Liminal spaces of Broadway

Part of the text Notes in public space: Inscribing the pavement, annotating the city, written together with Maja Maksimović and Mirjana Utvić, chapter in the book Walking and Embodied Worldmaking, edited by Lea Spahn.


In search of clarity in situating my knowledge and forming awareness of my positionality, I surrendered to the act of walking as an act of speculative inquiry, in a classical appropriation of the flaneur and by entering a Temporary Autonomous Zone: Walking unnoticed in one’s city, in someone else’s city, in another country, as an immigrant with an unmistakable accent from Slavic Eastern Europe, socialized in a deficit narrative, yet an affluent participant of the higher education chain, one that is notorious for inducing chronic anxiety disorders among its populations. In thinking of my unearned privileges and my taking up space in this particular street, I ask myself: Which bodies are allowed to experience a stroll, here, in this moment? The flaneur embows a preexisting state of liberation, on the opposite side of trauma.

Image 1: Abandoned mask, courtesy of the global pandemic, November 2021, South Broadway, Denver

Image 2: Abandoned bottle of whiskey, Image 3: Abandoned person covered with a blanket on South Broadway, Denver, November 2021

The scene of inquiry is the vibrant street of Broadway in Denver, Colorado. Yet, there is an effort in guiding attention to the small, unmeasurable signifiers of transitioning, of change. This space is a diary of performing mapping while not leaving objects and traces in public space, realized through the seemingly but hardly innocent act of documenting scenes as snapshots in time.  Some of them mark the era of still being in a global pandemic after a year and a half, of still grappling with public policies, tossing masks in protest, venues closing. Finished bottles of whiskey. Temporary settlements of the eternally expelled, the never digital nomads: the homeless. Yet, Christmas is approaching. 

Image 4: Closed business on South Broadway, Denver, November 2021

The changing, the unprofitable, therefore non-valuable.

The accumulation of byproducts is a tracing of the urban landscape that speaks a story of layers, archives, of building on top of preexisting states. Inscribing can never come as a blank slate on the streets of a city. In that way, the decision for the act of tracing in this exercise in style was to create a documentation, an anarchival process. The nature of byproducts is also a marker of liminality, the consequences of the temporality of the spaces in between. This mapping comes into being as an active process, always unfolding, always subjective, always small scale, always discriminating, always painting an intentional picture, always carrying unintentional aspects, which could be completely different from day to day. Unlike the reductionism of flattening data into a citywide representation, this map follows a part of a street, one which the subject researcher is in close contact with, not extracted from. One which stems from a lived knowledge of a particular positionality and perspective, deeply embodied and accountable to its biases and fragmentary nature of the multiplicity of partial perspectives, opposite from the detached gaze of the conventional flaneur. One which is not cleansed into pure data, but additionally skewed in the act of mediating the end perspective, leveraging the widely available practice of filtering images as a tool of obfuscation and protection of anonymity.

Image 5: The homeless as exiled wanderers (left: August 2021, right: November 2021), South Broadway, Denver

The act of tracing with a camera has demonstrated in itself to be an experiential marker of presence to other passers-by, directing their attention to the person (me), as well as to the object of tracing (the signifiers of transitionality). The meaning of the scene is left unexamined from the perspective of the bypassers, in order to maintain the space of meaning making from the experiential. Yet, the shift of attention of the flaneuse has marked an effect in the immediate surrounding of daily habituation in public space. As such it provokes the question: Can the space of the flaneuse function as an intervention to disintegrate the disinterest of the flaneur into creating spaces of shared co-liberation? And how can accountability find place in the act of reproducing the documented through developing intentional lensing, protecting subjectivities in public space?