– Autumn/Winter 2002

Ducks, Gambling and Cultural Bankruptcy, or The Bastardised Urban Landscape

Marjetica Potrč

Sean Snyder, Southfork Ranch, Slobozia. Courtesy of the artist.

Sean Snyder, Southfork Ranch, Slobozia. Courtesy of the artist.

Marjetica Potrč: When Learning from Las Vegas, Robert Venturi's seminal book about the American cityscape, was published in the 1970s it stunned architects by pointing to the obvious in the then contemporary American city: the signs and the strip. Las Vegas makes a case for the strip, since it is (nothing but) the strip, a straight avenue with big signs and little buildings. Now the strip is well incorporated into today's cities and makes the case for 'more of the same'. The signs are incorporated too. It's just that they mutate.

Sean Snyder: Steven Izenour mentioned that the difference between the Las Vegas of the 1960s and the Las Vegas of today is that the signs are no longer bigger than the buildings. Since Learning From Las Vegas the same basic signs and commercial buildings (that take on a sculptural form that Venturi called 'ducks') have been transposed over geographic and cultural borders and have created a hybridised language of bastardised signs.

MP: In your work, you use case studies to show the way the values and readings of contemporary culture morph by pointing to the signifiers of global hybrid forms. When you disclose the failures of societal and economic utopias you in fact open them up to interpretation. For me, the present time is about self-reliability, individual initiatives and small-scale projects.

SS: It's true that the expansion of large-scale infrastructure goes along with the growth of small-scale settlements. They are both inevitable parasites of different kinds, but only the locations for commercial infrastructure are scientifically articulated through the use of satellite imagery and feasibility studies. Watered-down typological descendants of Las Vegas are now impregnated all over the world, and