USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The tree does not exist.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Does this tree even fall?

If this tree is not real for anyone, it does not exist.

How does one ground work in a living social context versus just raising consciousness?

Trevor Paglen’s Experimental Geography: From Cultural Production to the Production of Space states that “humans create the world around them and that humans are, in turn, created by the world around them. In other words, the human condition is characterized by a feedback loop between human activity and our material surroundings. In this view, space is not a container for human activities to take place within, but is actively ‘produced’ through human activity. The spaces humans produce, in turn, set powerful constraints upon subsequent activity.” Does the space define its use or does the use define its space? Spaces are “produced” by its users. However, the inherent nature of a space also aids in producing human activity.

Without human activity, space would cease to exist as a usable function. If the space remains unused, does it still exist as space? Or as a vacuum? A black hole? A void?

If a real space cannot exist without human activity, how can one differentiate between an illusion and what is real? With no living social context, an entity is not in existence. When given a living social context, an entity becomes tangible, even if the entity only exists for the human who has produced this context.

Is there a difference between reality and a dream world? If the user is put into a surreal environment, this environment becomes real for the user. Because human activity has realized this environment, it exists for all users. Is one forced to become a member of society? If the surreal is real to them, why can’t one live in the surreal? Space does not exist if it has no user, yet the surreal can exist if it has one follower.

In Beijing’s 798 Arts District, the artist Liu Xiaofang had an exhibit in one of the gallery spaces. She writes, “we all have our own childhood memory, they can become twisted and unrealistic over time.” Her triptych depicts “a little girl…she seems emotionless with all her feelings blend into a state of day dreaming.” One image shows the girl staring at a cloud in the sky, while the next image illustrates the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb. If this little girl has a daydream about the cloud in fact being a mushroom cloud, this bomb existed for her. The bomb then becomes palpable, if even only for the little girl. If a fabricated memory is remembered as the truth, this memory becomes real.

The nonexistence of an unused space is similar to China’s censorship of free speech. To the Chinese, everything they are not allowed to be exposed to does not exist because they lack knowledge of it. To those who can see through the veil of censorship, censorship does not exist. If one knows that a censored item truly does exist beyond censorship, but one is not able to access it, what does this article become? Is it real? Fake? Nonexistent? Momentarily nonexistent?

If an individual cannot express their thoughts because of the lack of free speech, these thoughts only exist to the individual. They do not exist for anybody else. For a specific user, if something does not exist for that user, it does not exist at all.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Beijing, censorship, China, existence, space

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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