JULIAN KONCZAK’S CRACKED CITIES 2004
There is no newness anymore because modernity has become subsumed into history. The new is now more or less at home with the old. The freshness of modernity has faded.
At the turn of the 19c and 20c there appeared to be a massive rupture in the fabric of history, and young modernists rejected anything that happened before 1850. At the turn of the millennium the situation is reversing, and the repressed is beginning to return. Perhaps this is because time is inextricably intertwined with space and as the world grows smaller (globalization) we are forced to become more aware of different cultures and the history they bring with them (this especially evident in the globalization of politico-cultural struggles in the Middle East).
Julian Konczak wanders through cities across the world searching for fissures, which he always finds. And his psycho-geographical expeditions intersect with time, because the theme of his images is decay, more specifically urban decay. In the procession of these images on the computer monitor, passing as they do with the retro whir and clunk of an historical-simulacral slide projector, one can see the gloss of modernity rubbing off to show the old faces that lie beneath. The images he takes are fragments of fragments that reveal the threadbare mythology of modernism, urbanization and globalization. At one level these images are beautiful, at another level they are betrayals, at another they are indictments. Their flaking surfaces seem to display a symptomatology of both an urban Alzheimer’s, and the senility of a mythical modernism. Some urbanists would call what we see in Konczak’s images a process of deindustrialization and entropy. For example, Willy Müller, (IaaC, Barcelona) and Nelson Brissac, (Arte Cidade, São Paulo) frame the problem in terms of entropy:
Entropy is a force that … places the question of the limit, of the contours. A continuous erosion of the distinction between interior and exterior, located and dislocated…. It engenders a soft, indistinct and limitless terrain.
The images of these spaces not dominated by architecture reflect our insecurity on wandering through those indistinct and limitless territories. But … the absence of limits, also contains the expectation of mobility, the possibility of the other. The terrain-vague is also the space of the possible. All the history of the reaction to the terrain-vague, since the perception of the photographers until the urban planning interventions, has been an effort to underline the anxiety, face its lack of definition, and eradicate its negativity. It reflects the difficulty to deal with the city in terms of force and fluxes, instead of forms. 
These thoughts both resonate and conflict with the beautiful film of decrepitude that Konczak peels off the surface of urban environments during his nomadic wanderings. Perhaps it is what Müller and Brissac refer to as the terrain-vague that attracts him to the urban rot and decay. The terrain-vague that William Burroughs referred to as the Interzone. For Burroughs this was epitomised by Tangiers in the 1950s a state in between jurisdictions where law was blurred allowing a degenerate like Burroughs to indulge himself in an alchemical mix of drugs and avant-gardism. Interzone is the demented space where reality and fantasy merge. Konczak seems drawn into the delirium of the Interzone by psychic strands that pull him back yet again, but never to the same place. His is a thoroughly geographically exploded expedition.
His title Cracked Cities is a play on the connotations of crack cocaine and the slow-grinding earthquake that splits the bourgeoisie from the underclass. But Konczak is no macho photojournalist or Schraderesque taxi driver roaming the underbelly to feed on its terminal danger. I would say he is more a contemporary species of flâneur.
Charles Baudelaire was one of the first modernists to praise the metropolis in his meditations on ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1863) which praised those brave artists who relinquished the old genres and tried to capture the vitality of the then novel urban experience. Although Baudelaire denied it, the invention of the Daguerreotype in 1839 had introduced visual tool ideally suited to this new dynamic and multifaceted metropolitan environment. The metropolis instantiated the new bourgeois order, but capitalism was not as solid as the orders that had gone before. In 1848 Marx and Engels noted:
Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air… 
Baudelaire seems in accord with Marx and Engels when he describes the metropolis in terms of ‘the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal, the immutable’. 
Baudelaire’s evocation of the nascent bourgeois metropolis was later elaborated by Walter Benjamin who added the concept of the flâneur: the aimless wanderer. The flâneur is a bourgeois with time on his or her hands able to wander the city experiencing its manifold delights, but for Benjamin, writing in the early twentieth century, the ultimate delight lay in the Paris arcades. These magnificent creations were the first shopping malls, the first cathedrals to capitalist culture. And for Benjamin, a creative mix of a Marxist and an avant-gardist who absorbed the aesthetics of Dada and Surrealism like a sponge, chance played a fundamental role in flânerie: ‘an intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets’ (1999 p. 417). 
Notions of uncertainty, agitation, ephemerality, the fugitive, and the contingent pervade Konczak’s latterday flânerie. Indeed they fuel the full force of his ‘cracked’ subject matter. This is a particularly postmodern vision set far apart from the perfection of the crystalline geometry of the new. ‘Cracked Cities’ reveals the underside of bourgeois perfection. The parts that the genius of capitalism cannot reach.
The gloss of modernism and its claims of panacea generally wore thin in the second half of the twentieth century. And in place of the wonder of Baudelaire and Benjamin we have the decentred wanderings of the anti-capitalist French Situationists. Their leader, Guy Debord famously coined the elegant term dérive to refer to the experience of drifting within an urban environment. But the practice of geographical automatism is more generally referred to in the English-speaking world as psychogeography, a movement with a considerable following. Debord’s rules for dérive suggest that one drops one’s usual motives for action, relations, work and leisure activities; that the average duration is a day; the spatial field may be precisely delimited or vague.  Another source reports that the dérive requires that ‘one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there’. 
Konczak’s dérive seems attracted to what lies behind the previously clean and shiny façade of capitalism: which is, of course, a total lack of concern for the one’s who didn’t make it (a rather primitive and un-modern, certainly unglobablized, point of view that reveals the central contradiction of capitalism). And then again there is another side to this displaced forgotten geography with its invisible lines demarcating the haves from the have-nots. Decay breeds dis-eases that can, and do, feed back into the bloodstreams of the previously insulated bourgeosie. Because in the end the city, like the world, is an organism and one lets one part rot at one’s peril. 
Perhaps that is a point Konczak is trying to make, perhaps not. He does not talk about this particular work because authorial distance is part of its modus operandi, part of his strategy of derive is to lose himself. Separating his voice from the work can in itself be understood as an act of mapping, mapping another’s voice onto one’s work. Indeed, this is an integral part of the project. The author takes a back seat and lets the reader take the driver’s seat.
As we watch the images appear and disappear on the screen voices other than Konczak speak to them. He chooses these voices, of course, and the basis for his selection seems to be their grain. He tends to choose voices that do not have a British accent so that there is a sense of displacement between the nationality of the author and that of the reader. This strategem introduces another layer of disjointed cartography, another crossing of the geopolitical borderlines which are as strong as ever in paradoxical era of ‘globalization’ (where money is more liberated than people).
And ‘Cracked Cities’ reflects such contradition in the fact that at one level it is a sequence of beautiful images. I can imagine Konczak waiting for the correct light like a thousand cinematographers before him. He seems to want to enchant these seedy margins as if to reveal that they have an inner glow, to show that they are not entirely putrescent. Then there is the persistent industrialized whirr and clunk of the slide projector which we assume is a subterfuge because this is a digital work. Another dislocation, another lie. What can we believe in these pictures?
We cannot ask Konczak because he would not tell us even if he knew. Instead his globalized wandering and his use of other’s voices points to our general helplessness in the face of all the cracks in the surface of late capitalism, the problems of a third world either starving (Africa) or suiciding (Palestine) as the other half guzzle food and oil. One can only speak if one is deluded enough to think one has the power to do anything about these faultlines that might one day explode. And nobody, no single human being has that power.