New Cities Future Ruins

Noah Simblist: New Cities Future Ruins
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SMU, Owen Fine Arts Center

Arizona State University

University of Texas, El Paso, Rubin Center for the Arts
Dallas, TX; Phoenix, AZ; El Paso, TX
2016 - 2019

The Initiative

New Cities, Future Ruins was envisioned as a four-year curatorial initiative inviting artists, designers, and thinkers to re-imagine and engage the extreme urbanism of America's Western Sun Belt. Fast-growing symbols of opportunity and entrepreneurialism, the region’s cities are sprawling agglomerations in delicate ecosystems, marked by resource overuse, dramatic demographic change, and political struggle that particularize and illuminate global crises of rapid urbanization. Suburban in texture, they are 21st-century spaces that resist creative and political strategies inherited from the industrial city. Bringing critical and innovative practices from around the world to bear on this urban landscape, New Cities, Future Ruins was designed to foster visionary thought and artistic experimentation at these urgent sites.

Launching with a convening in Dallas, TX (2016), the initiative continued with a convening at Arizona State University in Phoenix (2017) and an exhibition at The University of Texas, El Paso’s Rubin Center for the Arts (2019).

2016 Dallas Convening

Installations and Exhibitions

Hallucinations of the Global Future: Sophia Al Maria and Cao Fei
SMU, Owen Fine Arts Center

The artists drew from the contexts of China and the Persian Gulf, which have also seen enormous amounts of growth in architecture, infrastructure, economies, and culture, and like the Sun Belt, face fundamental questions about social, economic and ecological sustainability. Hallucinations refers to the imagining or speculation of the future, also a dreamlike quality in which something could quickly slip into nightmare. Fei and Al-Maria engage the questions of futurism in their work; while Al Maria coined the term “Gulf Futurism,” Fei uses Second Life, a technology of the recent past, to “build” a city, asking what the role of technology and social or civic infrastructure is in building the city of the future. Cao Fei's (SL avatar: China Tracy) RMB City: A Second Life City Planning (2007-2011) speaks to China's current obsession with land development in all its intensity. A rough hybrid of communism, socialism and capitalism, RMB City will be realized in a globalized digital sphere combining overabundant symbols of Chinese reality with cursory imaginings of the country's future. This will be the condensed incarnation of contemporary Chinese cities with most of their characteristics; a series of new Chinese fantasy realms that are highly self-contradictory, inter-permeative, laden with irony and suspicion, and extremely entertaining and pan-political. Sophia Al-Maria's The Future Was Desert, Parts I & II (2016) examines links between the archaeologist and the astronaut – digging into sand, one exploring the past, the other the future. Similar to the landscape in Mad Max, the desert of the Persian Gulf is a space of paradoxical intersections between ancient civilizations and futuristic displays of power and wealth. Bringing together these works in NCFR, the show hopes to unearth some of the conditions that speak across these three different contexts.

Visionary Sprawl
Work by Mary Ellen Carroll, Center for Land Use Interpretation, Michael Light, Matthew Moore

The exhibition features Mary Ellen Carroll’s prototype 180, a subtle intervention in a suburban Houston neighborhood, and Matthew Moore’s Rotations: Moore Estates, an alteration to a farm field on the outskirts of Phoenix anticipating its development into tract housing. It also features aerial images: the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Texas City Landscan, depicting a landscape of the petrochemical industry near Houston, and photographer Michael Light’s photograph, an image of the unearthly construction sites of an unfinished Las Vegas gated community. Finally, the video Usonia by Urs Britschgi, Mike Hsu, Ashley Shafer, and Max Strang, translates Wright’s vision into a moving image—a delirious animated caricature of a city that recalls the futurist works of Cao Fei, on display at SMU’s Doolin Gallery as a part of NCFR. The exhibition also included archival works from Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

New Cartographies: Visualizing Emergent Urban Forms
SMU, Owen Fine Arts Center

Received narratives about the cities of the Western Sun Belt have hampered public understanding of the region—its urbanism, history, and place in the global political landscape. New Cartographies: Visualizing Emergent Urban Forms, an exhibition curated by Sofia Bastidas, Jessie Zarazaga and Gavin Kroeber for the NCFR convening, pushes back against these narratives. The exhibition includes four thematic clusters:

Megaregions and Scale Shifts, in which the maps zoom out from the conventional city to regional and global views, highlighting processes of urbanization that extend beyond cityscapes.

Alternate Views, in which cartographers, rather than mapping roads and city limits, reveal spatial patterns of demographics, economics, hydrology and other relationships.

Radical Cartography, named after An Atlas of Radical Cartography, the source of some of these maps, includes visualizations that are radical both from a political and formal standpoint.

Visions of Dallas, in which maps of Dallas and, specifically, the Jubilee Park neighborhood where several art installations are on display during the NCFR weekend, help orient us in the political, economic, and ecological landscape of the metroplex.

Congo Street: Work by bcWorkshop
Jubilee Park and Community Center

The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP is a Texas based nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design and making. We enrich the lives of citizens by bringing design thinking to areas of our cities where resources are most scarce. To do so, [bc] recognizes that it must first understand the social, economic, and environmental issues facing a community before beginning work.

Built around 1920, a socially and economically segregated time, this small community of dwellings fell into disrepair with little attention from landlords, the surrounding neighborhood, or the City itself. The families, having lived in the area for generations, shared a common desire to remain on the street despite the urgent need to repair their homes. The Holding House served as a temporary home for each family during the deconstruction and renovation/rebuilding of their homes, allowing the community to retain its social cohesion.

Caitlin Berrigain: Treatise on Imaginary Explosions Vol 1
Jubilee Park and Community Center

Caitlin Berrigan works across performance, video, sculpture, text and public choreographies to engage with the intimate and embodied dimensions of power, politics and capitalism. The larger Treatise on Imaginary Explosions Vol. I project includes an experimental book that considers geological time alongside the deep time of trauma, as well as a film about affective geologies and the idea of becoming mineral. For NCFR, Berrigan created a series of signs spread throughout the neighborhood just southwest of Jubilee Park and Community Center. Formally in the vernacular of large real estate signs common around Dallas used to advertise for buildable empty lots, Berrigan’s bright neons, jagged hand-drawn forms and hand-written messages depart dramatically from the formula. Berrigan's work is an overlay on the neighborhood, evoking futuristic images of existence alongside catastrophe

Lais Myrrha: Untitled
Jubilee Park and Community Center

Lais Myrrha is a Brazilian artist based in São Paulo. Myrrha's work speaks to questions of urbanism, modernism and power in Brazil, paying particular attention to urban spaces, their materiality and the communities that use them. In this reactivated performance/installation piece from 2001, Myrrha will write the names and birthdates of each member of the surrounding neighborhood in a process of unearthing the specificity of the community. The artist will invite participants from the neighborhood to collaborate with her to collectively build an ephemeral trace of their community. By inscribing industrial materials with the subjectivity of each individual in the community and layering them together, the installation slowly becomes a footprint of social bonds and makeup of the space it inhabits.

Quilian Riano: Sandboxing
Jubilee Park and Community Center

SANDBOXING is a game designed specifically for NCFR in which players are asked to engage with two key resources: land (sand) and water.

Rodrigo Valenzuela: Hedonic Reversal
Jubilee Park and Community Center

Valenzuala’s project for NCFR addresses the historical aesthetic of ruins, including traces of displacement, as well as their signification of social and economic failure. It included an installation of prints as well as a video that included interviews with undocumented workers.

Jeff Williams: Adjustable
Jubilee Park and Community Center

In this work, Williams pushes materials to their limits, challenging our assumptions about them and emphasizing the inevitability of change.

lauren woods: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (Wheatley’s Place)
Jubilee Park and Community Center

lauren woods is a conceptual artist whose hybrid media projects—film, video and sound installations, interventions and site-­specific work—engage history while contemplating the socio-­politics of the present. Challenging the objectivity of documentary/ethnography, the artist creates ethno-­fictive documents that investigate invisible dynamics in society, remixing memory and imagining other possibilities. Her installation for NCFR is an abstract video installation based on Wheatley Place, a historic neighborhood of Dallas and a planned African American community. It speaks to the ideals of the planned community as modernist utopia, in which social problems such as racism can be addressed through planning. The artist references the poems of the neighborhood’s namesake Phillis Wheatley – the first published African American poet – who was born in West Africa, sold into slavery and eventually emancipated, as part of the work. Solario
SMU Pollock Gallery is a collective project by artist Agustina Woodgate, Stephanie Sherman, and Sebastian Bellver. A nomadic, multilingual, online radio broadcast addressing themes of mobility, migration, and transportation. hosts time and site-specific broadcasts that adapt to the local scenarios and situations it encounters. The transmission integrates at least two languages at once, focusing on language incorporation and integration rather than translation as a mode of communication and learning. The Dallas iteration of, Solario, broadcast key lectures and discussions from the New Cities, Future Ruins convening to open a channel for intensive conversation and audio performance with local voices on topics and themes. It will consider the sun's presence and promise in transportation, migration, and climate transformation. From sun rooms to solar racing competitions, solar panels to star power, the broadcast will address solar energy and ecology in Dallas in the context of the Sun Belt’s infrastructure and its social, political, and infrastructural dynamics.


Guillermo Gómez-Peña: Technotopia 3.0: Notes from the Creative City Gone Wrong

A philosophical tantrum by Guillermo Gómez-Peña, this performance addresses the "creative city gone wrong" and the obsessive visions of politicians and planners, proposing futures for humanity, that drive it.

Autumn Knight: The La-a Consortium

This work examines how groups of people are permanently situated within American history. Institutions can seem permanent, carrying on the legacies of a people, a family, even an individual person. But the permanence, power, and importance that institutions suggest is constructed. This performance imagines a future in which a wider range of national/international institutions in fields such as science, art, or philanthropy bear the names and bear witness to achievements by people of color, people that are rarely invited to this conversation. Knight created a group of institutions that include non-traditional name such as Varkesha and Tyronique, to suggest institutions that should exist but do not.

Postcommodity: We Lost Half the Forest and the Rest Will Burn This Summer

Performing as an improvised music and noise ensemble, Postcommodity works with custom acoustic instruments as well as modified analog oscillators, deer antlers, sine tone generators, and hunting calls. They have described their music as “a stark and spirited statement of remaining free within growing technological fetishism, intellectual slavery, and the continuing curse of colonialism in America and greater capitalist culture."

The Roast of Dallas with performances by Shelby David Meier, Randy Guthmiller, Carol Zou, Ricardo Paniagua, Lauren Belmore, and Zeke Williams.

Lectures and presentations

Pecha Kucha
Carol Zou, Carrie Schneider, Jeff Williams. Christopher Blay, Cynthia Mulcahey
Andrew Ross
Mainstage Presentations
Brent Brown
Mary Ellen Carrol
Naima Keith
Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman
Sarah Resnick
Imre Szeman

Panels and Roundtables

The Western Sunbelt: An Urban Paradigm?
Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, Tony Payan, Betsy Beasley

Borderlands and Boundaries: Producing and Policing Civic Space
Postcommodity, lauren woods, Teddy Cruz, Ersela Kripa, Stephen Mueller

The New America: Immigration, Demographic Change and Political Power
Roberto Bedoya and Erina Duganne

Futurisms and Ruins: Techno-Utopianism, Romantic Apocalypse, and Ethno-Futurism
Naima Keith, Ivan Puig, Caitlin Berrigan, Sarah Resnick

Remaking the New City: COmmunity Development in the Growth Machine Metropolis
bcWorkshop, Wellington “Duke” Reiter

The Global Sunbelt: Crises of Rabid Urbanization from Dallas to Dubai
Noura Al Sayeh, Kerry Doyle, Nada Shabout, Jason Hilgefort and Merve Badir

The Suburban Frontier: Art and Design After the Myth of Suburbia
Mary Ellen Carroll, otherothers, Teddy Cruz , Joshua Nason

Urban Ecologies: Scarcity, Infrastructure, and Social Justice
Imre Szeman, Emily Roehl, Bill Hargrove, Bryan Parras

Post-Gentrification with Aaron Landsman

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Curatorial Statement

The new cities of the Western Sun Belt represent an ascendant paradigm and an emerging crisis.

From Houston to Denver and from Phoenix to San Diego, during the past 75 years a constellation of bright-burning cities has emerged in some of the most extreme environments of the American West. Historic testing grounds for neoliberalism avant la lettre, these exploding urban centers have become national symbols of growth, opportunity and entrepreneurialism. At the same time, however, they are sprawling agglomerations in delicate ecosystems, marked by resource overuse, dramatic demographic change, and political struggle. They are cultural landscapes that have been radically transformed by decades of dynamic expansion, sites that both particularize and illuminate global crises of rapid urbanization. In few other places is the question of whether our way of life can or should persist–environmentally, economically, and socially–rendered in such compelling and legible terms.

Unbuilt “Ascaya” Lots and Cul-De-Sac Looking Northwest, “Sun City MacDonald Ranch” Beyond, Henderson, NV, 2012. Photo: Michael Light.
Suburban in texture, this political geography is a 21st-century space that resists creative traditions inherited from the industrial city. Coming into their own only after the advent of air conditioning and the influx of New Deal funding, unbeholden to any well-established historic core, these multicentric cities are defined as much by their edges as their centers. Built around subdivisions, freeways, logistics infrastructures, and special economic zones, these cities achieved an early and unadulterated form of neoliberal urbanism and provided a blueprint for contemporary spatial patterns and today’s dominant global policy regime. They demand models of intervention and speculation attuned to their particularities, and they offer possibilities for new visionary practices better attuned to global realities. Yet while the worlds of art and architecture have rushed to engage the spectacular architectural arms races escalating in the exoticized cityscapes of the Gulf states or China, the precariously parallel but unromanticized urbanism of the Western Sun Belt has not found space in wider discourse. These cities often seem to be mistaken for their public image: a banal succession of box stores, cul-de-sacs, and retirement communities ignored on the way out of town to land art sites and desert utopias—too new and too manicured to merit engagement.

This initiative proposes that the anodyne landscape of the Western Sun Belt harbors wild images of both explosive growth and catastrophic decay. In these severe environments, amid the anxiety of recession, the national myth of boomtowns and ghost towns provides fodder for Ozymandian visions of civilizational collapse. But if it is easy to indulge in such apocalyptic speculation in the Western Sun Belt, this geography is dominated by an even louder strain of futurism: a celebratory techno-utopianism that envisions these new cities rising to the challenges of growth precisely by accelerating it. This attitude is predicated on a faith in market demand for solutions to foster new technologies and infrastructures just before a breaking point arrives, transforming these cities yet again. Futurisms have always shaped the cities of the Western Sun Belt, which existed first as promotional images mobilized by boosterist growth machines and only later as cities in any real sense. Today’s guiding futures, the equally romantic fantasies of new cities and future ruins, are insufficient: They are narratives that we must navigate around in a search for contravening forms of speculation and action, at once more grounded and more visionary.

Bringing critical and innovative practices from around the world to bear on this urban landscape and the global crises manifest within it, New Cities, Future Ruins is intended to foster visionary thought and artistic experimentation at these urgent sites. A vessel for exchange between artists, designers and thinkers inside the region and beyond, the initiative will provide a platform to re-imagine and engage these cities—the conditions and histories that define them, the practitioners and communities working and living in them—while reciprocally mobilizing these sites in wider discourse, inspiring new approaches to parallel urbanisms globally, and challenging prevailing assumptions about which places and forms are appropriate to visionary, redirective art and design.


Gavin Kroeber, Artistic Director
Noah Simblist, Associate Curator and Producer
Clyde Valentin, Producer
RonAmber Deloney, Project Manager
Sofia Bastidas, Curatorial Assistant


Southern Methodist University | SMU, Meadows School of the Arts
University of Texas at El Paso | Rubin Center for the Visual Arts
Arizona State University | ASU Gammage
Jubilee Park Community Center
The McKinney Avenue Contemporary
Nasher Sculpture Center
Arts In a Changing America

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