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<nettime> Sean Snyder interviewed by Krystian Woznicki
Krystian Woznicki on Wed, 1 Mar 2000 19:13:05 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Sean Snyder interviewed by Krystian Woznicki


here I am posting an interview with Sean Snyder which has been published in
the "The Lars Issue"  (1/00) of NU: (mailto: nu {AT} nordicartreview.nu), a
bi-monthly magazine based in Stockholm.

With a special focus on the dynamic contemporary Scandinavian art scene,
covered by its network of contributing editors and correspondents, it deals
with international art trends as well as practices including architecture,
design, music, fashion and new media.

In   3/99 it for instance featured an interview with Veran Matic and  in
1/99 a piece by Eric Kluitenberg on re-lab. While touching on issues
concerning media and globality the interview with Snyder basically  tackles
urban phenomena.

Best wishes
Krystian Woznicki
mailto:krystian {AT} snafu.de


An air conditioned planet

Sean Snyder is an American artist based in Berlin. Architecture informs his
artistic work - an interest also echoed in his studies and research of
urban phenomena.   When we first met last winter in  a Burger King
restaurant  at Berlin Alexanderplatz I learned about his fascination with
Asian cities, which coincided with my background - during a long term stay
in Tokyo it was the city, its dynamic and spatial structure that attracted
much of my attention. We kept meeting in fast food restaurants. While
talking to Snyder I gradually began to realize that his look at the use of
space was tackling the very foundations of what one could call the
spherology of popular culture. Spherology? I guess that there is no better
term for the convergence of environmental, global and spatial issues.
Imagine an air conditioned planet, an artificial atmosphere being
systematically packaged, environmental designs replacing geopolitical
questions... all this   mirrored in a new, doubtless global popular
culture. Some things within our immediate, everyday environment hint at the
fact that this scenario isn't Sci-Fi however.

Krystian Woznicki: You have dedicated much of your research to fast food

Sean Snyder: Well, I have paid attention to commercial architectural
archetypes, transient places one experiences on a regular basis which
aren't necessarily geographically specific (airports, fast food
restaurants, chain hotels, shopping malls, etc.); built spaces which
reflect the surroundings or (in most cases) not at all. With fast food
restaurants the constructed artificial environment can be a legible,
pop-reduction of the vernacular urban/ rural surroundings or a universal
standard. On McDonalds web site they pride themselves on their cultural
awareness and local responsibility. In Portugal they restore historical
architecture, chandeliers, stain glass windows, and mosaics. In Saudi
Arabia seating is organized by sex and marital status, and so on. Analysis
of the specifics of their interior environments and architectural variants
reflect the complexity involved in defining location.

KW: Of course, the fast food restaurant, in its spatial logic, signals a
global condition.

SS: The spatial logic of a fast food restaurant is about convenience and
speed. McDonalds is rumored to be the largest commercial consumer of
satellite technology. This information is used to make year-by-year
comparisons and analyze location viability. McDonalds has internet
restaurant locators and trip planners to lead customers from one restaurant
to the next, magnifying >from outer space to the within km's of the
restaurant. Directional signs with arrows and distances direct through the
spatial coordinates of the city, airport, highway to the nearest location.
The arches identify the building, coercing customers into the restaurant.
Ronald McDonald greets at the door (ambassador). Food is consumed in a
semi-comfortable environment. Paper tray mats may be printed with a map of
all the locations in the city or even country. Towns and cites without a
restaurant are insignificant and not sited. Customers are guided back out
of the restaurant by railings and directional arrows on to the next

KW: What about your  recent  research concerning these aspects in Paris?

SS: In this case I decided to be specific with geographic location. Today,
in contrast to the areas the Situationalist International found to have
psychological or spiritual significance, the restaurant locations cover the
historically, touristic and economically important areas.  I compared a
placemat   from Mc Donalds and an advert from KFC showing all the locations
in Paris with the maps the SI constructed in the 50s. It creates something
of a mirror image.  This sort of commercial cartography inverts the local
back into the universal.

KW:  Do your  environmental studies simply serve as a basis for
photographic and video work, or do they constitute a separate register?

SS: I would say all my projects are to some degree interrelated; media is
irrelevant: amassing text information, photo/ video material, is just a
part of a working process.

KW: I wonder how you got interested in East Asia?

SS: I've used examples in Asia tangentially as a reference where
modernization, urbanization and technology usage are at the forefront.

KW: Asia has become a projection space as well. Don't you see any danger in
your research being subsumed under the rubric "exotic fetish"?

SS: Discretion must be used approaching anything outside ones personal
sphere, but there's also a certain perceptual acuteness in being an
outsider. I would not consider my work related to travel in Asia fulfilling
stereotypes. I've stayed within commercial archetypes of my American
background and how they've adapted local or vernacular characteristics.
Convenience stores, shopping malls, suburban housing, fast food
restaurants,  etc.

KW: So you have in fact resisted to dig in to far into what one would call
the particularly local?

SS: In some cases I worked with the specifically local, for example in
France I photographed some of the utopian prototype suburbs of Paris
constructed during the 50s, 60s and 70s. Most of the buildings were
designed by less significant architects with a broad vision of how a large
population should be organized. What remains are sci-fi like fading facades
and a broken down infrastructure. I would consider the project a sort of
non-objective archive of obscure architectural documentation that otherwise
probably wouldn't be taken up.

KW: For Terry Eagleton post modernity belongs to the shopping malls,
discotheques, and parts of popular culture - all of which we have seen
rising in Asia. His problem is that this particular "Western" aesthetic
fails to provide role models/identities that Asians could eventually
retranslate/make use of in their daily lives.

SS:  In an American Coke advert they might throw a frisbee to a dog, but in
a strict Muslim country where dogs aren't kept as pets, its going to be
forbidden. There are many intricacies involved in creating a universally
passable marketing campaign. When you have one solution which is adapted to
fit acceptable standards on a global scale it has to be so watered down
that its boring. The synthesis of Western influence and local culture can
also add up to a reinforced awareness of local language and customs.

KW:  The Japanese filmmaker Kitano Takeshi has described Tokyo as a huge
black box, where everything that gets absorbed/imported is being
transformed/assimilated on local terms.

SS:  In Tokyo I got the impression if its about cultural appropriation, its
not a desire to possess the original, but rather imitation as a form of
amusement. A French chateau, an American ranch, a Dutch village are
enthusiastically assimilated into the surroundings. Bank adverts use
cartoon characters: Woody Woodpecker for Visa, Hello Kitty for Citibank,
etc. These elements arrive in the environment first as aliens, but as the
rooting in the original dissolves and identification becomes commonplace,
they become anonymous everyday fixtures.

-Krystian Woznicki

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