At the beginning of the 21st century megacities are the nodes that connect and compact global networks. Their urban space reflects an epoch in which the global flow of capital and an invisible torrent of data conflate in one all-embracing network. Technical fluid spaces are formed in which networking continually expands, deepens and becomes ever more pervasive under the impact of traffic, information, communication and trade flows. Global cities are created whose urban topography is increasingly overlaid by data flows. By 2050 two thirds of humankind will be living in cities. Many of today’s megacities will grow into gigacities of over one hundred million inhabitants. The complexity of the global proliferation of megacities can now only be comprehended as an infinite abstract structure.
Inspired by Fritz Lang‘s monumental futuristic film opus “Metropolis” (1927) and Ridley Scott‘s dystopian cyberpunk vision “Blade Runner” (1982), with his work series “netropolis” Michael Najjar now moves the aesthetic exploration of the megacity into the 21st century. At first glance, these large-format black and white photographs show a panoramic view of the city in which all four points of the compass have been compressed into one single picture. The high vantage point and the top down view transform the vast expanse of the city into an abstract landscape, while the reduction of the high-set horizon to a narrow strip tips the picture into a horizontal plane. The frontal gaze of the viewer is simultaneously drawn to the distance and into the depths. The palimpsest-like over-layering creates a grid of grey tones which extends over the whole surface and generates an overall impression: the urban landscape stretches out beyond all of the picture’s boundaries.
A more distanced view shows that such construction lends equality to all parts of the picture: there is no formal hierarchy between single elements. At the same time, however, the picture forces viewers continually to switch perspective between near and far, between micro- and macro-structures, since the vibrant nature of the city is grounded in the correlation between closeness and distance – even though viewers can never be certain whether they are standing in distanced closeness or close distance to the urban landscape. Inter-penetration of the four lines of sight - north, south, east, and west - creates an interwoven texture that exhibits elongations, compactions and reconstructions of time and space, conceptualized by Najjar as allegories of the abstract infinite data horizon of our megacities. In these works Najjar’s prime concern is not with the spatial perception of particular topographies but rather with urban spaces of life and activity and their over-layering with technical and virtual fluid space. Thus the electronic topography of our megacities also implies the disappearance of space and time as acceleration – that dominant dimension of our world – increasingly reduces urban structures and all their social fabric to data noise.
Michael Najjar began the “netropolis” series in the three years from 2003 – 2006 and returned to it in 2016. Up to present the series has portrayed the megacities of New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, São Paulo, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Paris, London and Berlin. Portraits of Guangzhou, Mumbai, Delhi, Jakarta, Moscow and others will follow.
Works from this series have been exhibited internationally in numerous museums, institutions and biennials around the world, including the Venice Architectural Biennale, the Havana Biennale, the Berlin Academy of Arts, the Gemeente Museum, The Hague, the Beijing Academy of Fine Arts, the Tuscon Museum of Arts, the Museo Es Baluard, Palma, the ZKM Museum, Karlsruhe, and the Deichtorhallen, Hamburg.