street by Shane O’Driscoll. The building, of course, is owned by IPUT and the mural is their commission. But in their application to the City Council they cite that the reason for the mural is to “discourage unlawful graffiti and to make a positive contribution to the streetscape.” O’Driscoll’s style, featuring large blocks of unshaded color, seems to have been chosen for the exact reason that it can be easily painted over after it is inevitably tagged.
This is the dynamic the slogan “shaping our city” implies, that the art and the buildings put in place by monied property owners represents a “positive contribution” but the art and tags of powerless unsanctioned creators are “unlawful graffiti” associated with dereliction, poverty, housing crisis, and lower property values. In an interview with The Currency, IPUT CEO Niall Gaffney cites the Grosvenor Estate, two neighborhoods of London owned by the Duke of Westminster since 1677, as his vision for the company. Throughout history, empires have appropriated the work of artists, who often have little choice but to accept the offer of security, to advance their conquest. So why should Dublin, as a place and a community, accept the empirical aims of real estate giants to shape this city? Why not take up our own brush, as these artists tagging walls along the Grand Canal have done, and shape the city ourselves?