ZLATAN KRAJINA – A Casual Flâneur


performative research, Flower Square, during the festival

The intervention called A Casual Flâneur refers to a series of accidental encounters between the author and the passers-by, in which the artist, with the sensibility of a Parisian stroller (flâneur), whose intimate voyeurism turns him into a critical observer of his surroundings, starts casual, almost accidental conversations about a seemingly unimportant topic: the everyday presence of the advertising screen, which has been flaring from the roof of a building on Flower Square for the past year. The project, of course, has been neither accidental nor banal: even though changes in the urban environment have permanent consequences for the paths along which people move and the direction of their gaze, for everyday passers-by they occur rather silently – the surface of a roof or a wall suddenly appears occupied by a commercial image of a different space, such as a beach (which can be transformed in the very next moment into a snowy mountain, a half naked body of a model on the catwalk, etc.). Little by little, with its everyday presence, the inseparable segment of that everyday physical space will become a visual crack leading into a different space, while the commercially profitable corner will become more visible than any other, owing to being ‘fuelled’ by light. Urban screens (electronic billboards, TV-sets on terraces of cafes, promotional interfaces in shop windows) have been appearing in increasingly many places, reconfiguring the view of the city as emblems of power (flatteringly reminiscent of the urban centres of London, Tokyo, and New York), progress (as they show an excellent moving colour image) and the media-suffused, modern everyday life (the same commercials can be seen on TV and the internet). If this routine is inevitable and created by repetition, such as taking one way when crossing the square rather than another, then it simultaneously, and just as silently, legitimizes – as a part of everyday life – the presence of a commercial screen in one’s field of vision, as well as the fact that a stroll has become, since the presence of the screen, mixed with the interaction with video commercials. At home, as we are promised by the postmodern consumer culture, we can remove these images from our view by pressing a button on our remote control, but there is nothing like that in the street. The Casual Flâneur resists this construction of urban reality, governed by institutions (Bertolt Brecht’s ‘estrangement’), by asking questions about the habit of everyday encounters and the unplanned interaction with the screen (the flicker will briefly catch your eye and direct it towards the interface while you walk).

In the usual hustle and bustle, the artist will be barely discernible standing there with the passers-by, and question after question he will be able to bring into his collocutor’s awareness his or her preconscious suppositions about the seemingly unproblematic presence of something in his or her everyday space, regardless of the TV-set they had left at home. The conversation will last as long as the participants will feel necessary (30 seconds… one hour?), after which they will part as if they had never met in the first place.  The aim of this game is urban (political) intervention into the everyday life of a post-industrial city, where the service industry of new technologies, entertainment, and advertising invites us, now no longer only in private, but also in public sphere, subtly, by spreading its suggestive screens and interfaces, to spend our time productively – by interacting with the screen – even in our free time, outside of offices and factories. Why shouldn’t our walk, in the true Taylorist manner of an efficient conveyor belt, be equally productive, allowing us to collect information about the new products, the weather, or the stock exchange?

The advertising screen belongs to the broader culture of screens that have been guiding our perception of the environment, especially the city, for an entire century. At first it was the cinema, the primordial urban institution, that cultivated our voyeuristic gaze, while the television encouraged superficial and sporadic glancing; nowadays, television screens in the public space of the city ‘train’ us to interact in the form of erratic encounters (messages on the roofs are short and repetitive). Whoever resists this sort of position and halts to watch their programme for longer, which should, in the tradition of the Greek agora, contribute to democracy, will end up irritated by the repetitive quality of the brief video clips and leave. The political consequences are obvious: you should look everywhere, since something is flashing from all sides, you should let your eyes wander about (which is why we have the technologies of permanent access, such as cell phones), but you should not observe anything with enough attention as to notice the power relations – which is here the absence of remote controls for interfaces as we know them in the form of selections, menus, and switches. Questions and subquestions about the mostly invisible routines of interaction with that screen (When and how do you normally notice it? What makes it different from all the others? What would you do if you had a remote?), like the games of the French Situationists (with no winner and with loose rules), aim at becoming a method of resistance against the inevitable ‘familiarization’ with the screen, by de-familiarizing the passer-by from what he or she considers ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’. The conversations will be immersed into the evasiveness of casual encounters in the street, and will remain invisible to other casual observers: after all, such is the nature of unsolicited interaction with commercials during our everyday passage through public spaces. However, they may also bring about long-term change in the passer-by’s knowledge about the urban media environment, provoked by this casual flâneurie at UrbanFestival.

Zlatan Krajina is Senior Assistant at the Faculty of Political Sciences, teaching an MA course on Media and the City, and the author of the Mediopolis programme for the Third Programme of the Croatian Radio. He defended his PhD in 2011 at Goldsmiths, University of London, in the field of media and communications, with a dissertation on everyday resistance against commercial displays in the public space of modern cities (supervised by David Morley).